Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dietary Restrictions 101, Part I: Allergies, Diabetes, and Beyond

This was originally published in November 2009. Part II to come later today.

Maybe you’ve prepared a lovely pot roast dinner, only to discover one of your guests is a lifelong vegan. Perhaps you accidentally ordered chicken parmesan for a lactose-intolerant friend with poultry allergies. Or mayhaps your 13-year-old just announced she’s now a Slow Food-oriented locavore with dreams of going completely raw by sophomore year.

At one point or another, we’ve all been confronted by dietary restrictions. Some, like vegetarianism, are commonplace enough that they don’t pose much of an obstacle anymore. But what do you feed someone on an elimination diet? Or a diabetic Mormon? Or a Muslim with Celiac Disease? What do these words even mean?

Whether they’re ethical, cultural, or medical, dietary restrictions pose certain hurdles. When confronted by one, you have three options: 1) order takeout, 2) get informed, or 3) ignore them and face the terrible consequences.

Today’s post is all about Option #2 (because #3 could get messy). It’s a quick rundown of the rules surrounding 25 common diets, coupled with resources for further investigation. Some you’ve probably heard of. Some will be totally new. Some are like, “Duh, of course a baby shouldn’t drink Bud Light.” But all should give you a basic understanding of eating Kosher, Ayurvedic, and more.

Obligatory yet exciting disclaimer: as always, I’m not a doctor, and nothing here should be interpreted as expert advice and/or the authority on the subject. If you’re concerned about feeding someone with a dietary restriction, the easiest way to gather information is to ask direct questions.


If a woman is ALLERGIC to a particular food, it means her immune system goes haywire when she ingests said edible. Reactions can be relatively minor, like a scratchy throat, or comparatively major, like anaphlyaxis and death. About 12 million Americans are allergic to some type of food, most commonly nuts, fish, eggs, soy, dairy, and wheat. Never, ever give an off-limits food to someone with an allergy.
For more on food allergies, try: The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network
Fun fact: I am allergic to Entenmann’s donut holes, yet not the donuts themselves. I call it the Crumb Topped Paradox.

Originating in India, the AYURVEDIC diet revolves around an individual’s dosha, or constitution, which is comprised of three components: Vata (wind), Pitta (fire), and Kapha (water and earth). (It’s kind of spiritual, if you didn’t get that gist.) Menus tend to be produce-oriented, extremely focused on balance and moderation, and tailored to the individual. If you know someone practicing Ayurveda, they’re probably mind-bendingly healthy.
For more on Ayurvedic diets, try: The World’s Healthiest Foods

Are you a BABY? No? Well, you were once, and there were a gazillion schools of thought about how to feed you. The same holds true today, though there are some generally accepted no-nos like honey, nuts, fish, cow’s milk, egg whites, soft cheeses, soda pop, strawberries, and foods small enough to choke on, like grapes. Beyond that, it’s largely up to parents and doctors.
For more on baby diets, try: Parents
Fun fact: Once, I ate a screw and told my parents it was a nail. Apparently, toddlers should not eat either.

People with CELIAC DISEASE are sensitive to gluten, which very negatively affects their ability to digest. They must follow a gluten-free diet, meaning they shouldn’t eat barley, rye, triticale, and wheat (“including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro”). An autoimmune disease, anyone can develop CD at any time, and the symptoms vary in severity and discomfort. Always check ingredient lists if you’re buying food for someone with Celiac.
For more on Celiac Disease diets, try: Celiac Disease Foundation

CROHN'S DISEASE is a chronic and incurable inflammation of the digestive tract resulting in diarrhea, cramping, and occasionally, malnutrition. Nobody quite knows what causes it, but it can be treated with drugs, surgery, and lifestyle changes, including a diet overhaul. Folks with Crohn’s might avoid dairy, alcohol, raw fruits, raw veggies, or gassy foods.
For more on Crohn’s Disease diets, try: the Mayo Clinic
Fun fact: I tried to write a fun fact here. It didn’t work that well.

Vegans, the lactose intolerant, and those with dairy allergies follow DAIRY-FREE diets. That means eggs are usually okay (except for vegans), but cheese, butter, yogurt, milk, milk solids, milk proteins, and milk sugars aren’t. Fortunately, the number of decent dairy substitutes (soy, rice, etc.) is growing everyday, so going sans milk isn’t quite the struggle it once was.
For more on dairy-free diets, try: Go Dairy Free

DIABETES is nothing to joke about, especially as U.S. obesity rates soar. Caused by an inability to regulate blood sugars, the most common forms of diabetes are Type 1 (juvenile diabetes), Type 2 (often related to obesity), and Gestational (found in pregnant women). Though serious consequences can arise when the disease is ignored, it can be mostly controlled with meds, constant vigilance, and the careful regulation of one’s culinary intake. Individual diabetic diets vary, so if you’re cooking for one, ask about her restrictions in advance.
For more on diabetes, try: the American Diabetes Association for information, the Mayo Clinic for recipes.

Doctors stick people on ELIMINATION DIETS to isolate foods that cause allergic reactions. Different edibles are phased out and reintroduced in hopes of finding the culprit, observing symptoms, and devising a plan of attack.
For more on elimination diets, try: WebMD

You have to go GLUTEN-FREE if you have Celiac Disease, but you don’t have to have Celiac Disease to go gluten-free. You could have Lyme Disease, dermatitis herpetiformis (a vicious skin rash), or a plain ol’ allergy to wheat, among other things. To re-iterate from a few blurbs ago, being gluten-free means eschewing wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and host of other grains on this list.
For more on gluten-free diets, try: Karina’s Kitchen or the Mayo Clinic

Spirituality plays a big role in HINDU diets. Hindus consider cows sacred and as such, don’t eat hamburgers, hot dogs, steak, or any other beef product. Many are practicing vegetarians, having been taught both nonviolence and respect for other forms of life.
For more on Hindu diets, try: Indian Foods Company
Fun fact: Annapurna is the Hindu goddess of cooking. If Indian cuisine is any indication, she totally knows what she’s doing.

There’s one gigantic difference between food allergies and food INTOLERANCE: the first affects the immune system, while the latter goes to town on your GI tract. For example, folks with lactose intolerance have a tough time breaking down and digesting milk products. Drinking a glass won’t cause anaphylaxis (a serious allergic reaction), but will be damn uncomfortable (nausea, cramps, diarrhea, etc.).
For more on food intolerance, try: WebMD. (See? It’s good for something besides diagnosing yourself with Ebola.)

Whether or not you’re Jewish, odds are you’ve eaten KOSHER food at some point, maybe in the form of a hot dog or matzoh ball. And while Kosher groceries are fairly straightforward (Go to supermarket. Look for indicative symbol. Buy mustard.), the dietary laws (or “Kashrut”) are pretty complicated. However, the big rules can be summed up as such: only consume meat that’s been properly slaughtered, always separate dairy and meat (meaning: bacon cheeseburgers are out), avoid pork and shellfish, and never cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk (perhaps not a problem for most of us). L’chaim!
For more on Kosher diets, try: Judaism 101
Fun fact: Kosher food isn’t blessed by rabbis. They are known to watch its production, however.
Funner fact:There is no such thing as ‘kosher-style’ food. Kosher is not a style of cooking.
Funnest fact: My grandmother never drank alcohol, except for Manischewitz. She thought it was tasty.

Part II, coming soon!

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