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Shopping and Cooking for a Restricted Diet

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Shopping for yourself or others on a restricted diet can be daunting and time consuming if you are not used to it.  The following is a guide to help you shop successfully whilst saving time, and ensure there is no more feeling left out when it comes to eating your favourite foods.

Try to investigate all the following suggestions, which will help add variety, and help you create more tasty, nutritional food for you and your family.

Free from lists – supermarkets/manufacturers

It is helpful to obtain a ‘free from list’ for the particular allergen you wish to avoid.  This is a regularly updated list of foods that are suitable for a particular diet.  Available lists usually include; milk free, egg free, wheat free, gluten free, soya free, nut & peanut free, sesame free, preservative free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.  They are available free of charge from the head office of the supermarket or manufacturer of your choice and they are also increasingly available online.

Studying your list before you go shopping is recommended to help speed up your shopping, as the time spent can be considerable when first following a restricted diet.  Don’t forget to take the list to the shops with you for reference or check it at home if you are shopping online.  (Remember you still need to double check all food ingredient labels before you buy them even if you are using these lists).

Supermarket special diet foods

Supermarkets are increasing their range of products for special diets all the time.  Many supermarkets also have their own-label free-from range.  Soya ice creams, spreads and yoghurts, gluten free pasta, breads and biscuits and dairy free cheeses are just some examples.  They are usually found in the free-from or organic aisle, but can be hidden amongst other similar foods; for example, dairy free milks may be found alongside other longlife milks, or may be amongst the fresh dairy milks.

iPhone applications (app)

iPhone apps are now available to help you identify ingredients in manufactured foods in an instant by scanning the product bar code.  They are particularly useful for identifying ingredients, which are not one of the 14 allergens that by Law have to be clearly labelled on all pre-packaged manufactured foods for sale anywhere within the EU.

(These 14 allergens are: milk, egg, wheat, gluten, soya, sesame, fish, crustaceans, molluscs, lupin, celery, mustard, sulphites, tree nuts, and peanuts).

Internet sites

There are now many Internet sites that offer special diet products and others that offer a mail/telephone order service.  If you cannot find these on the internet, contact the Allergy UK helpline.

Health food Shops

It is certainly worthwhile visiting your local health food shop regularly.  They usually have a good selection of readily available special diet products.  They will also have catalogues that you can order products from, that are not on the shelves.  They also usually have a good selection of useful recipe books.


Supermarkets and food manufacturers have made a huge effort to provide more informative labelling on their products.  By law all pre-packed manufactured foods must declare the 14 foods listed above.  In 2014, unpackaged items such as delicatessen and bakery items will also have to list these ingredients clearly.

There is currently no legislation on the labelling of unintentional ingredients, which may be in trace amounts in a product due to manufacturing practices, and processing.  All labelling of this type is voluntarily put on products, typical labelling you may see could include: ‘may contain traces of peanut’, ‘made in factory using sesame’.  Sometimes people consider that this labelling is defensive to ‘cover backs’, but for those with a severe food allergy, these warnings should be taken seriously.  Some products really will contain traces of the allergen and because it is not possible to identify which they are, it is better to play safe and avoid the foods that may contain traces of the food to which you are allergic.

Rules of thumb:

  • Avoid foods without an ingredient label
  • Avoid foods containing traces of the food you are allergic to
  • Read full ingredients listings (not just the allergen advice panel)
  • Read food labels every time a new packet is opened

In 2014 there will be new updated laws taking effect regarding the labelling of unpackaged foods, which will provide further helpful advice on ingredients and allergen content.

Rules of thumb

  • Avoid foods without an ingredient label
  • Avoid foods containing traces of the food you are allergic to
  • Read full ingredients listings (not just the allergen advice panel)
  • Read food labels every time a new packet is opened

In 2014 there will be new updated laws taking effect regarding the labelling of unpackaged foods, which will provide further helpful advice on ingredients and allergen content.

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Using suitable existing recipes/adapting existing recipes

It may be possible to continue to eat some of the products and recipes you used before you discovered your food allergy/intolerance.  You may have to adapt recipes by changing one or more ingredients, and this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.  Some ingredients such as some of the gluten free flours may take time and practice to get used to, but do persevere.

Make up a file of all the successful and favourite recipes that you have enjoyed.  Taking photographs of some of the dishes is a good idea too and you can make up your own recipe file, which you can show others wishing to cook for you.

If you are egg or milk allergic, it is worthwhile looking at the Vegan Society website or vegan cookbooks.


New recipes from existing cookbooks

Don’t forget to have a good look at all your cookbooks at home.  There are probably lots of recipes that are suitable for your special diet that you haven’t yet tried.

Special diet cookbooks

Special diet cookbooks are cookbooks devoted to a particular diet.  They are often written by allergic people who want to share ideas and recipes with others in the same position.  They are usually available from health food shops, bookshops, the internet, from allergy associations such as Allergy UK or from your dietitian.  www.amazon.co.uk  is one website that has an excellent selection.  Choose a recipe book that avoids only your allergen, as choosing one that covers lots of allergies means you will be cutting out some ingredients unnecessarily, thus restricting your diet further.

Recipes from the internet

What did we do before the World Wide Web?  There are some excellent websites.  Just type in ‘special diet cookery’ or ‘allergy recipes’ or anything similar to your search engine and up they come.  They are also accessed via the ‘links’ on many of the allergy websites, you’ll also find some great recipes via various vegan sites.

Recipes from special diet product companies

When manufacturers produce a special product such as egg replacer, gluten free mix or dairy free margarine, they often produce a recipe book or leaflet.  These show the consumer how versatile the product is (and encourage you to use more!).  Make use of these, as all the recipes are tried and tested so they may be preferable to adapting your usual recipes if you are new to your special diet.

Cross contamination issues for the very allergic

If you are severely allergic, (anaphylactic) to a certain food, then complete avoidance of even traces of the food is essential.  You may inadvertently come into contact with the food to which you are allergic in a number of ways:

  • By buying a food without an ingredient label such as a bakery or delicatessen item
  • By coming into contact with spillages
  • By coming into contact with allergens spilt on the conveyer belt at the till
  • By buying bakery goods/delicatessen goods which although may not contain any harmful ingredients, may have come into contact with an allergic ingredient.  (Via handling contaminated knives, boards etc.)  don’t get too hung up about this but just stay alert to these possibilities.

Walking past an allergic food

For someone who is very allergic to nuts, walking past an aisle where there are lots of unwrapped nuts can trigger a mild reaction in some people.  Around Christmas time, this may be worth remembering.  The same applies to fish cooking where the vapours have been found to make the allergen airborne.  Only avoid this if it affects you – don’t impose any unnecessary restrictions on your life.

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Cosmetics Labelling

The sixth amendment to the European Union Cosmetic Directive (1993) was implemented in December 1997.  It requires all the ingredients to be included in the label for soaps, cosmetics and ‘personal care products’.  This classification is taken to include any preparation that is applied to the skin, eyes, mouth, hair or nails for the purpose of cleansing, giving a pleasant smell or enhancing appearance.  The labelling has helped consumers to identify products that might be harmful to them.  However, because the labelling can be in Latin, it is sometimes incomprehensible.  This can cause a problem when common ingredients are not recognised.  An example of this is ‘Arachis oil’, which is the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) name for peanut oil.

The only answer is for you to have a list with the Latin names of the ingredients that you must avoid and refer to this whenever buying the products if you find they cause a problem.  Often this will not be an issue, so avoidance is not necessary.  The Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association Ltd is prepared to answer queries about these issues and has a useful leaflet listing some of the Latin (INCI) names.  Below is a list of some of the ordinary names and their Latin names.

Ingredients and their INCI names (as used on product packaging)

Ingredient INCI name 
Avocado Persea gratissima
Bitter almond Prunus amara
Brazil nut Bertholletia excels
Coconut Cocos nucifera
Cod liver oil Gadi iecur
Egg Ovum
Hazel nut Corylus rostrata/americana/avellana
Macadamia nut   Macademia ternifolia
Melon Cucumis melo
Milk Lac
Mixed fish oil   Piscum iecur
Pea Pisum sativum
Peanut oil Arachis oil
Sesame Sesamum indicum
Soya Glycine soja
Sweet almond/Almond oil Prunus dulcis
Walnut Juglans regia/nigra


A comprehensive inventory of these substances has been published by the European Commission and is available on their website or on the Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association website. The terminology used in the labelling of these products must comply with that in the inventory.

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Lastly, don’t forget to check the ingredients list of all medicines and supplements as these can contain hidden allergens.                                                                                                                               

Last updated: October 2012

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