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Tips For Eating Out When You Have A Food Allergy

Dirty bowl with pasta leftovers with spoon and fork
Dirty bowl with pasta leftovers with spoon and fork

We all have that friend who pretends to be allergic to gluten because they are watching their carb intake. And on the flipside, knowing the struggles of someone who is a legitimate coeliac makes you thankful you don't have to decline the dinner roll on the daily.

Some people are just picky, some are intolerant and some are allergic. So what's the difference? Nutritionist, chef and Vitasoy ambassador Zoe Bingley-Pullin breaks it down.


Food allergies occur when the immune system identifies certain food/s ingested as intruders and overreacts by producing antibodies termed “Immunoglobulin E” (IgE). These antibodies release chemicals causing an allergic reaction.

Symptoms may involve skin rash, hives, breathing problems, gastrointestinal upset and usually develop within a few minutes or few hours of ingesting the culprit food. Food allergies can be life threatening and identified foods must be avoided at all costs.


Food intolerances or sensitivities don’t involve the immune system and occur when enzymes needed to breakdown food particles aren’t available. For example lactose intolerance occurs when the body does not have the enzyme lactase, which helps lactose from milk be digested.

Enzymes aside, food intolerance can also result from sensitivity to additives (e.g MSG) or naturally occurring chemicals in certain foods (e.g salicylates in strawberries and tomatoes). Symptoms may be similar to food allergies and usually involve gastrointestinal upset. Thankfully, food intolerances are rarely life threatening and often small amounts of the culprit food can be eaten without incidence.

Bingley-Pullin's tips on eating out depending on your food intolerance:

Wheat-free and gluten intolerant

We are usually confronted by wheat and gluten options and decisions when it comes to eating out for any meal, and wheat and gluten intolerance is often likened to a total deprivation of diet liberty - but this doesn’t have to be the case. There are numerous wheat and gluten-free grains and flours available, which taste great and are brimming with nutrients and minerals.

Wheat and gluten containing (what to avoid): wheat, spelt, bulgur, couscous, triticale, kamut, oats and rye.

Wheat and gluten-free: buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, rice, corn, millet, lentils, lupin, teff, sorghum and besan (chickpea) flour.

If you’re sitting down for lunch or dinner and you’re unsure, rice paper rolls or brown rice sushi are safe healthy options. But make sure to avoid soy sauce and ask for tamari (wheat-free) instead.

If at a salad bar, choose roasted vegetable based salads and avoid grain-based salads.

When it comes to snacking -- brown rice, quinoa or dehydrated vegetable crackers are healthy options.

Often wheat can be “hidden” in products. Those to take extra caution with include: malt extracts, thickeners, breadcrumbs, sausages, curry powders, batters, salad dressings, liquorice and malt vinegars.

Dairy intolerant

No dairy? No worryie! Today there is an array of options available.

Soy milk: Always look out for Australian-grown whole soybeans -- they have a delicious milky taste. are high quality protein and are perfect on your cereal or smoothies. When looking for soy milk avoid soy protein isolate powders.

Coconut milk: Check for no added sugar and opt for “unsweetened” -- don’t be afraid to ask the question.

Almond, hazelnut and macadamia nut milks: Check for no added sugar and make sure whole nuts are being used, they should be the second if not first ingredient listed. Keep an eye out for products that use Australian grown whole nuts.

Oat, Rice and Quinoa milks: These are a good option if a dairy and nut allergy or intolerance exists and are lower in fat than other milks -- check for whole grains being used (e.g. ‘whole brown rice’) and not rice flour -- and again look out for added sugars.

Egg free

Baking a cake or whipping-up a frittata? Eggs pack a punch when it comes to nutrient dense food options -- they are a good source of protein and fats. But eggs aren't for everybody. To overcome the nutrient debt from a diet devoid of eggs, try these:

Cooking : Scrambled tofu, or baked/pan-fried tofu in salads or stir-frys as a source of protein and healthy fats.

Baking: Mix chia seeds or psyllium with water to mimic the binding action of eggs.

Tofu burgers. Yum!

It goes without saying but when you're shopping around, always check ingredients lists.

According to the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code all ingredients have to be listed on labels of pre-packaged foods. When reading labels look out for hidden sources of common allergenic or high sensitivity foods. Some incude:

Milk and milk products: Non-fat milk solids, whey, casein/caseinates and lactose.

Eggs and egg products: Egg albumen, egg white and egg lecithin or lecithin.

Wheat/Gluten and wheat products: Gluten, wheat-brain/germ/oil, triticum aestivum, bulgur, couscous, duru, farina.

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