Getting Enough Nutrients When You Have a Food Allergy

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2022

Some people find it hard to achieve good nutrition. Among those are people who have allergic reactions to food. Getting enough nutrients can be challenging when you have food allergies.

Food allergies limit what you eat in several ways, such as:1,2

  • Avoiding foods to help prevent allergic reactions
  • The number of foods you can safely eat drops with each additional food allergy
  • Fear of allergic reactions stops you from eating certain foods
  • Anxiety deters you from eating in public
  • A dislike of how food substitutes taste keeps you from adding these to your diet
  • The foods you do eat may lack all the nutrients you need

What nutrients do we need and why?

We need 2 main types of nutrients. We need larger amounts of carbohydrates (carbs), fats, and protein. These are known as macronutrients. We need smaller amounts of minerals and vitamins, which are micronutrients.3

The right nutrients are vital for our overall health. They provide the fuel your body needs to function. They also give you energy for your daily tasks.3

Nutrients affect how we grow and age. Not getting enough of the right nutrients can stunt the growth of children. Studies show children with allergies to cow’s milk and several foods have a greater risk of poor growth.3,4

A woman’s nutrients can also affect how her baby grows. She needs plenty of the right nutrients for herself and her baby. The baby will receive these nutrients in the mother’s womb and breastmilk.1,3

Certain nutrients strengthen the immune system. This group includes essential amino acids, fatty acids, vitamin D, and zinc. Eating a variety of foods in natural forms can provide lots of nutrients that boost the immune system. Some studies show prebiotics and probiotics in foods may also enhance immunity.1

A strong immune system can protect us from illnesses and play a role in the development of or protection from food allergies.1,2

Which nutrients do common allergenic foods provide?

People can react to any kind of food. But eggs, dairy, fish, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat trigger most food allergies. These 8 foods cause 90 percent of allergic reactions.2

The 8 leading allergens offer many important nutrients:3,4

  • Cow's milk and other dairy products – Calcium, phosphorus, protein, riboflavin, and vitamins A, B5, B12, and D
  • Eggs – Biotin, folic acid, iron, protein, riboflavin, selenium, and vitamins A, B5, B12, D, and E
  • Fish – Niacin, protein, and vitamins A, B6, B12, and E
  • Peanuts – Minerals, protein, and vitamins
  • Shellfish – Niacin, protein, and vitamins A, B6, B12, and E
  • Soy – Calcium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, protein, pyridoxine, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin B6, and zinc
  • Tree nuts – Minerals, protein, and vitamins
  • Wheat – Carbs, folic acid, iron, magnesium, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamin B6

What are some common food replacements?

While common allergenic foods provide a great deal of nutrition, so do other foods. Replacing allergenic foods is the key to getting enough nutrients.3,4

If you have a wheat allergy, the other grains you can eat include:3,4

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • Oat
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Rye

All of these are free of gluten except for barley, rye, and some oats. You can find these grains as flours, baked into snacks, and whole.3,4

You may be able to eat an altered form of certain allergenic foods. Some people with egg and milk allergies can eat baked foods that contain these ingredients. Other people can eat cooked but not raw fruits and vegetables.1,2

Special alternatives exist for babies with a cow’s milk allergy. These include formulas with hydrolyzed milk protein and formulas made from amino acids. One of these formulas or breast milk is best for children up to age 2.1,3

Finding good nutrition

If you have a food allergy, talk to your doctor. They can order tests to check your nutrient levels. Your doctor can also refer you to food allergy and nutrition experts. They can advise you on the amount of nutrients you need and how to get them.

Work with your doctor and dietitian to build an eating plan that works for you. This may include adding replacement foods and supplements to your diet. At first, you may need to write down what foods you eat each day. Reading food labels and keeping track of the supplements you take always helps too.4

Let eating bring you joy. Focus on what you can eat. Try foods or recipes that may be new to you. You may even delight in sharing your special foods with family and friends.

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