Need Help Avoiding Food Allergens? Look Here
Some good news for those with special dietary needs: Websites and apps are making it easier to find foods, and restaurant meals, that are free of gluten or common allergens such as peanuts, eggs, wheat and dairy.
VineMarket, a website owned by online retailer Amazon.com Inc., recently relaunched to help those with food allergies find snacks and condiments that they can eat. Another site, AllergyEats, finds nearby restaurants that are friendly to those with allergies.
There's a good reason why companies both big and small are accommodating people with food restrictions. "There's money to be made here," says Michael Spigler, vice president of education at the Food Allergy Research and Education advocacy organization. Some 15 million Americans have food allergies, according to FARE.
And avoiding gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, has become trendy after several popular diet books advised cutting it out. And some have serious reasons to avoid gluten: People with the autoimmune disorder celiac disease can't tolerate it.
Here are some sites and apps people with special diets can check out:
VineMarket.com relaunched in March to sell everything from gluten-free pretzels to egg-free double chocolate cookies. A new search function lets you check off which specific ingredients you don't want in your food. You can click one or several ingredients at a time, and the retailer will give you a list of products without them.
AbesMarket.com, an online seller of organic and natural food and beauty products, has a large selection of gluten-free products ranging from pancake mixes to chocolate bars.
But even if a product is advertised as gluten- or allergen-free, you still need to read the labels to make sure. Spigler recommends reading ingredient lists three times: When you buy the product, when you put it away in the kitchen and when you cook or serve it.
Online review site AllergyEats.com lets users rate how allergy-friendly restaurants are. They can also write in tips and comments about the restaurant, such as which dishes to eat. You find restaurants near you based on your food allergy or intolerance.
If you're on the go, AllergyEats has apps for Android and Apple devices. It also has a separate website for places to eat at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. You can find that at AllergyEats.com/Disney.
HealthyOut, which is designed to help diners find healthy takeout food, also has an option to find restaurants that serve gluten-free dishes. You can search for eateries on HealthyOut's website or on its apps for Android and Apple devices. New Yorkers can also use HealthyOut to order food through the website or app for delivery or pick up. It will offer that option nationwide soon, says CEO and co-founder Wendy Nguyen.
SafeFare.org, launched in April, lists restaurants that employ workers who have taken an allergen-safety course. The site is run by FARE. Spigler says it will add more restaurants to the site in the next six months.
When dining out, it's still important to ask questions and let servers know about your allergies each time. Food can easily be cross-contaminated in the kitchen.
"There are no guarantees," says Spigler.