A guide to the top 8 food allergies, with cooking substitutions

8 foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies. How do you cook without them? Check out this friendly guide to find out.

Produce section of a grocery store

There’s plenty to eat at the front of the grocery store
original photo by AJ via Flickr

A food allergy is an adverse reaction to food due to an immunologic mechanism, caused by antibodies in the blood (IgE) or cells in the immune system (T-cells). 8 foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies: wheat, milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and soy.

Between my positive diagnoses for food allergies (wheat, dairy, egg) and my low-tyramine diet for migraines (peanut, tree nut, soy), I officially can’t have 6 of the 8 most common food allergens. (For the record, I have no problem with fish and shellfish, but for the sake of completeness will not include them in any recipe on Spot Clean Food.)

So, without further ado…

The Spot Clean Food Guide to the Top 8 Most Common Food Allergies, with Cooking Substitutions


Examples: wheat, barley, durum, einkorn, emmer, kamut, rye, semolina, spelt, triticale, oats (by cross-contamination), malts, soy sauce

Purpose #1: whole grain
Substitutions: amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, rice, sorghum, tapioca, teff, wild rice

Purpose #2: thickener
Substitutions: arrowroot, cornstarch, kuzu, potato starch, tapioca starch

Purpose #3: leavener
Substitutions: gluten-free flour blends


Examples: butter, cheese, cream, milk, yogurt
Note: regarding coconut, see Peanuts/Tree Nuts below

Purpose #1: body
Substitutions: coconut milk, oat milk (GF), rice milk

Purpose #2: creaminess
Substitutions: coconut cream, reduced oat/rice milk

Purpose #3: fats
Substitutions: coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, lard, suet, infused oils

Purpose #4: probiotics
Substitutions: non-dairy lactofermented foods


Examples: chicken egg, hen’s egg, egg yolk, egg whites

Purpose #1: binder
Substitutions: agar, chia, starch slurries, sweet rice flour

Purpose #2: moisture
Substitutions: purees (applesauce, carrots, dates, sweet potato)

Peanuts and Tree Nuts

Examples: peanut, groundnut, acorn, brazil nut, chestnut, filbert, hazelnut, macadamia, pecan, walnut, almond, pistachio
Note: Peanut/groundnut is a legume/pulse. Almonds, cashews, and pistachios are seeds of drupes. Coconut is also a drupe and has the advantage of rarely being cross-contaminated with peanuts and tree nuts. For more details, check out my post on Culinary Nuts (and consult your doctor).

Purpose #1: body
Substitutions: coconut milk, oat milk (GF), rice milk

Purpose #2: creamy
Substitutions: seed butters, spice pastes

Purpose #3: crunchy
Substitutions: seeds, toasted grains/cereals, raw vegetables

Fish and Shellfish

Examples: too many to name

Purpose #1: texture
Substitutions: mushrooms (especially the aptly named oyster mushroom); also try zucchini/courgette, cucumber, melon

Purpose #2: flavor
Substitutions: sea salt, seaweeds

Purpose #3: omega3
Substitutions: grass-fed, pasture-raised meats


Examples: soy sauce, tofu

Purpose #1: umami
Substitutions: bone broth, brown vegetable broth, dried mushroom powder, reconstituted mushrooms, tomato paste

Purpose #2: vegetarian protein source
Substitutions: almost everything contains some amount of protein, so eat a wide variety of foods to make sure you’re getting enough

Very important note: This list is not comprehensive, and your allergies may vary. Always avoid products labeled “Manufactured in a facility that processes…” Never undertake an elimination diet without medical supervision, so check in to make sure you are eating (and properly digesting) a balanced diet.

Food Allergy Resources:

World Allergy Organization
Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)

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