“For many people, special diets are not just a lifestyle choice, they’re a necessity,” says Roger Clemens, PhD, a spokesperson at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). “Nut and food allergies can be very serious health concerns. Fortunately, food science helps make it easier to serve meals that cater to your guests’ special dietary needs.”
Here are some common special diet requests and how you can serve your guests delicious, safe meals:
Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and oats. It makes dough stronger and gives baked goods that spongy quality Americans tend to love. People with certain health conditions, such as celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, have trouble digesting gluten and may experience diarrhea, chronic fatigue and headaches if gluten is present in their diets.
Food science has helped improve the variety and quality of gluten-free baked goods now available. You can find breads, cakes, muffins, crackers, pasta and even pizza crust made without gluten. Many options are available in your local grocery store, specialty food stores or health food stores. You’ll need to read labels to determine what’s actually gluten-free and safe to serve your guests who adhere to gluten-free diets.
Another option is to use products that are based on grains or tubers that don’t contain gluten, such as rice cakes, corn tortillas and taco shells, potatoes and quinoa. Or, an even healthier starch option is to go with vegetables such as potatoes, beans and cauliflower, which provide additional nutrients, flavor and variety to a meal without adding gluten.
While kosher foods draw from Jewish dietary laws and traditions, approximately 80 percent of people who consume kosher foods are not observing them. Market research firm Mintel says that between 2003 and 2008, kosher food sales rose 64 percent to a record $12.5 billion.
Many people choose kosher foods because they appreciate the strict preparation and inspection guidelines as well as the clarity of food ingredients. For example, in kosher-certified foods, meat and dairy are never prepared or packaged together. For people managing food allergies, or who prefer vegan or vegetarian diets, kosher foods can make it easier to know exactly what they’re consuming.
Fortunately, kosher foods are easy to find – in fact, about 40 percent of the packaged goods available in the supermarket are kosher-certified, according to IFT spokesperson Joe Regenstein, PhD. Ensuring you serve your guests kosher foods can be as easy as reading labels.
Food allergies, which can be genetic, and affect about 15 percent of the U.S. population, according to Food Allergy Research & Education, Inc., while food intolerances are much more common. Though most people will experience an unpleasant reaction to a certain type of food at some point in their lives, the only way to diagnose a true food allergy is by visiting a medical doctor. While most food allergies cause relatively mild and minor symptoms, such as rashes or gastrointestinal discomfort, some allergies are more severe and can be life-threatening.
While people with food allergies generally should completely avoid their trigger foods, people with food intolerance or food sensitivity might be able to be less strict about their diets. Food reactions in intolerant or sensitive people are usually less severe than allergic reactions, and some people with sensitivity may be able to occasionally indulge in dishes that include their trigger foods.
Food science has made it easier to accommodate special dietary needs, and with some precautions, preparation – and plenty of label-reading – it’s possible for every host to please and protect guests with dietary differences.