Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.
Cooking is an act of giving as much as survival. We eat to live, and those of us who love to cook, cook to love.
Many people in my life have so-called restrictive diets—I say “so-called” because once you get used to a change in your eating habits, it doesn’t feel challenging anymore. As a 20-year vegetarian (in a few short months!), my diet is varied and imaginative. I ate a mostly meat and potatoes diet in my youth, and I’m a much more adventurous eater now. But I digress...
Factoring in other food-related disorders, sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies, life can look pretty bleak at first glance. Change is scary, and adjusting to life with a new diet is challenging.
Among my loved ones I count many vegetarians and vegans, a mother with sugar and gluten sensitivities, friends with Celiac disease, severe lactose intolerance, hypoglycemia, and people in my circle are forever doing cleanses. Whether the restrictions are born of preference or necessity, I try be understanding and creative. Try, Helen Reddy, I love it.
Getting creative in the kitchen it is what I live for. It’s way more fun, and often way more delicious, than making the same old boring recipes all the time. And usually healthier too.
Let’s take a general look at food sensitivities to begin. According to WebMD, a food allergy is a response of the immune system and a food intolerance is a response of the digestive system. For example, Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction to the proteins in wheat gluten. The small intestine refuses to absorb nutrients from food, causing intestinal discomfort, malnutrition, and all manner of bad stuff. Lactose intolerance is a digestive rejection to lactose, milk sugar, and casein, the protein in dairy products, causing nausea, gas, and diarrhea. Symptoms of food allergies and intolerances can both trigger nausea, gas, bloating, and diarrhea; but allergic responses can also evoke respiratory distress, such as shortness of breath and anaphylaxis.
Food-related disorders, like diabetes and hypoglycemia, are linked to sugar, and more specifically carbohydrates. In Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as Juvenile diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, a hormone that converts sugar to energy. In Type 2 diabetes, also known as Adult-onset diabetes, the body doesn’t produce enough insulin to convert the sugar to energy. Too much sugar can enter the blood stream and havoc ensues: frequent urination, thirst, hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, fatigue, and irritability.
Hypoglycemia works in the opposite way. The pancreas releases to much insulin in reaction to the presence of sugar (glucose) in the blood, sending the blood sugar level down too far. Equal and opposite havoc: fatigue, insomnia, headaches, blurred vision, and heart palpitation.
But cutting back on added sugar and simple carbs, like white potatoes and white rice, help keep people with diabetes and hypoglycemia out of the fog. A common misconception about both sugar-related disorders is that sufferers can never have sugar. They can, in moderation, as part of a well regimented, low-carb, high-protein diet. It’s all about making choices that work for the person and his or her body.
Suggested Diets/Food Lists
Here are links to the “official” food recommendations for people with specific allergies, intolerances, or disorders, or folks who just want to take a break from the ordinary. When in doubt, speak to a health professional.
Celiac Disease Quick Start Guide from Celiac Foundation *If you think you have, but not been diagnosed with, Celiac disease, consult a physician before going on a gluten-free diet. Gluten must be present in your system to test properly for Celiac.
What Can I Eat? from American Diabetes Association
The Hypo Diet from the Hypoglycemia Support Foundation
Milk Allergy Facts from Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network
Egg Allergy Facts from Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network
Cooking and Baking for the Sensitive and Cleansing
So now that you know what your friends can and can’t eat, you’re dying to get down to recipe renovation, right? But where to start? The web is crawling with amazing food blogs, recipes, and tips for modifying and creating amazing meals and desserts.
For all your vegan, dairy-free, and egg-free baking needs, I can’t recommend enough the Post Punk Kitchen’s Guide to Vegan Baking. It’s my go-to every time I need to remember how much tofu equals an egg or if flax seeds are a good idea in a particular recipe.
Nondairy plant milk, like soy, almond, and rice, can be substituted 1:1 for cow’s milk in any recipe. If your recipe calls for buttermilk, add 1/4 tsp of vinegar for every 1/2 cup of nondairy milk and you’re good to go. For yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese, you can find all manner of nondairy substitutes in the refrigerated section of your local natural foods market. Vegan cheese is still something I personally avoid, but apparently the folks at Daiya are doing weird and wonderful things with soy cheese these days. Butter is easily replaced with nonhydrogenated margarines, like Earth Balance, or coconut oil in moderation.
Dairy- and Egg-free Resources from Around the Web
Vegan Yum Yum
The Messy Cook
Post Punk Kitchen
Dairy- and Egg-free Recipes
My friend and former co-worker Erin was diagnosed with Celiac disease as a child, and has been a lifelong advocate for Celiac awareness and a shining example of how the right attitude (and fun sunglasses) can make up for a life without Eli’s Health Bread. Before her, I’d never heard of Celiac; but her stories started filling in some gaps for me. I thought of my mom, who stopped eating wheat several years before I met Erin.
Mom has a severe sensitivity to wheat, which exacerbates her rheumatoid arthritis, increasing the inflammation and discomfort. Whenever she has even a little bit of wheat, her arthritis flares up and she feels fatigued and achy for days. She has never been diagnosed with Celiac, though I suspect its because the tests are unreliable when you are on a low-gluten or gluten-free diet at the time of the test.
Diagnosis or no, she feels much better when she avoids gluten. So she eats other whole grains, like quinoa, millet, and lots and lots of rice. Just last week she called to tell me how much she loved the Mushroom Quinotto recipe I posted back in the summer. Even indirectly, I can feed my loved ones!
Gluten-free Resources Around the Web
Erin’s Gluten-Free Fun
Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef
Julia and Julieta
Gluten-freen Recipes (also dairy- and egg-free)
Spaghetti Squash Puttanesca
Here’s where I have the least personal experience, at least as far as baking goes. You know I love to whip up a whole grain dish, heavy on the veg. But sweets without sugar... I don’t know where to begin. Here’s what the American Diabetes Association has to say about the matter: “For many people, having about 45 to 60 grams [of carbohydrates] at meals is about right. Serving sizes make a difference. To include sweets in your meal, you can cut back on the other carb-containing foods at the same meal.”
CB’s mom has hypoglycemia, and she can have about 100 grams of carbs per day, when the average woman takes in over 300. Otherwise, she gets terrible headaches and fatigue. So even though people with diabetes and hypoglycemia can have sugar on occasion, they have to be selective about it. Eating a diet that’s high in protein, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates keeps folks with sugar issues on track.
One obstacle to sugar-free baking is texture and bulk replacement. I tried to make a batch of stevia cookies for CB’s mom when we visited last weekend. While they tasted good, the texture was more like a biscuit than a cookie. Granulated sugar is what gives cookies their chewy texture, and it didn’t help that I replaced the bulk (1 1/2 tsp of stevia = 1 cup of sugar) with tofu.
I’ll be going back to Angel Food Laboratories for more sugar-free baking experiments, and when I’ve perfected the stevia cookie, you’ll be the first to hear about it.
The Sweet Stuff: A New Color in the Packet Rainbow
Savvy Vegetarian: Sugar Free Desserts with Stevia
Oatmeal Apple Muffins(also dairy- and egg-free)
Crustless Spinach Quiche
Lentil, Spinach, and Bulgur Stew
Gentle Readers, what are your favorite food-issue resources? Got any great tips for specialty cooking or baking? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. You are so wise and I have much to learn.
If you dig this article, you may also dig:
Vegetarian Meal Planning for Meat Eaters
Serving Sizes and Portion Control: A Primer
Ewww...That’s Not Vegetarian 101