Being a vegetarian – and having allergies! Yes, it IS possible!

Hi, my name is Joanna, and I am currently Lead Coordinator for the YAP Outreach Committee. I am allergic to peanuts and soy, and I am lactose intolerant. I also avoid all tree nuts, due to potential cross-contamination with peanuts.

When I first tell people that I’m allergic to peanuts, the most common response I get is, “Wow, that must be tough.” When I tell them that I’m allergic to soy too, they ask me, “How do you eat out?” Then – the real kicker – when I tell them that I am ALSO super vegetarian, I hear, “So…what do you eat?!”

For the longest time (and I mean about four years), I was gaining interest in becoming vegetarian (for various reasons). I kept thinking, “I wish I could, but I can’t because I have allergies.” Other than not being able to eat peanuts or soy, it is extremely rare that my allergies limit me from doing anything. I am proud to say that for the past four years, I have been vegetarian. I am healthy, happy, and have so much energy.

I found it tricky to find resources about managing allergies and being vegetarian, so I am writing this for anyone who is looking for that information or knows someone who is. At the same time, it’s important to remember that this article is from my personal experiences on becoming a vegetarian and not being able to eat peanuts, soy, or dairy. Please take your food allergies into consideration before following my examples or suggestions! If you have any questions, I strongly encourage you to see your doctor or a nutritionist.

“My allergies cut out a lot of vegetarian food… so what can I eat?”

This cartoon asks, What about organic peanut butter? A slightly more expensive risk of anaphylaxis.

This really depends on what your allergies are. For me, I can still eat lentils, beans, whole grains, all veggies, and all fruit. Find a few things that you love and make sure that you always have those around – for me that includes carrots, hummus, protein powder to make high nutritional smoothies, oatmeal, and apples.

A big issue I come across is avoiding soy based foods (i.e. tofu, soy milk, lots of imitation foods), including foods with hydrolyzed soy protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or hydrolyzed plant protein. Soy is in A LOT of premade vegetarian and imitation foods, and so are nuts! The solution? Always read food labels, and try making your own foods from scratch!

The Nutrient Question

There is a common myth that vegetarians can’t get enough protein, calcium, various vitamins, or… the list goes on! The truth is, as long as your eating habits are healthy and balanced, you will be a fully healthy person! I cannot stress enough how much I recommend speaking to your doctor or a nutritionist to make sure that your allergy-safe and vegetarian diet is meeting your nutritional needs.

There are certain foods that I had no idea about – like seaweeds, nutritional yeast, coconut oil, quinoa, and kamut – which are really high in nutrients and can be cooked to taste delicious! Some foods, like spinach, become more dense when you steam them, versus eating them raw. Who knew?!

Don’t be afraid to try new foods. I frequently get a raised eyebrow from friends – “Um…what is that?” I usually win them over, especially with my vegan banana bread! There are SO many good foods that I never knew about until I became vegetarian and really started to play around with new ingredients.

Ok … I’ve found allergy-safe ingredients, but what do I make?

There are so many amazingly delicious things to create. Luckily (or this is the upside, as I see it!), I have had allergies my entire life, so I have been cooking and baking since a very young age. I tend to be pretty savvy in the kitchen, and I have learned to adapt a lot of regular recipes to my vegetarian ways. However, not everyone is fantastic at doing that, and it can be a real challenge to start cooking and baking in a vegetarian style. I started to incorporate foods that were simple to make (or buy), nutritious (so I didn’t miss out on any vitamins or minerals), and not too “weird” (not super irregular ingredients).

Some of my favourites are hummus and other bean dips, soup (I use water or vegetable broth and add in lentils, rice, whole grain pasta, lots of veggies, and spice), super sized salads loaded with veggies and beans, and baked goods! I recommend getting a couple of basic vegetarian cookbooks to help you on your way. A favourite food blog of mine, which has mostly vegan food, is (the chocolate vegan cupcakes are unbelievable – my friends can’t get enough of them!)

Although my allergies have made it a greater challenge to eat vegetarian, I am also presented with new cooking and baking opportunities. I have learned more about my personal health and nutrition then I knew previously, and I have definitely made a healthful impact on my family and friends by introducing them to tasty vegetarian foods.

If you have any questions about becoming vegetarian with allergies, leave me a message on our Facebook page or comment on this page!