The holiday season is upon us and for those of us passing on the pies, saying "no" to the eggnog or having to ask "what exactly is in this?" about every dish it can feel like we are allergic to the Holidays themselves. Having to smile, empty handed, while everyone else is noshing on delicious wheat filled, lactose ladened, nutty delights can be frustrating, depressing and isolating.
According to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies and that number continues to rise. Eight foods account for 90 percent of all reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Those may be the most common, but as the owner of a Wellness Center I have seen clients find out that they have allergies or sensitivity to everything from lettuce to sugar. No matter what the allergy, suddenly being unable to eat many of the food we take for granted can be stressful at the best of times let alone during holidays and family gatherings.
Having been gluten-free due to an allergy for over a dozen years I can empathize with the Holiday food blues. From Thanksgiving pies to Christmas cookies, gravy to matzah balls, food is a central part of our holiday, religious and family traditions. It is important to find ways to navigate the upcoming months so that we don't feel like we have to avoid the holidays themselves and not just some of the foods. Luckily there are some simple things you can do to help keep the season bright.
• Be Creative - Maybe you can't partake in some of those Holiday favorites but there are lots of options now for those with food allergies. Can't do dairy, look for vegan alternatives. No gluten, there are lots of gluten-free options and you might even find a bakery near you that offers gluten free goods. Many grocery stores are now carrying more allergy friendly foods. If your allergen is more obscure then there are plenty of recipes online for you to try out at home. Instead of looking for all the things you can't eat start looking at all the things you can. Be creative, you may surprise yourself and your family with some of the yummy alternatives you may find.
• Be Proactive - If everyone is coming to your house then you're in control of the food and can make sure that you have plenty of options. But if, like many of us, you will be going to a family or friend's place for the holiday meals then be proactive and call the person who will be in charge of the meal. If they don't already know about your food issues tell them ahead of time so that you can discuss options.
• Have a List - If you are lucky enough to have family or friends who are willing to cook alternative dishes or add extra food to the menu that you can eat make it easy for them. Send them a list of the foods you can't eat with easy substitutions. Having a list to refer to helps the person cooking avoid inadvertently using something you're allergic to. There are often sneaky foods that hold your allergen that someone who has never had to think about it might miss. Take gravy for example. Being gluten-free I can't eat gravy because flour is usually used to thicken it. Simply substitute cornstarch for the flour and you have a gluten free version. We can't expect someone to remember all the things we can't eat. It is up to us to make it easy for others since they are taking the time and making the effort to accommodate us.
• Bring a Dish - It is always a good idea to bring at least one dish that you know you can eat. No matter how well meaning, mistakes can be made and there is nothing more frustrating than finding yourself hungry with nothing safe to eat. Often the best dish to bring is dessert since that is the course that can be hardest hit by food allergies. One of my client's is allergic to sugar so he brings an avocado chocolate mousse to any and all occasions. That way he doesn't feel left out or deprived when it's time for dessert. Now he has to make extra since so many people have become fans.
So go ahead, say yes to the gluten-free pies, the lactose-free eggnog and the sugar-free avocado mousse! Certainly the Holiday fare will be a little different than years past but with some preparation, creativity and an adventurous spirit there is no reason you can't create some new allergy free Holiday favorites.
Also published in HuffPost Blog: