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May 01, 2017 / Amy Height

6 Most Common Food Allergies (and What to Substitute)

Macadamia almond cake

An estimated 15 million people live with food allergies in the US—that’s 15 million people who are hyper-conscious of what comes into their mouths (and what has come in contact with that food before they eat it).

If that sounds like you, you already know that food allergies are more than just “I don’t feel well when I eat cheese.” Food allergies trigger an immune response, which makes it different from a sensitivity: the body produces antibodies to fight off the foreign material, producing physiological responses that can range from a stuffy nose to nausea to anaphylaxis.  Sensitivities can produce adverse symptoms - nausea, headaches, skin rash - but they do not cause the immune system to produce antibodies.

In honor of National Allergy Awareness Month—and in the spirit of offering some delicious alternatives—we’re dedicating today’s post to sharing the top six most common food allergies afflicting Americans. Here’s what to know about them ... and what to eat in their place.


Peanuts are found in a variety of products, which means avoiding more than just mixed nuts and peanut butter. Be mindful that an allergic reaction may be triggered by consuming foods cooked in peanut oil or foods that contain peanut protein hydosylate (found in many protein bars). Baked goods, chocolates, glazes and sauces, mole, pudding and hot drink mixes are also to be examined carefully before consuming.

Luckily, peanuts are one of eight allergens that fall under the labeling requirements of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. This means that manufacturers of packaged food items sold in the United States and containing peanuts or a peanut-based ingredient must disclose this clearly on the label.
One tricky thing to look out for? Arachis oil: it’s another name for peanut oil!

Eat these instead

Seeds (sunflower, sesame and flax) and tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts) may be safe options. Just ensure you check the label for potential cross-contamination.


If you have a reaction to milk or milk products, you’ll know within a few minutes to a few hours after consuming them. Symptoms of milk allergy range in intensity and can include wheezing, vomiting, hives and digestive problems. In severe cases, milk allergy can cause anaphylaxis.

Cow's milk is the most common type of dairy allergen, but milk from sheep, goats, buffalo and other mammals also can be problematic.

_ Eat these instead _

Soy, almond, rice or hemp milks can make excellent swaps for dairy. If you’re sensitive to cow’s milk but don’t have a reaction to other types of dairy, sheep, goat or buffalo milk might be good alternatives.


This is the third most common food allergy in America. Reactions to shellfish can be some of the most severe, including anaphylaxis, swelling or hives. Avoid any seafood that was once housed in a shell, including lobster, crab, shrimp, scallops, oysters and mussels.

_ Eat these instead _

An allergy to shellfish doesn’t necessarily mean an allergy to all fish. To get the same nutritional benefits of shellfish—which include omega-3 fatty acids, protein, iron, zinc, copper and vitamin B12—seek out other coldwater fish varieties (salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines) as well as eggs, nuts and seeds.


An egg allergy develops when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to proteins in egg whites or yolks. Be diligent about checking labels for eggs and egg derivatives: they’re often used as binders in baking or as emulsifiers in sauces. Reactions range from a mild rash to anaphylaxis.

_ Eat these instead _

If you’re looking for a breakfast swap for eggs, soft tofu can be a good option; just crumble it up and scramble it the same way. You can even add some turmeric to mimic that yellow color.

In place of eggs in baking or cooked recipes, consider using 1 tbsp of flax mixed into 2 tbsp of hot water for each egg called for. The flax will bind ingredients in much the same way egg protein does.


Soy is in thousands of packaged products we come across every day, so avoiding contact with this common allergen can be tricky. Symptoms of a soy allergy include rash or hives (urticaria), itching in the mouth; nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; stuffy or runny nose; and wheezing or other asthma symptoms.

Those with a soy allergy should avoid whole soy products like tempeh, tofu, edamame and miso. Soy or its derivatives can be found in soy milk (including soy ice creams and yogurts), soups, canned fish, processed meats, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, protein bars, baked goods and many other processed foods.

Because soy is a component of many food products, it’s especially important to read labels if you’re dealing with this allergy. Luckily, like peanuts, soy also falls under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.

_ Eat these instead _

Often, soy is used as filler in processed foods. Your best bet if you’re avoiding it? Eat meals and snacks made from whole, unprocessed foods (try the Clean Eating PlateJoy plan!) and skip the tofu or tempeh. Fresh vegetables, animal and plant proteins, grains and healthy fats that have not been cross-contaminated are good to go (and are often ‘the real thing’ that soy imitation products try to mimic).


Wheat comes in many forms, including einkorn, durum, triticale, spelt, kamut and bulgur, and may show up on a label as whole wheat, bleached wheat or unbromated wheat flour. We often know them as pasta, bread or baked goods.

Symptoms include hives, rash, nausea, cramps, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, headaches, asthma or anaphylaxis in extreme cases. For many people, a true wheat allergy – as opposed to a sensitivity – will also manifest in response to topical application of a wheat-based lotion or cream, or from contact with Play-Doh.

Eat these instead

Non-wheat grains, including rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat (surprise! Not actually wheat!), sorghum and teff make great swaps for their wheaty cousins. Many brands of pasta, crackers, cookies and bread are available in wheat-free versions (often in the refrigerated section of the grocery store) or you can whip up your own using a bag of wheat-free flour or a bag of non-wheat grains.

If you’re looking for alternative sources of carbohydrates, get your fix from veggies. Sweet potatoes, squash, summer squash and carrots make delicious, nutrient-dense options.

Amy Height
Holistic Nutritionist @ From the Ground Up Wellness

Amy Height is the founder of From the Ground Up Wellness, a holistic nutrition practice where she specializes in plant-based nutrition and helping her clients combat food addiction. She completed her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where she received her certification in the Health Coach Training Program. She is a triathlete and CrossFitter with a passion for all things outdoors. By night, Amy stage manages Broadway musicals and she frequently travels North America seeking out the best vegan restaurants and the best run courses. Follow her on Instagram or check out her blog for recipe and wellness ideas.

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