My first trip to the grocery store post-diagnosis brought me through a whirlwind of emotions — fear, loneliness and confusion, to name a few. The ”confusion” portion of the allergy-free initiation process would have passed much more easily (with far fewer “cheating” days) had I known more than just the things I couldn’t eat. Because we all know that the only people who can sustain a restricted diet are those that embrace — and come to love — the foods they can eat. Here’s a list of some of my favorite ingredients with information on uses, where to buy, and nutrititional benefits.
Earth Balance Buttery Spread: What I love about this butter substitute is that it really does look, feel and taste like butter. Better yet, it’s all natural (there’s also an organic version), making the notion that it appears to be butter but isn’t much less scary. For those soy-free people out there, there is a soy free option as well. I usually find it at Whole Foods (look for the red-ish label), but fewer stores carry it than they do the basic stuff. For those looking for just the original version, you can find it just about anywhere — even Trader Joes.
Vegenaise: As far as vegan products go, you can’t get any better than “Follow Your Heart,” the company behind vegenaise. You wouldn’t even want to go back to regular mayonaise if you could. Like Earth Balance, vegenaise comes in several varieties, including organic, reduced fat, omega-3 and grapeseed oil. Use vegenaise in dressings, dips and anywhere else you would use mayonaise (which for me means pretty much anywhere).
Follow Your Heart Cream Cheese: It can be harder to find that Tofutti cream cheese (which is still quite good), but I think it’s worth the effort to find it if you can. Follow Your Heart uses organic ingredients and agave instead of sugar in their cream cheese alternative. It’s great spread on fruit with a dash of cinnamon, or in recipes such as mac and cheese.
NuNaturals Liquid Vanilla Stevia: If you’re a stevia skeptic like I once was, you need to get yourself some of this stuff. Yes, It’s a bit pricey. But I argue that it’s worth the price, as a little goes a long way, and you’re saved using vanilla extract in your recipes. Plus, there’s none of that stevia bitterness that can otherwise ruin a good dessert. It makes a great addition to many baked goods, along with drinks and soy yogurt.
Almond Meal: This high-protein ingredient is relatively cheap if you get it at Trader Joes. Don’t even bother at any other places. I like to substitute it for a portion of the flour in baking recipes. It’s also good when used in place of bread crumbs.
Nurtitional Yeast Flakes: It took me three years to realize that nutritional yeast is candida albicans free. Just check the product before buying it to make sure your brand ensures this. Now, I’m obsessed. I use this highly nutritious ingredient in pasta dishes and cheese sauces, but you can also add it to smoothies. It has a sort of nutty flavor and yellow-ish color. It’s high in B vitamins, especially vitamin B12. Be sure to check with your doctor if you have an allergy to any other type of yeast before trying this ingredient.
Agave Nectar: Low on the glycemic index, this alternative to honey is a great option for vegans and diabetics. It’s also a good choice for anyone else looking for a sugar alternative that tastes great in a variety of dishes. Some brands to check out: Xagave, Madhava, and Wholesome Sweeteners.
Coconut Oil: I’ll let you read about the health benefits of coconut oil here. I just love how great it tastes! Unrefined is best, and while it can be a bit pricey, it’s definitely worth the cost.
Bob’s Red Mill: This line of flours and meals is quite extensive and offers several of my favorite flours for baking, including sorghum, brown rice, garbanzo and fava bean flour, along with a great gluten-free all-purpose flour mix. Bob’s also takes many precautions to ensure that it’s gluten-free products are indeed safe — including operating separate refineries and performing tests on each batch of products. Another great gluten-free all-purpose flour brand is Jules, as the garbanzo and fava bean flours used in Bob’s Red Mill don’t appeal to all palates.
Coconut Aminos: It’s not always easy to track down, but when I do see coconut aminos at Whole Foods or my local health joint, I always stock up on a few bottles. Not only does it taste great — not too salty, with a hint of sweetness — but this soy free substitute for tamari or soy sauce is a raw food that’s full of amino acids and minerals. It’s also gluten-free.
Spectrum Organic Shortening: I love this stuff. Unlike other palm shortenings, it’s sustainable, non-hyrdrogenated and soy-free. It also makes really yummy, crisp cookies and flaky scones. I have yet to find a good substitute for it when it’s sold out in the stores.
Truvia: A calorie-free sugar substitute made from erythritol (which uses bee pollen in the processing, which makes it technically not vegan) and stevia. It doesn’t have the aftertaste of stevia that turns some people off and works well in baking. It’s only sold in packets and can be found at Whole Foods or other health food stores. I use it sparingly, as it is pretty processed, but it’s a good alternative to those chemical-tasting fake sweeteners and a nice transition from regular sugar for those needing to cut sugar out of their diet.