Some people call alpha-gal the “red meat allergy” but it’s not as simple as just removing beef from your diet. It can be confusing to know what you can and cannot eat, especially for someone new to the allergy.
You may be asking yourself what happens if you eat something bad. Although we each react differently, you may develop a reaction which may run the gamut from gastrointestinal distress to anaphylaxis. One difference between alpha-gal allergy and other food allergies is that the reaction may occur hours after you’ve eaten something that triggers a reaction.
Mammal byproducts are in more than just red meat. In fact, mammalian meat is in more than just food, and I’ll need to save that for a future blog post. On this website, I’ll have dedicated pages regarding specific foods for easier reference. For now, I’ll rattle off some of the more common things I learned in my first year of living with this allergy.
You may have heard pork referred to as “the other white meat” but that was just an old marketing slogan. It comes from a pig, so of course, someone with the alpha-gal allergy cannot eat it. Alpha-gal is short for the carbohydrate galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose which exists in the cells of all non-primate mammals. It’s in the muscle tissue, fat, hair, skin, pretty much every part of the animal.
So, what can you eat? For many, a whole food diet works best. That is, eating as close to raw and unprocessed as possible while avoiding red meat. This includes plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, as well as eggs, chicken, turkey, and fish. However, you want to be wary of hidden ingredients, food preparation methods, and cross-contamination.
For instance, breaded chicken sometimes will contain pork fat or lard in the breading, so you cannot eat it. You can eat turkey bacon, but you want to be cautious of turkey sausage, as the casing will often contain pork. Fish is best if it’s wild, rather than farm raised. I’m not sure of the reasoning here, but I believe that the concern is with the food that the fish consume. If you buy fish, look at the ingredients. It’s likely not just the fish, but some sort of preservative as well. Just because something is labeled chicken, turkey or fish doesn’t mean that it’s automatically safe. You must look at all the ingredients.
Dairy is an unusual topic. It naturally comes from a mammal, and so I recommend avoiding it. Some people claim that they have no reaction and tolerate it just fine. My personal decision is to avoid it completely because I’m hoping that my body will eventually forget about this allergy and I will overcome it, and the best chance I have of that happening is to reach zero exposure to the allergy triggers.
Checking ingredient lists is something you will find yourself doing quite regularly as you shop. Eventually, I will have a page dedicated to this because there’s just so much to cover. For instance, I was surprised to see that pumpkin pie contained whey protein. Although nuts are good, Planters nuts use gelatin to help the salt stick. Gelatin is derived from various animal parts, usually from cows or pigs.
The biggest surprise was when I reacted to ginger beer and found the likely culprit was the ingredient cane sugar. Cane sugar is processed over bone char to give it that clean, white appearance. When the doctor told me I was allergic to “red meat” ginger beer certainly didn’t come to mind.
Some red wines use animal-derived products as fining agents. A great website for determining if your alcoholic drink is vegan or not is www.barnivore.com.
Finally, you want to be cautious of cross-contamination. Some restaurants just cannot accommodate this allergy, no matter how much it’s explained and seemingly understood. I avoid Mexican food restaurants because of the lard and fat that may be in the tortillas and even the chips. If you eat food that is cooked on the same surface as red meat or uses the same utensils, or if food is mixed, you can easily develop a reaction. For this reason, I eat out very seldom and prepare most meals at home.
Even people who lead active lifestyles or are constantly on-the-go can find something to eat with this allergy restriction. For instance, my go-to snack is an RXBAR protein bar and a banana.
I know I have mentioned many things to be cautious of, but there is no reason to starve or feel overly restrictive with this allergy. In fact, you may find that you are eating healthier than ever.
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