Stop the food confusion

IS THIS GLUTEN-FREE?: Confused about what food allergy labels mean? You're not alone.
IS THIS GLUTEN-FREE?: Confused about what food allergy labels mean? You're not alone.

It seems that many people get confused by all the allergy-free terms out there.

Some assume that if you choose to avoid dairy, you also don't eat eggs. I think this is possibly because people mistakingly think that if you don't eat dairy, you must be vegan.

And while yes, there are loads of people who are vegan, avoiding all meat, dairy and eggs, there are also people like me who are gluten-free vegetarians who eat very limited amounts of dairy but love eggs. Confused? I don't blame you. To help clarify a few things I thought I'd share my explanations for all the different terms used to describe a person by what they eat, or don't eat.

I'm not really one that usually gets into the whole 'title' thing and totally believe that what we eat is such a personal thing that doesn't require a label, but it might help to make things a bit clearer for those struggling to get their head around it all.

Dairy-free: Someone who is 'dairy-free' avoids all products that are produced from the milk of cows (and sometime sheep and goats too). This generally means no butter, ghee, milk, yoghurt, ice cream, cream, cheese and any products made using these items. It is interesting to note that true 'dairy' allergies generally only affect people with Asian backgrounds.

Lactose-free: For  some people it is the sugar found in milk, called lactose, that causes problems. It is thought that lactose intolerance may occur because of some peoples' inability to produce enough of the digestive enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose in the small intestines. 

Many dairy products are actually low in lactose and can still be enjoyed in small, infrequent amounts. Generally speaking, dairy products that are tolerated in small amounts are; natural yoghurt, homemade milk kefir, ghee, hard cheeses and sometimes butter.

Some people also find that eating goat and sheep products is not a problem. It's best to experiment with this yourself and figure out what your body does and does not cope with. We were once completely dairy-free, but after a few years can now tolerate ghee, yoghurt and feta cheese daily and butter in small amounts, occasionally. 

Casein-free:  For some people it is the milk protein (casein) that they are allergic to. For these people a strict dairy-free diet is required, but they also need to keep a look out for other foods that can contain hidden casein in the form of 'milk solids', 'whey' or 'protein'.

Gluten-free: Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barely, and rye. People who have coeliac disease or suffer from gluten intolerance need to avoid all products containing these grains. Some people also avoid oats due to cross-contamination issues and other grains to avoid are kamut and spelt (ancient wheat varieties).

Wheat-free: Some people react to wheat but not gluten, so can include barley, rye and oats in their diet and sometimes kamut and spelt (ancient wheat varieties) in small amounts.

Egg-free: People who suffer from egg allergies can be allergic to the protein found in the egg whites and/or the egg yolks. They must avoid all foods containing whole eggs, egg whites or egg yolks depending on their allergies. Some people choose to avoid eggs because of personal beliefs also, see 'vegan/vegetarian' below.

Nut-free: Some people react to 'tree nuts', either one in particular or all; so must avoid one or all of the following: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, coconut, pine nuts, pistachio and walnuts.
Other people are allergic to peanuts, this is usually a very serious allergy and if any trace of peanuts come into contact with this person it can result in anaphylaxis, an emergency situation that requires immediate treatment.

Sugar-free: Some people choose to avoid cane sugar for health reasons. They may avoid cane sugar altogether or just cane sugar in its processed form. They may or may not still eat molasses, honey, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, muscovado sugar, rapadura sugar, demerara sugar, raw (turbinando) sugar, palm sugar, maple syrup, fruit syrups (apple and pear), stevia, dates and other dried fruits.

Vegetarian: Vegetarians eat a plant-based diet with or without the inclusion of dairy products or eggs. Some vegetarians also avoid eating foods containing rennet and gelatine.

Vegetarians can be further defined by the following terms:

Ovo-vegetarian: includes eggs but not dairy products.

Lacto-vegetarian: includes dairy products but not eggs.

Lacto-ovo vegetarian: includes both eggs and dairy products.

Vegan: avoids all animal products including eggs, dairy products and honey.

Pescetarian: includes fish but no meat.

Semi-vegetarian:  includes fish and chicken.

Raw foodists: Eat a raw food diet most generally consisting of raw fruits, vegetables and nuts that are heated to a temperature of no more than 40C/104F- 47C/118F, but some also include raw dairy products, seafood and meat. Some people eat 100 per cent raw food, while many others simply eat a predominately raw food diet.

For delicious - and often gluten or dairy-free recipes, visit Emma's blog at My Darling Lemon Thyme.