Special Dietary Needs

You, your partner/spouse or some individual members of your family may have health conditions, or have cultural or ethical beliefs that mean certain foods need to be avoided. Following is information about some of the common health issues, cultural and ethical beliefs that might affect food choice.


Food Allergies and Intolerances

What is a Food Allergy?

Food Allergies are caused by the immune system falsely recognising the protein component of a food as a threat. Most food allergy reactions usually occur quickly; generally within 2 hours of exposure, but gut related symptoms (such as diarrhoea, constipation or bloating) may take several hours or even a few days to develop.

 Children are most likely to develop a food allergy when they are under 5 years of age.  Reactions to cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, and fish account for more than 85% of food allergies in children. Allergies to nuts and seafood commonly produce the most severe reactions and are also more likely to be the allergies that persist for life.

What is  Food Intolerance?

 Food intolerance is a reaction to food that does not involve the immune system. There are various theories as to why food intolerance occurs. It is well documented that certain food chemicals can “irritate the nerve endings in sensitive people to cause a range of symptoms”. Common symptoms include recurrent hives and swellings, rhinitis or sinusitis (frequently running or stuffed up nose), recurrent mouth ulcers, stomach pains and bowel irritations (loose, frequent often very smelly stools or even constipation).

Children with food intolerances may also present as irritable, restless or demonstrate behavioural problems such as defiance, exaggerated moodiness or even Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) -like behaviour.

The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) allergy unit website has an extensive downloadable shopping list designed specifically for people with allergies to nut, egg and milk and also provides information on allergies and food intolerance: http://www.sswahs.nsw.gov.au/rpa/allergy/


GF Gluten Free

A Gluten Free (GF) diet is needed if people have coeliac disease – a permanent intolerance to the gluten protein found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, malt, spelt and triticale.A lifelong gluten free diet is the treatment for coeliac disease.

These grains and the products processed from them are used as ingredients in common foods such as breads, biscuits, cakes, pizza, pastry, pasta and breadcrumbs etc. Gluten is also found  in some food additives which are  used in many types of pre-prepared, commercial foods.

For more information, visit The Coeliac Society website or Coeliac Australia website


DF Dairy Free

A Dairy Free (DF) diet is needed if someone has a sensitivity to anything that contains cow’s milk – that is, they have a cow’s milk allergy. Those who are suffer from cow’s milk allergy experience a reaction to dairy products because they are allergic to the proteins in milk.

For more information, visit The Australiasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) website


LF Lactose Free

‘Lactose Intolerance’  is different to a cow’s milk allergy. A cow’s milk allergy is where a person is intolerant to the cow’s milk protein. Lactose Intolerance means a person  is intolerant to Lactose, the sugar found in milk.  Lactose intolerance is not an allergy. Most lactose intolerant individuals can tolerate small amounts of lactose from some dairy foods over the day. The amount of lactose tolerated will vary between individuals.

For more information, visit The Australiasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) website


EF Egg Free

An Egg Free (EF) diet is needed if someone has an Egg Allergy. Both the egg white and egg yolk may affect the egg allergy sufferer. Eggs are an ingredient in many types of food products, including baked and glazed foods.

For more information and fact sheets about egg allergy, how to avoid egg-containing products, and tips for egg free cooking, visit the Analphylaxis Australia website, and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead website.


V  Vegetarian

V or ‘Vegetarian’ applies to people who choose not to eat any part of an animal – including meat, poultry, fish or shellfish.

Vegetarian diets may be either:

For more information, visit the Australian Vegetarian Society website.


Ve Vegan

‘Ve’ or Vegan is the term used when people choose to consume no animal products at all. This includes not buying or wearing clothing that has been sourced from an animal (e.g. leather, fur and wool) as well as not using cosmetics or drugs that have been tested on living animals.

For more information on the Vegan Diet, visit The Vegan Society of Australia website.



So what does it mean when we say ‘Halal’ food?

The Halal food laws carry a special significance for Muslims who by these laws are expected to eat for survival, to maintain good health and not to live for eating. In Islam, eating is considered to be a matter of worship of God like prayer and other religious activities. There may be variations in compliance with these laws within the community depending on the strictness of religious beliefs under which people in the Muslim community choose to live.

Foods are classified (in the Quran) as Halal (lawful or permitted) or Haram (unlawful).

In Islam there are three important guidelines that relate to selecting food and drink:

1) Whether the consumption of the foodstuff is prohibited by Allah

2) Whether the foodstuff is obtained through Halal or Haram means

3) Whether or not the material is harmful to health

Factors which help to identify if a food is Halal or Haram include: its nature; how it was processed; and where it originated from.

HARAM (unlawful) FOODS:

HALAL (lawful) FOODS:

Products made from the following substances are Halal unless they contain or come into contact with a Haram substance.

Stolen foods and foods detrimental to spiritual and mental health such as alcoholic drinks and drugs are also prohibited.

Meat/meat alternatives is the only food group that is Halal regulated.

Through advances in food technology, Muslims are now able to obtain foods with Halal forms of ingredients that in their common form are Haram. These include some food additives, gelatine, emulsifiers and rennet in cheese manufacture.

Halal ingredients must not be mixed or come in contact with Haram materials during storage, transport and cooking. For a food to remain ‘Halal’ utensils and equipment for processing, manufacture and storage of ‘Halal’ food should be cleansed in accordance with Islamic law.


In Australia, Halal certification for food products is available from AFIC (Australian Federation of Islamic Councils Inc) ICCV (Islamic Council of Victoria Inc), HCCA (Halal Certification Authority Australia), Australian Halal Food Services Trust or an equivalent Muslim body.

Most vegetarian and Kosher meals are generally suitable for those choosing to follow Halal eating patterns.

For a list of supermarket food products that the Muslim community can safely choose see the Halal Guide