Stay on Track
As declared by the FDA, the top eight food allergens in the United States are wheat/gluten, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish, and shellfish. Some people are seriously allergic to these ingredients—even the most microscopic trace could instantly propel them into anaphylactic shock, a reaction characterized by itchy red hives, narrowed airways and trouble breathing, throat swelling, nausea and vomiting, and a weak pulse. If not treated quickly, anaphylactic shock can even lead to death. Others have a more mild intolerance to these ingredients—in other words, eating an omelet won't kill someone with an egg intolerance, but it might give them an upset stomach or a rash.
“About 8 percent of children in America have food allergies,” says Joel Warady, the chief sales and marketing officer for Enjoy Life Foods. “But the numbers of people that have food intolerances are significantly greater—and growing.”
Companies are beginning to capitalize on consumers' right to know what's in their food and make choices accordingly. For more than a decade, Enjoy Life has been making completely free-from foods—that is, products free from the top eight food allergens in the US—and they are also verified non-GMO. So, why strive to be so clean? “What we found was that most people who have a gluten intolerance or have celiac disease also have additional food allergies,” Warady explains. However, those other allergies vary greatly, and being free from the top eight food allergens allows the company to meet the needs of about 90 percent of people in America who have food allergies and/ or intolerances—as well as those who choose to avoid certain ingredients.
“As time has progressed, people feel that taking certain things out of their daily diet just helps them feel better,” says Warady. “One of the things that we're seeing as a trend is soy.”
But certain allergens—such as tree nuts and fish—offer numerous health benefits to those who aren't allergic or intolerant. If you enjoy a handful of almonds as an afternoon snack or regularly take a fish oil supplement without experiencing any adverse symptoms, don't think you need to give up those body-boosting foods.
“I think where you get controversial is something like dairy,” Warady says. “There are a lot of nutritionists and dieticians who would say you have to have dairy as part of your weekly diet. I'm not so sure about that.”
Humans are the only mammals that continue to drink the milk of another mammal as adults—a fact that has influenced some people to skip it altogether. To still get the nutrients that dairy offers—like protein, calcium, and vitamin D—some have swapped cow's milk for nut milk and switched to using vegan cheese in the effort to better their bodies.
Warady and his wife have cut out gluten and dairy to further their efforts to eat cleaner, and a comparison of their grocery bills from one year to the next indicated a 20 percent increase in spending. “But, we're both healthier— based on our medical reports—and we feel better,” he says. “Is it worth the 20 percent premium? The answer is absolutely.”
Whether or not they have food allergies, intolerances, or ethical qualms about certain ingredients, more people today want to know what's in their food; they're doing the research, reading product labels, and experimenting with different recipes and diets.
“I think today, more than any other time in the last 100 years, people are very, very conscious of what they're putting in their systems,” says Warady. “It used to be that if something was sugar-free, or something was fat-free, people would say, ‘Oh, OK, I'll lose weight.' That's how they were making choices.
“But today, people are looking at ‘How can I enjoy products, how can I consume products that aren't going to be harmful, and that aren't putting bad stuff in my system?' So that definition of bad stuff, it really is in the eye of the consumer. But for those people who are trending, who are going dairy-free and soy-free—that trend continues to grow. We absolutely think that's going to continue.” If you don't have a dairy or gluten intolerance, like Warady and his wife, it might be difficult to avoid temptation when the opportunity to eat a greasy, cheesy slice of pizza arises. But, as Warady says, “If you're motivated, you can definitely do it.” Here are his tips to stay on track.
Look for substitutions. There are so many options, particularly for gluten-free eating— from pizza to pancakes to noodles. You can also try vegan cheese, nut milk, and even egg substitutes. Just be sure to read product labels to ensure they don’t contain any artificial fillers.
Get creative. Modify recipes and try new tastes and textures. For example, Warady and his wife make cauliflower-crust pizza topped with mixed veggies. “It sounds like it would never taste anything like pizza,” he says, “and it tastes unbelievable.”
Read cookbooks and blogs. Whether you’re planning family dinners every night or habitually enjoy breakfast-for-one, there are thousands of resources to help you have fun with food.
Travel with food. It’s much more difficult to find suitable food on the go, but bringing it with you can alleviate the stress, temptation, and hunger pangs. Last summer, Warady and his wife traveled to Poland and Lithuania with an entire suitcase full of food. “We had things like turkey jerky,” he says, “so that if we were hungry and we couldn’t find a restaurant, we had food with us.”
Order mindfully. Take the time and effort to look at menu options when dining out, and specify your needs when ordering. There are many quick and easy substitutions the chef can make to accommodate your meal.