Special Diets/Allergies

If someone you are preparing meals for has special dietary needs such as specific food allergies or intolerances or health condition which is managed by a special diet you may need to swap ingredients in some recipes to better suit their needs.

Here is some information which may help you to adapt recipes to meet special dietary needs:


Food Intolerances / Allergies


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 diarrhea, 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. Their website also provides information on allergies and food intolerance: http://www.sswahs.nsw.gov.au/rpa/allergy/



Coeliac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, is a genetic disorder that affects at least 1 in 100 Australians. If a person has coeliac disease this means a person they have a permanent intestinal intolerance to the gluten protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. This disease is treated by a lifelong gluten free diet.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, malt, spelt and triticale. 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.

It can be difficult to identify which foods contain gluten but it is important to check food labels and if a food contains additives in the additive number range of 1400-1450 then you will especially need to check if the product is gluten free. Read the contents label of products and avoid any manufactured food which has no ingredients list.
Foods labelled as ‘gluten-free’ must not contain any detectable gluten. Foods labelled as ‘low-gluten’ must not contain more than 0.02% gluten. The category (“low-gluten”) is generally not recommended for people with Coeliac Disease. Becoming ‘ingredient aware’ is an essential part of gluten-free shopping. If the gluten content of a particular food is not clear, the Coeliac Australia recommends : ‘When in Doubt, Leave it Out’.

Unsafe foods
If you require a gluten-free diet, avoid any products which contain the following ingredients: wheat, rye, barley, triticale, oats, flour (unless a gluten-free source is specified); pasta, semolina; farina or thickeners; wheat starch, starch (if not specified as gluten-free); cereal, bread, biscuit, batter, crumbs; corn flour (if not specified as gluten-free); malt.

There may be small traces of gluten in the following food additives: modified starch or thickening agent; additive numbers 1400-1450; malt flavouring and malt extract; maltodextrin (of wheat origin); hydrolysed protein (of wheat origin).

Safe foods
The following is a list of foods which are completely gluten-free and considered safe for people with Coeliac Disease to consume.  Even so it is very important to read the labels of all products to check the gluten content.

GRAINS AND FLOURS: Arrowroot, maize (corn), polenta, maize corn, cornmeal, buckwheat and pure buckwheat flour, quinoa, sorghum, sago tapioca, rice (white and brown), wild rice, rice flour, ground rice, rice bran, glutinous rice; pea, gram, lupin, potato, lentil and soya flours.

CEREALS: Plain, non-malted rice or maize (corn) breakfast cereals i.e., puffed rice or corn, corn flakes (not malted type), gluten-free muesli, infant rice cereal; gluten-free pasta, rice noodles and vermicelli, taco shells made from pure maize flour.

BREADS, BISCUITS, CAKES ETC: gluten-free bread, biscuits, cakes and pastries and mixes; rice bread, rice cakes (plain) and rice crispbread (plain).

VEGETABLES: All types of fresh, frozen and canned vegetables provided no thickening agent has been added; potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, home prepared and oven baked chips; fresh herbs; pulses, legumes and lentils; dried, split and gram peas; soya, borlotti, cannelloni and garbanzo beans; dried beans e.g., kidney beans; olives, gherkins and cocktail onions.

FRUIT, SEEDS AND NUTS: All types of fresh, dried, canned, stewed and preserved fruits providing no thickening agent has been added; nuts and seed in shells; shelled or roasted nuts and seeds, provided only salt and/or oil is added.

DAIRY FOODS AND EGGS: Milk – fresh and long life, plain powdered, canned, evaporated and condensed; infant formula; buttermilk; goats milk; soy beverages and infant formula; cream – canned or fresh; cheeses – plain, block, sliced and sticks (check all processed cheeses for gluten content); plain yoghurt and fruche; plain ice creams and ice confectionery (always check the label for gluten content); eggs – all types.

MEAT, FISH AND POULTRY: Fresh, smoked, canned, pickled and salted; canned without sauce or cereal added; ham on the bone.

SOUPS: Clear soups and soups thickened with allowed flours (always check the labels of tinned and packaged soups for gluten content).

FATS AND OILS: Oils – vegetable and seed oils; cream and butter; margarine – both poly and mono unsaturated types.

SALAD DRESSINGS: Pure cider vinegar; white vinegar.

JAMS AND SPREADS: All jams, marmalade, honey, golden syrup, treacle, maple syrup, molasses and peanut butter (always check the labels for gluten content).

HERBS, SPICES AND CONDIMENTS: Pepper, salt, herbs, spices, curry powder, mustard powder (check these items for anti-caking agent which may contain gluten) and tomato sauce.

BEVERAGES: Water, mineral water – plain and flavoured, still or carbonated; Soft drink – sweetened or diet type; Fruit and vegetable juice, cordials without barley, soda and tonic water; Sports electrolyte drinks; Tea – herb tea and normal, coffee – pure, instant and decaffeinated.

MISCELLANEOUS: Sugar – white, brown, castor and pure icing sugar; jelly and gelatine; popcorn, plain potato crisps (check the label for gluten content), plain corn chips and taco shells (check the label for gluten content); lollies floss and fairy floss; plain dark and milk chocolate (no fillings).

Health care

As with all conditions your doctor should be consulted. Your doctor will diagnose and treat this condition which is managed by a life-long gluten-free diet. Your doctor may refer you to a Dietitian for advice about a suitable eating plan.
Before commencing a gluten-free diet, it is very important to consult your Doctor because trying a gluten-free diet without medical advice is NOT an accurate way of determining if Coeliac Disease is present.

Some medications contain gluten (and lactose, which should also be avoided by some Coeliac patients). Gluten and lactose are sometimes used as fillers in some medications. Your Doctor or Pharmacist can tell you which medications contain gluten


Cooking for a Gluten-Free Diet

Cooking with non-gluten containing flours produces products that are flatter, heavier and often more “crumbly”. This is because the gluten in flour gives elasticity to the texture of a baked food and helps to hold air in the baked product. However most foods based on wheat can be replicated with gluten-free products.

For more information about Coeliac Disease and a gluten free diet visit Coeliac Australia   www.coeliac.org.au


Egg allergy is the most common food allergy in infants and young children.  Egg allergy is first noticeable between 6-15mths of age when egg is first introduced to the child but is an allergy that most young children will grow out of.

Both the egg white and egg yolk may affect the egg allergy sufferer.

 Eggs can be successfully replaced in recipes where eggs are a component of the recipe (eg cakes, biscuits, sauces). Dishes that include eggs as a key ingredient (eg. quiche, frittatas or omelettes) are unlikely to be successful if made with egg replacers.




Dairy intolerance is a sensitivity to anything that contains cow’s milk. Those who suffer from dairy intolerance experience a reaction to dairy because they are intolerant to the proteins in milk.


1 cup of cow’s milk can be replaced with:



Lactose is the sugar found in milk.  Lactose intolerance is not an allergy and most lactose intolerant individuals are able to tolerate small amounts of lactose from some dairy foods over the day. The amount of lactose a person with lactose intolerance will tolerate will vary between individuals.


Substitute any milk, custard, cream, soft cheeses (eg: cottage or ricotta), ice cream with:

Yoghurt may be tolerated in some children with lactose intolerance (as the culture partially digests lactose), but children with severe intolerance will require a lactose free or soy yoghurt.

Hard cheeses contain negligible lactose and are usually well-tolerated.

Check labels for any ingredients relating to milk. (e.g. milk solids, skim milk powder etc). Recipes containing significant amounts of these ingredients may not be tolerated.

Other Special Diets



The term ‘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:

lacto-ovo          (can include dairy products and eggs)

lacto               (can include dairy products but not eggs)

ovo                 (can include eggs but not dairy products)

vegan              (only plant based foods; no dairy and no eggs – more information below)

For more information, visit the Australian Vegetarian Society: http://www.veg-soc.org/cms/html/


Vegans consume no animal products at all. This includes not buying or wearing clothing that has come 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: http://www.veganaustralia.net/


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