Common food sensitivities & allergies

If you have food allergies or sensitivities, it is important to tailor your food choices to avoid reactions that might affect your health. This guide will help you shop around your sensitivities and steer you to options that will help you feel nourished and satisfied.

Food sensitivities and true allergies can have similar symptoms, but they’re not the same. A sensitivity or intolerance involves a problem in digestion or metabolism, often involving a defect or enzyme deficiency. Over the years, it may have a cumulative effect on health.

A true allergy involves the body’s immune system, causing it to produce antibodies to a food. Allergies may pose an immediate threat to health and even may be fatal.

There are several diagnostic tests for allergies. Consult a nutritionist, naturopath or allergist about your symptoms to be sure you aren’t restricting your diet unnecessarily.

Food Sensitivity and Allergy Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disorders
  • Learning disorders
  • Depression
  • Skin rashes
  • Hay fever
  • Asthma
  • Hoarseness
  • Laryngitis
  • Arthritis
  • Edema
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic sinus infections
  • Irritable bowel
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight gain or loss


Wheat is one of the most common sources of food allergies or sensitivities and because it’s in so many processed foods, it may seem difficult to avoid. Yet choosing whole, unprocessed foods makes it easy to avoid wheat, especially when you acquaint yourself with other less common but delicious grains.

It’s important to distinguish between a wheat sensitivity and a gluten sensitivity because gluten (a protein) is found not only in wheat but also other grains.

Some ingredients that contain wheat or may be derived from wheat include bran, bulgur, couscous, durum or semolina, flour, food starch or modified food starch, seitan, malt or malt flavoring (usually from barley, but can be from other grains), mono- or diglycerides, Postum, Ovaltine, Inka, soy sauce and shoyu (only tamari is wheat-free), vegetable gums, and wheat germ.

Good substitutes for wheat include corn, rice, millet, buckwheat (not a form of wheat), barley, oats or rye. Some people sensitive to wheat can tolerate spelt and/or kamut, which share a common ancestor with wheat. Look for baking mixes, breads, tortillas and wraps, pasta, crackers, cereals, or mochi (a frozen rice snack) made with these grains.


Gluten is a protein found at high levels in wheat, and in lesser amounts in barley, kamut, rye, spelt and triticale. Oats do not contain gluten, but authorities advise that oats only are acceptable for the gluten intolerant if pure and uncontaminated; there are special oats marked “gluten-free.”

One form of gluten intolerance, known as celiac disease, causes damage to the intestine and may be characterized by anemia, chronic diarrhea, constipation, mood swings, weight loss or gain, and in children, failure to thrive. Celiac disease is confirmed only by a specific medical test.

Consult a gastroenterologist if you suspect you have any tupe of gluten intolerance and visit

Good substitutes include the grain, flour or starch from amaranth, arrowroot, beans, buckwheat, corn, flax, millet, nuts, potatoes, quinoa, rice, tapioca, and wild rice. It’s best if these are stored and processed in a gluten-free environment.


A true dairy allergy is a reaction to the proteins in milk and requires avoidance of all foods containing milk or milk proteins. Common symptoms can involve the skin, respiratory system or digestive system. Individuals with celiac disease also may be lactose intolerant.

Digestive disturbances from dairy can be a sign of lactose intolerance. Limiting dairy to “lactose-free” products or taking supplemental lactase may be helpful. Lactose-free dairy products, however, are not safe for those with milk allergies.

Some ingredients that indicate the presence of dairy include butter, cream, cheese, curds, casein or caseinate (dairy protein), lactalbumin, nonfat dry milk, milk solids and whey.

Good dairy substitutes include soy, rice, almond and oat drinks. Use them to replace yogurt or buttermilk in recipes by adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar per cup. Puréed tofu also can substitute for dairy (and eggs) in pumpkin and custard pies, puddings and many cooked and baked products.


Corn as a whole food is easy to avoid, but corn appears in many processed foods in different forms. Some ingredients that indicate the presence of corn include corn flour, corn meal, corn syrup, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, malt, malt syrup, malt extract, dextrin, maltodextrin, mono- and diglycerides, some baking powders (cornstarch often is added as a filler), food starch, starch, modified food starch, confectioners sugar, monosodium glutamate, and vitamins that do not state “corn-free.” Some people sensitive to corn also may be intolerant of sorghum.

Good substitutes include Hain Featherweight baking powder, which is cornstarch-free. Millet is a yellow grain that can be ground in a dry blender, half a cup at a time, and used to make mock corn bread or muffins, as well as millet “polenta.” To make millet polenta, cook millet flour into a porridge and pour into a greased pan or mold.


Like wheat and corn, soy is easy to avoid in whole food form, but is widely present in many processed foods.

Some ingredients that indicate the presence of soy include soy sauce, tamari, shoyu, teriyaki marinades, tofu, tempeh, soy drinks, miso (except garbanzo miso) soy protein isolate and protein isolate, textured vegetable protein, and lecithin.

Good substitutes include dairy, and almond, oat and rice drinks.


Eggs in recipes generally serve to bind other ingredients together, tenderize and fluff up baked goods, and help with leavening. If you’re sensitive or allergic to eggs, you still can enjoy your favorite recipes with effective substitutes.

Good baking substitutes for one egg:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered Ener-G Egg Replacer, prepared according to package instructions, or added dry to flour.
  • 2 teaspoons flax seeds, liquified in blender with 1/4 cup warm water or other liquid in recipe, processed until foamy and sticky.
  • 1/4 cup mashed or puréed ripe banana, reconstituted dried prunes, apricots or applesauce
  • 1/4 cup reconstituted, dried, puréed prunes, apricots, applesauce or baby food
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons tofu, puréed with other liquids.

Peanuts and Tree Nuts

Allergies to peanuts and tree nuts are fairly common. Tree nuts include filberts/hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, hickory nuts,macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and coconut. Read labels, checking for nut butters,oils or flavors and for whether the prepared food was made in a nut-free facility.

Good substitutes include sesame butter, hemp seed butter, pumpkin seed butter, soy butter, sunflower butter and sesame tahini. In baking or salads, try substituting sunflower or pumpkin seeds, but be sure they’re processed in a nut-free facility.