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Thanksgiving guide to food allergies

Thanksgiving meal
Enjoy all the Thanksgiving flavors without the trigger foods

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The Thanksgiving meal is loaded, not only with calories and extra-rich menu items, but also with heavy expectations for emotional togetherness, compounded by a great deal of stress. For those suffering from food allergies, sensitivities or intolerance, the pressure of the Thanksgiving meal can be unbearable.

First, it is important to distinguish between the three negative responses to foods: allergysensitivity and intolerance.

A food allergy is one that provokes an allergic, often anaphylactic, response in the body, sometimes requiring an intervention such as an epinephrine injection (epi-pen). Food allergies involve several body systems and a histamine response within the body; a person might present with hives and swollen tongue or throat. With food allergies, strict avoidance of the food is life-preserving.

Food sensitivity does not involve a histamine response, but does involve the immune system. The offending food provokes an auto-immune response, typically within the digestive system. Celiacs are people who have a sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in many foods but mostly wheat, rye, oats, millet, and other grains. People with celiac disease and other food sensitivities must also avoid the offending foods, as these foods diminish their capacity to absorb nutrients in food and depress the immune system.

The final category is food intolerance, which involves missing enzymes. When the body lacks the enzymes needed to digest certain foods, such as lactose sugar found in dairy or certain proteins such as those found in eggs, the body is incapable of properly digesting the offending food. Lactose-intolerance is very common.

If your Thanksgiving meal must accommodate a food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance, you might feel daunted by the task, nervous that a misstep might negatively affect you or a guest. The good news is that a delicious Thanksgiving meal can include many of the traditional flavors, and even enhance what you already have planned.

Remember, you are not expected to be an expert in a guest's dietary needs, but demonstration of awareness goes a long way toward making your guest feel inconspicuous and comfortable at the table.

Gluten-free tips  For each dish that requires flour, try this as a one-to-one substitute for wheat, rye or spelt flour. These items can be found in natural foods stores or in the gluten-free section now offered by many traditional grocers.

  • 2 cups potato starch
  • 6 cups rice flour
  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 tsp xantham gum powder per cup of flour adds elasticity to recipe. Add prior to baking.
  • Mix flours, sift, and store in airtight container. 

For gluten-free stuffing, consider purchasing gluten-free bread. For most stuffing recipes, this will be the single substitution you'll need to make.

YAO Company offers a line of gluten-free breads in their Washington Park clinic. 

Dairy-free tips   Lactose-free milk can be found in virtually any supermarket, as can dairy-free and whey-free butter substitutes. Both work well in baked goods dinner dishes. Consider substituting the milk or butter in all your dishes with these alternatives. Your guests will not likely be able to discern the difference, and you won't have to publicly identify the dairy-free items on the table.

Nut and other food allergies   Because of the intense nature of these reactions to food, it is best to eliminate all trigger-foods from your menu if you expect a guest with food allergies. Accidental cross-contamination in the kitchen, such as through a cutting board or spatula, can have devastating results. Ask your guest for information about the food allergy, and do your best to avoid the food, without fanfare.

Most natural foods stores have a gluten- or dairy-free baked goods section. If you are feeling nervous about your guest's needs, simply pick up substitute items at the store, such as gluten- or dairy-free breads, pies, stuffings, and gravy mixes.

Remember, your guest lives with dietary concerns every day, and often rejects dinner invitations because of these requirements. If you make the effort to accommodate these requirements, especially for Thanksgiving, you will brighten this person's holiday! As blogger, Shauna James Ahern, in her blog Gluten-Free Girl says, "You may think you are being pesky if you call me up and ask me about the ingredient of every dish, but believe me, I will feel a warm, glowing feeling toward you for months from that action alone."

For more info:  American Celiac Disease AllianceCeliac Disease – Celiac Disease and Gluten-free Diet InformationGluten-free Mommy Blog 

Denver, Colorado writer, Carol Fenster, PhD, offers several gluten-free cookbooks on and her Web site, Savory Palate, Inc

Louisville, Colorado author, Nicolette Dumke, offers several allergy-free cookbooks and information about gluten-free living on her Food Allergy Web site.

Blogger, Shauna James Ahern, has created a comprehensive guide to gluten-free living in her blog Gluten-Free Girl.


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