Tips on How to Get Through an Allergy-Friendly Christmas
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But what if you're trying to get through a holiday season with food allergies or intolerances? Or a special diet?
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There are mince pies, trifle, turkey dinners, chocolates, pigs in blankets... but if you're navigating a free-from Christmas, there's a lot more to think about.
Here are my top tips for getting through Christmas with allergies or if you're following a special diet.
You might think it's easy - just cut out wheat and buy gluten-free bread and then you're done. But gluten can lurk in lots of unusual places, especially at Christmas time. Quite often, wheat is used as a thickener for gravies, dressings or sauces - you might find it in the flavoured coating on crisps or chips, too. It might also be in your sausages, unless you make sure you buy gluten-free ones. Keep an eye on seasoning blends, too, and obviously be on the lookout for baked or fried items with a breaded coating. One of the Christmas items that not everyone immediately thinks of is alcohol. Regular beer usually contains gluten as it's made from barley, a gluten-containing grain, but you can easily get gluten-free beers and lagers nowadays. Coeliac UK says that, generally, spirits made from gluten-containing grains, such as vodka, whiskey and gin, are safe to drink because the distilling process removes any trace of gluten. The fantastic news is that the gluten-free movement has grown so much that companies have launched gluten-free versions of classic Christmas foods, like crackers, gingerbread, cakes, mince pies and fruit cake, like the ones in these gluten-free Christmas hampers.
It's fairly easy to get through Christmas and avoid dairy, but you need to be on the lookout. Opt for dairy-free milk like hemp, soy, coconut or oat milk - I've found that my favourite dairy-free milk is hemp, which doesn't have a strong flavour of its own so it doesn't make your coffee taste funny. If you're at a party, the usual whipped cream desserts are out, like trifles and puddings - and the toffee or fudge that gets passed around in front of the Christmas film will probably contain milk or cream, too. And the shortbread will be packed full of butter. Be on the lookout for creamy liqueurs, like Baileys or Amarula, which might contain cream. If you're visiting and eating at friends or family, it might be worth taking along a dessert that you can eat, that you can share with others. Just have a word with the host beforehand, and offer to contribute. They'll be grateful that you're being proactive about it, rather than expecting them to do the research and make a recipe that fits into your eating plan. It's worth mentioning that eggs aren't considered 'dairy', but they come in a category of their own. Chocolate is another item that's worth thinking about, as it will often contain milk. You can buy dairy-free chocolate though, and the vegan jute bag hamper at Virginia Hayward contains a dairy and gluten free caramelised hazelnut nibs bar.
My Mum just decided to follow a vegan diet, and she's discovering lots of animal products hidden in foods she didn't expect. Honey is a no-no for vegans, and can be used in all sorts of desserts and seasonal treats or poured over things like pancakes. Sub this with maple syrup instead, which has a similar consistency, but slightly different flavour. Caramel is another one that is made with milk or cream, unless it's a home-made special dairy-free version. Look out too, for vegan wines - some animal products can be used to make wines, but there are definitely vegan ones out there. Other than that, you'll be checking the labels of crackers, cookies, biscuits and cakes for butter, eggs and milk. Roast potatoes are a common culprit at this time of year, as some people like to cook them in duck or goose fat. If you're eating with family or friends, just make sure they know about your preferences and offer to bring something with you that you can eat. Oh, and make sure your Boxing Day curry doesn't come with swirls or butter and cream, too. Check out the Virginia Hayward vegan hampers available this Christmas.
Peanuts and Tree Nuts, I've only just recently learned, are in different categories. And it's possible to be allergic or intolerant to either of them, or both. Nuts can be hidden in sweets (remember those purple ones in the tub of Quality Street?), fudge and liberally sprinkled on desserts and trifle or into granola or other cereals. Look out for it too, in stuffings that sit alongside your turkey or in baked goods. The great thing is that because nut and peanut allergies can be so serious, it's clearly marked on the label when nuts are an ingredient. Read the labels religiously to make sure a product is nut-free, or you might want to make your own Christmas treats to be totally sure. For added crunch in cereals or baked foods, you can add a sprinkle of seeds if they're tolerated - and you can also buy (or make) sunflower seed butter, which often works as a good alternative to nut butters for spreading or baking.
My uncle is diabetic, and I'm always mindful when I bring him treats when we visit, especially at Christmas time, because sugar and carbs are pretty much everywhere I look at this time of year. As well as making sure you have enough of your medical supplies with you, even if you're travelling, keep an eye on your diet, too. We all have this tendency to want to binge over Christmas and New Year, but for your health it's really worth doing what you can to help yourself, even at Christmas. Limit your servings of starchy foods like breads and those crispy roast potatoes, and as you're shopping for Christmas, lookout for lower sugar alternatives. You can buy lower sugar jams, cakes and pastries, but remember not to over do it. Virginia Hayward do a couple of hampers tailored to diabetics, which I think is a great idea, because you might want to give a loved one a tasty treat, but the last thing you want to do is derail their health.
For an egg-free Christmas you'll not only need to skip the fried eggs at breakfast, but you'll need to be on the lookout for custards, trifles, cakes and biscuits. That traditional drink, egg-nog, does contains egg yolks, but you can find lots of egg-free versions online, if you don't want to miss out. Mayonnaise is another one that many people don't immediately think of, as well as salad dressings - some have added egg yolks for a richer, thicker texture. Yorkshire puddings are made using eggs, flour and milk - and eggs are often used to bind stuffings or burger and meatball mixtures, too. When you're shopping, look for egg-free substitutes. Free-from aisles in the supermarkets are getting bigger, and, as demand increases, they're becoming better stocked. I've seen a number of egg-free products now in our local shop, including custards, cakes and biscuits.
Are you heading into a Christmas with food intolerances or allergies? What are your tips? Share them in the comments below, so that it might help others...