In this series, we ask dietitians across Canada to answer your questions on nutrition and dietary support. We recently spoke with Amy Chow, a registered dietitian based in Langley City, BC.
Amy has been practicing since 2011 after completing her training at McGill University. She is passionate about inspiring families to feel confident about nutrition and bringing joy back into eating.
This month, Amy answers a question on peanut allergy and a plant-based diet.
We are trying to incorporate more of a plant-based approach to our family’s diet, but our 4-year-old daughter has a peanut allergy. How can a dietitian help us?
When considering plant-based foods, careful planning with a registered dietitian can help ensure your family is meeting nutritional needs, and your daughter’s growth and development is supported. Food allergy can present extra challenges since you are avoiding your food allergen, and this further narrows the available food options.
For some with peanut allergy, tree nuts and seeds can be good alternatives as long as they are not allergic to these other foods. There are different options such as almond butter, sunflower seed butter, and tahini, made from sesame that can be part of a healthy and safe diet. And, when buying for someone with a peanut allergy, always triple check the label and avoid products with “may contain peanut” warnings.
Lupin is a legume that may be used in plant-based products, it’s also an emerging allergen as it’s known to cause allergic reactions in some individuals. Research has shown that people with peanut allergy may cross-react to lupin as it’s a legume belonging to the same plant family as peanuts. While only some people with peanut allergy will also react to lupin, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recommend those with peanut allergy avoid products containing lupin until consulting with one’s allergist. (Read more about lupin and peanut allergy).
Additionally, there are plant-based alternatives with concentrated pea protein which may be problematic for some people with peanut allergy, due to potential cross-reactivity. (Read more about pea protein allergy).
Some important nutrients worth noting for a plant-based diet:
Protein: protein is usually met through a vegan diet, but only if animal proteins are adequately replaced by plant-based proteins (e.g. beans, peas, lentils, tofu, seed butters). One of the easiest ways to substitute peanuts is to use seeds as alternatives – sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, hemp hearts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds. Seeds and seed butters can be used in place of peanuts in most recipes.
Iron: Iron needs are quite high for children aged 4-8 (DRI = 10mg/d), and the requirement for iron is 1.8 times higher for vegetarians (18mg/d). The non-heme iron found in plant-based sources have lower bioavailability and a higher amount of fiber that may further inhibit iron absorption. Some helpful strategies include: combining non-heme iron (e.g. beans , peas, lentils, tofu, ground seeds, seed butters) with a source of vitamin C, and using a cast iron pan for cooking.
Calcium: Without dairy products it can be more challenging to get enough calcium (DRI = 1000mg/d for aged 4-8). Some good plant-based calcium sources include fortified soy milk, fortified oat milk, tofu, sesame, tahini, and leafy greens.
A dietitian will work with you by looking at your family’s specific needs, review current eating habits, address any nutrients of concerns, suggest appropriate supplementation as needed, and work with you on everyday challenges including label reading, cooking with new ingredients, and managing picky eating behaviors in children.
Learn more from our webinar on plant-based food trends and the impact to those with food allergy which includes a chart on potential cross-reactivity between legumes.
Do you have a question you’d like to ask a dietitian in the months to come? If so, please send it along to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: The dietitians featured in this series answer questions on general topics, please talk to your doctor if you have questions about your own health or the health of your child.