Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Allergy Post

I have an appointment to take O. for allergy testing at the end of this month.  I'm dreading the actual appointment because I know it likely won't be pleasant for him.  I've had skin testing for allergies done before, and it's not terribly painful, but a two-year-old will probably have much more difficulty contextualizing the discomfort in respect to the information it will hopefully provide!
He has broken out in hives a few times, but we haven't been able to connect it conclusively to any foods that he has ingested.  It may have been a reaction to a virus, which is relatively common in children.  I'm really hoping that he doesn't end up having the same allergy & chronic hives issues that I have, but that is out of my hands.  I have a junior epi-pen for him just in case he should react more seriously to something at some point, but I've never had to use it.
He's been off dairy since last summer because I suspect that he is allergic to dairy, so it will be good to finally have a confirmation either way.  He had only been eating dairy for a few months prior to that, so he didn't really miss anything when I took it out of his diet.  Since I'm allergic to dairy, we rarely have meals that use diary, unless it is something that can be added to each person's individual dish, like cheese on pizza or tacos.  I haven't introduced him to eggs, shellfish, or peanuts yet.  The medical advice used to be to avoid the major allergens until age two or three, but now some reports are recommending introducing these common allergens into children's diets at an earlier age.  They suggest that withholding foods until a later age can actually cause allergies!  It's hard to know what to do!

I thought I would do a little post about some of the tips I have picked up along the way in regards to finding good food while avoiding these allergens.  If you don't have any allergies or interest in veganism, this may be a dry read, so go ahead and skip it!  It has been a continuous process of trial and error to find foods that work, so maybe this post can help somebody who is in the same situation.  It's much easier nowadays to go dairy-free, egg-free, and peanut-free than when I was a kid.  Unfortunately, there seem to be more people who have restricted diets now.  Fortunately for those of us with dietary issues, that means that the list of alternative foods is much more diverse, and profitable for companies to invest in.

Cow Milk Alternatives:
The most common non-animal options for replacing cow's milk are: soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, potato milk, and hemp milk.  So far, I find soy milk the most palatable among the options, although I remember there was an adjustment period at the beginning where I didn't quite enjoy drinking it on its own.  It was also one of the first alternatives on the scene, so perhaps I didn't give the others a fair shot, and I haven't yet tried hemp or coconut milk.
I did attempt making my own soy milk from dried soy beans once upon a time, but the resulting taste quickly dissuaded me from ever trying it again!  It made me realize that the commercial soy milk is probably highly processed compared to the home-made versions.  The home-made versions also lack the added fortifications in commercially produced soy milk that make it nutritionally comparable to cow's milk.  My current soy brand of choice is Silk, partly for taste, and partly because it seems to be the most affordable at Superstore, where I do most of my grocery shopping.  Most of the major brands are comparable in taste, and there are several different options in regards to flavoured/non-flavoured, sweetened/non-sweetened, and extra fortifications, such as omega oils.  The major brands seem to all come from non-GMO soy beans, and most also have organic options.  There are even soy creamers for your hot drinks.
For my son, I buy almond milk.  There are some studies that suggest that soy may not be totally healthy - some jazz about soy plant proteins and interference with hormones.  I'm usually more interested and opinionated about health issues, but ... can it [soy] really be that much worse than drinking milk from another animal species?  I've read enough about both soy and bovine milk consumption to know that both have potential health implications.  While none of the claims about the dangers of soy have ever been scientifically proven, there seems to be less controversy about almond milk, and my son enjoys drinking it.  It's also free from cholesterol and saturated fats, and has 50% more calcium than cow's milk.  If you shop at Superstore too, you can usually mix&match three cartons of Silk soy or almond milk for just under $3 a carton.  Lately I've been purchasing one almond Silk, one omega-enriched soy Silk, and one indulgence in chocolate soy Silk.
I've tried rice milk, oat milk, and potato milk, and none were appetizing or affordable enough to convince me to switch from soy.  There is also some controversy about the levels of inorganic arsenic present in rice milk, which you can read about in more detail here.  I'm sure that I would love coconut milk, but it isn't readily available here yet in the ready-to-drink form.  It looks like Silk has recently launched a line of coconut milk, so hopefully it is available in Canada soon.  Their site boasts that it also contains 50% more calcium than cow's milk.  I know that you can use canned coconut milk to make your own, but I haven't tried it yet.  Check out my friend's blog entry here about how to do it.  Hmmm...I think I just might try that after reading it again.  I'm not sure how much calcium and vitamin D it would contain, so look for that if you give it a try.
With all my allergies, I've never been brave enough to try goat's milk or sheep's milk, so I can't offer any opinions on those options.

Non-Dairy Cheese

I've tried every vegan cheese that I've found in the stores, and, sadly, most of them are abysmal.  Many of the brands of soy-based "cheese" available in regular grocery stores contain casein, a milk protein.  I suppose those cheeses are aimed at folks who are just lactose intolerant, and not allergic to the proteins et al.  I recently discovered Daiya vegan cheese, and finally found a cheese alternative that hits the mark.  It tastes good and it melts.  What else can you ask for in a food pretending to be cheese?  The other vegan cheese that I've tried taste fairly tofu-ey and don't melt at all.  I ordered pizza a while ago from a local pizza parlour that had been advertising vegan cheese.  I kept dreaming about the cheese, so I finally called them up to find out what kind of cheese it was.  The Daiya site then led me to a store locater where I could spend a small fortune on a bag of "mozzarella" for special occasions.  It supposedly freezes well, so I might buy a bigger bag next time and stick some of it in the freezer.
Another product worth a mention is Tofutti's Better Than Cream Cheese.  Granted, it's been about ten years since I've had dairy cream cheese, but I think it tastes pretty good.  They also make a non-dairy version of Sour Cream.

Ice Cream!
So Good vanilla ice cream is my favourite staple non-dairy ice cream.  Not that I, ahem, buy it often enough to call it a staple.  Most gelato shops also have a selection of non-dairy, egg-free treats as well if you are out on the town.  We bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker last year, and it makes some pretty delectable gelato-like treats too.  I'm still looking for some good recipes to make more of a (non-dairy) ice cream in the machine.

Replacing Eggs
Replacing eggs in baking is easier than I thought it would be.  A google search will provide you with numerous methods of replacing them.  My favourites are a ground flax seed and water mixture, and the commercially prepared Ener-G egg replacing powder.

Vegan Butter
While many people assume that all margarines are non-dairy because they aren't "butter," most margarines do in fact have milk ingredients, usually in the form of whey powder.  Earth Balance vegan "butter" or margarine approximates the closest taste to real butter.  The original version is very solid and hard to spread, but they also have a whipped version that is probably easier to slather on your raisin bread without ripping big holes into it.  Earth Balance also has margarine in little blocks, which is fantastic for baking.  Becel now has a vegan version of margarin, and Fleischmanns and Celeb both have a "lactose-free" version that, as far as I have been able to determine, doesn't contain any milk ingredients at all.  While many people assume that all margarines are non-dairy because they aren't "butter," most margarines do in fact have milk ingredients, usually in the form of whey powder.

If you are looking for dairy-free and egg-free mayo, check out Vegenaise and Nayonaise.  I prefer Vegenaise, but either will do the trick for your tuna sandwich or BLT.

Peanut Alternatives
I won't pretend to be an expert on peanut allergies, since I have no problem with them, and my son hasn't actually even tried them yet.  He's been fine with almonds, so I'm hoping that bodes well for his future with peanuts.  Aside from the replacement of peanut butter with other nut butters, which include such yummy concoctions as almond butter, cashew butter, and macadamia nut butter, there are some products which are aimed specifically at people with nut and peanut allergies.  We haven't tried soy butter, but my son loves pea butter.  It's made from golden roasted peas, and comes pretty close to mimicking the texture and colour of peanut butter.  It doesn't taste bad, per se, but I prefer the real PB myself.

That's all for now!  Off to nurse my sinus cold with some head steaming.  That makes me feel like a cabbage.  Good times.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Andrea! I'm so glad you left the comment on my blog with the link-- you've got some great suggestions in this post! I am definitely going to be trying that cheese option you suggested-- the thought of having something "cheese-like" is pretty exciting to me at the moment :)


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