When considering your family members, group of friends or colleagues, when was the last time you ate together and what did they have? Chances are, some of them were actively avoiding certain foods or drinks. Maybe they swapped out cow’s milk for soy milk in their latte, opted for a gluten free sandwich or had to remove peanuts from a dish. With as many as 30 in 100 people in the UK currently living with a food intolerance or allergy, the likelihood of you or someone close to you having to cater to special dietary requirements is very high.
If you’re new to the world of alternative dietary requirements - perhaps you or someone you know has recently decided to go vegan, or you are hosting an event and want to make sure you’re being inclusive with your food choices - it’s understandable to feel a little overwhelmed with the wealth of information in front of you, especially as an individual’s dietary requirements can be so specific to them. Fortunately, however, we’ve provided a rundown of the most common food allergies, intolerances and dietary restrictions, including the foods and beverages that are off limits to give you a better idea of how to cater your meal choices appropriately.
There are a wide and varied number of dietary constraints, and each constraint tends to be very personal to the individual. Some of the most common types includes:
- Food allergies and intolerances: dairy free, fish and shellfish allergies, nut free and gluten free
- Special dietary requirements: vegetarian and vegan
- Religious dietary requirements: Halal
Below we have provided information on the intolerances and dietary preferences that you’re most likely to encounter in your everyday life.
Gluten is a combination of proteins that is most commonly found in wheat, barley, rye and familial grains. It is often used to add elasticity and a chewy texture to bread and other wheat products, as well as acting as a raising agent in baked goods. Some of the most popular gluten-rich foods include:
- Baked goods: flour contains gluten, meaning that any products which contain liberal amounts of it - including bread, cakes, cookies and pastries - aren’t suitable for those following a gluten-free diet. There are easy substitutes, however, with gluten-free versions of all common flour types available.
- Pasta: Another gluten-heavy food, although like bread and baked goods, there are a number of alternatives that make use of other grains like corn or rice flour.
- Noodles: Many noodles, including ramen, soba and udon, are made using wheat in combination with other ingredients like eggs. Rice noodles are the most widely available substitute which can be used in a variety of traditional dishes.
- Couscous: Although couscous looks like a grain, it is actually a pasta made with semolina flour from durum wheat, making it unsuitable for gluten-free people.
- Cereals: Many cereals contain both wheat and a variety of grains and seeds - all of which contain gluten. A lot of popular brands have gluten-free versions of their most popular products, alongside a specially made range of cereals, granola and muesli.
- Imitation meat: Used as a protein source in vegetarian and vegan diets, wheat is frequently used as a binding agent in many popular meat-free substitutes.
- Beer: Although a lot of alcoholic drinks are gluten-free as the distilling process removes glutenous proteins, beer retains them. However, the volume of gluten differs between types of beer, and many people with gluten intolerances can consume pilsners, lagers and pale ales without issue. Plus, there are plenty of gluten free beers available.
- Soy sauce: Found across a wide variety of Asian cuisines, soy sauce contains wheat and can be harmful depending on a person’s level of intolerance.
Dairy constitutes any milk product from an animal, the most common of which are cows, sheep and goats. Milk is used to create cheese, cream, yoghurt and anything that derives from those foods. It is possible to be either allergic to or intolerant of dairy: an allergy to dairy products is an autoimmune response that can potentially be fatal in serious cases, whereas an intolerance is a gastrointestinal reaction to the enzyme lactose.
Unlike gluten, avoiding dairy products is a lot more straightforward: all there is to remember is that any milk product is a no-go. While almost everyone will recognise this means that milks, cheeses, creams, ice creams, yoghurts and chocolates are off limits, there are a few tricky products that also contain dairy:
- Wine and beer: Milk proteins are used in the finishing process of wine creation and thus can cause an allergic reaction.
- Tinned tuna: Some brands of tinned tuna include the caseinate protein, which could trigger an allergic reaction.
- Gravy, condiments and sweeteners: Many instant mix products like gravies, sauces and sweeteners contain milk powders which act as a thickening agent.
- Animal milks: Contrary to popular belief, other non-cow milks like sheep’s or goat’s contain just as much lactose.
- Crisps: The flavourings used in many popular crisp brands often have milk products added. Those on a dairy free diet should always check the ingredients list.
- Soy products: Soy is one of the most popular milk alternatives, however, in order to achieve the same texture to products like cheese, milk proteins are occasionally used. Some imitation meats, such as Quorn, also contain milk proteins. Although soy products should be okay for anyone with lactose intolerance, dairy allergy sufferers should avoid them.
A vegetarian is someone who won’t eat meat, but will consume other food products derived from animals, such as dairy. Many vegetarians will choose to cut out meat from a moral standpoint, while others will do so for health reasons. Vegetarianism has steadily been growing in popularity over the last few decades and, as of 2021, vegetarians take up 10% of the UK population. As a result, sticking to a vegetarian diet is relatively easy in this day and age, with plenty of meat substitutes to provide a source of protein and make the transition easier for those new to the lifestyle.
Unlike vegetarianism, vegans will not consume any animal products, including meat and other derivative foods. While vegetarians often choose to avoid meat due to the often inhumane treatment of animals, veganism follows this line of thought but extends it to boycotting products that have been created as a result of animals being bred and kept in captivity for the sole purpose of food production. As it comes from a place of moral reasoning, veganism is more of a diet preference over a food intolerance, but a vegan diet can nonetheless be a good option for people with dairy allergies.
Avoiding meat products is relatively easy these days, but creating an entirely vegan friendly meal can be a little more complex as there are many animal products used in the manufacturing of food and drink that you wouldn't necessarily expect. For example, milk products (see ‘Dairy Free & Lactose Intolerance’) are frequently used in binding or flavouring agents found in crisps and some soy products.
There is also a level of nutritional planning that goes into a vegan diet, as it’s important to ensure that your body is still receiving all of the nutrients it requires that would normally be found in animal products. Supplements are thus often implemented for the ingestion of B12 (which can only be found in animal products) and iron. Protein levels can also be an issue for some vegans, but as mentioned above, there are plenty of alternatives that combat this. Some simple vegan food swaps may include:
- Tofu instead of eggs or meat
- Lentils or soy-based “mince” instead of mince meat
- Jackfruit instead of pulled pork
- Courgette instead of spaghetti
- Bean burger or plant-based burger instead of beef burger
Whether you’re adjusting to a new intolerance or lifestyle or want to cater to a loved one’s requirements, adhering to certain restrictions shouldn’t mean that you have to compromise on the meals that you love. If you’re looking for inclusive versions of your favourite dishes, without having to go to the trouble of buying special ingredients or spend lots of time cooking, Pow Food’s healthy meal delivery service is the solution you’ve been waiting for.
Alongside our meat and fish-based options, our nourishing frozen ready meals also cater to vegan and gluten free diets. From protein rich vegan options to healthy versions of the nation’s favourite comfort meals, we strive to cater to every taste and nutritional requirement. Much more than just a ready meal, each has been designed by our nutritionist and passionately prepped by a team of skilled chefs who understand taste profiling and healthy cooking. If you’d like to know more, why not browse our range of products here and have your first ready meal delivered!