Healthy substitutions for the specialty diet

April 28, 2015

Usually, when I bring in a batch of chocolate chip cookies, my coworkers are pretty excited, but this time, one gal practically broke out in tears. “Another bowl of stuff I love, but can’t eat!”  
She’s on a brutal elimination diet for food sensitivities, but she’s not really a foodie and doesn’t have a lot of money to buy hip alternative foods or fancy ingredients to make her diet more palatable.

“Non-allergic food hypersensitivity” is frequently misdiagnosed because it’s not quite the same thing as an allergy. An allergic response engages the immune system and is diagnosed by the presence of antibodies; food sensitivity usually results from the body’s inability to absorb a particular nutrient or from a reaction to a specific natural or added chemical. Chronic symptoms tend to be non-specific (e.g., skin reactions, nasal congestion, nausea, etc.), making it difficult to determine the source.

For example, I am fairly lactose intolerant, but I didn’t recognize it until I completely eliminated dairy from my diet. Then I discovered ice cream and cheese give me...let’s just say an “explosive” reaction.


Photo by Chris Hoaglund

Those with food sensitivities can find tasty and healthy alternatives to their favorite foods.

The problem with elimination diets is that if you mess up, you have to start all over, which has been the case with my co-worker. She’s hungry all the time, so she inevitably cheats or avoids too many foods to get enough nutrients. The only thing I’ve seen the poor girl eat in weeks is microwave popcorn.

She does like some types of vegetables, so I made her a batch of my bell pepper salsa. This is a staple in my diet—minced sweet bell peppers, jalapeños, green olives, fresh garlic, cilantro, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar.

I slice up some cucumbers, and then add a dollop of fresh guacamole and a spoonful of salsa on each slice. This is my go-to snack for any get-together. Then I always know there will be something I can munch on.

If your diet allows, it’s great with cream cheese and fresh dill on a piece of celery. You can also turn the salsa into a light summer salad by adding quinoa, which is rich in protein and fiber. It’s not only healthy, but it’s also flavorful, so I don’t wind up feeling deprived. Cucumbers are such a great substitution for chips and crackers that I don’t even miss them.

You can easily have a sandwich without bread. Simply replace it with lettuce. Romaine makes a great substitute for taco shells or a delicious bread-free BLT. Load them like you would with all the fixings and munch away.

Often it’s the crunch or texture we miss more than the specific food itself. Frozen bananas can replace ice cream, or frozen grapes for candy. Brewed herbal teas can stand in for soda; nuts can curb your salt cravings. I often thinly slice a slightly unripe pear to replace chips.

If you think you have a food sensitivity, do a little research and preparation first. Discuss it with your doctor before making drastic changes to your diet. Then if you to need eliminate a food, rid your shelves of temptation and stock up on healthy alternatives. If you have something ready when you get a craving, you will be more apt to reach for that healthy choice instead.

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