Food Allergies and Vegetable Oil: What You Need to Know

Near our home in Colorado Springs is a Mexican restaurant called Carlos Miguel’s that people rave about. So last Friday evening, when the streets were icy and my husband and I didn’t want to venture too far from home, I called the restaurant to discuss my food restrictions.

“What type of vegetable oil do you cook with?” I asked the man who answered the phone.


“What type?  Soy? Corn? Canola?” I asked.

“Just vegetable.” He seemed a little perturbed.

I told the man I couldn’t eat at his restaurant without knowing exactly what was in the vegetable oil because I was allergic to soy and corn. He didn’t offer to check the ingredients label so I said goodbye.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a restaurant couldn’t tell me what was in their cooking oil. And I’m sure it won’t be the last.  How absurd it is for restaurants not to know what they are serving their guests!



I also have a hard time with processed foods containing soy and corn. In the United States, corn isn’t one of the top eight allergens required by law to be identified on labeling.  While soy is one of the top eight, the FDA exempts soybean oil and soy lecithin from being labeled.  The FDA and medical experts, such as Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, MD, author of Food Allergies: A Complete Guide for Eating When Your Life Depends On It ( Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), say most soy oil is highly refined so there is little proteins left to trigger an allergic reaction. Cold pressed and expeller pressed soybean oil are not highly refined and may contain soy proteins. The experts also say soy lecithin, a derivative of soy used as a nonstick agent in baking, has minimal proteins and those with a soy allergy need not worry.

My body does not agree with these experts. I’ve learned the hard way that soy oil, soy lecithin and corn oil  will all cause a severe reaction, including eosinophilic esophagitis. Blend them together–use soy/corn oil in my salad dressing and spray the grill with cooking spray containing soy lecithin–and I’ll be in really bad shape.  Talking with the other soy-allergic folks at food allergy conferences and through social media, I know I am not alone. Of course,  if you react to soy (so far 15 allergenic proteins have been found in soy) but can tolerate soy oil and/or soy lecithin, I’m happy for you! And a bit jealous! But do watch and discuss any changes in your health with your doctor.

Food Allergies and Vegetable Oil

Soy oil, or a blend of oils including soy oil, is used in restaurants because it’s inexpensive. Soybean meal and vegetable oil consume around 85% of the world’s soybean crop. By the way, the soybean is not a vegetable–soybean is a legume–but soy oil is still  referred to as vegetable oil.  Other plant-based oils include:

  • Canola (rapeseed)
  • Coconut
  • Corn
  • Cottonseed
  • Flaxseed
  • Olive
  • Palm
  • Peanut (a legume, not a nut)
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower

Unless the label says the oil is 100 percent, it may a blend of other oils. Read my post The Olive Oil Controversy. People can be allergic to any of these plant-based oils.

So here’s what I do to avoid an allergic reaction because of a vegetable oil mishap:

  • I read the ingredients labels of all oils before I buy them, and I stick to companies I trust. For a cooking spray, I use Winona Pure which does not contain soy lecithin.
  • I avoid all restaurants that cook only with soy oil and offer no other options (even if I’m ordering a food that doesn’t require oil–it’s just too risky). If they cannot identify what is in their  “vegetable oil,” I leave. In my experience, most Mexican restaurants and many Asian restaurants use soybean oil.
  • If it’s a questionable restaurant, I ask if the olive oil or other oil is 100 percent. This doesn’t usually go over well, but it’s been a lifesaver on several occasions.
  • I read allergen menus with a magnifying glass. Because of the FDA exemption for soybean oil and soy  lecithin, restaurants do not have to list them under “soy allergy.” Some allergen menus note this exemption with an asterisk, but not all do.
  • I ask a lot of questions before I order. What oil do you use to cook with? Does your vegetable oil contain soy? Do any other foods contain soy lecithin? Do you use cooking spray?
  • If possible, I call the chef in advance and discuss my dietary needs. I have celiac disease and allergies to dairy, eggs and corn, but I always stress the soy allergy because it’s the one that gets missed by waitstaff the most. Untrained waitstaff think tofu and soy sauce.
  • When I make reservations on OpenTable, which I do a lot, I note I have a soy allergy including soy oil and soy lecithin. I also check out what people say on Urban Spoon and Food Allergy/Celiac Disease apps.
  • When I travel, I try to stick to chain restaurants that never use soy oil (these are usually higher-end chains).
  • When eating out in my hometown, I’m a regular at restaurants that don’t use any soy at all. I let them know how grateful I am to have a safe place to eat.

Food Allergies and Vegetable Oil: What You Need to Know first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Christmas Vegetable Tree

Appetizers for an Allergic Foodie

Flashback Tuesday: I’m enjoying the holidays with my family as I hope you are. This post appeared last year. The appetizers from my friend’s party were a hit. Enjoy! And Happy Holidays to you and your family.

It took another Amy–my friend Amy Brown–to teach me it’s okay to serve your nonallergic guests allergy-friendly foods.

Maybe it comes from having a husband who has yet to embrace gluten-free, dairy-free foods (to be fair, he doesn’t have to) that makes me think everyone else will feel the same way he does: Not going to try it if  I don’t have to.

So I often go to the trouble of serving “regular” food at our social gatherings. A few years ago when we moved into our new home, I hosted a potluck open house where everyone brought an appetizer.  As you might guess, there was very little for me to eat.

Then last year I hosted a holiday cookie exchange. I figured this was a fun way for my kids and my husband to get treats without me having to touch a stick of butter or sift flour. Ironically, it was over Christmas break last year that my younger son realized gluten was making him sick and my oldest son gave up everything dairy.

So when this holiday season came around,  I decided to skip hosting a party. With our sons home, I just didn’t want to have foods around that they couldn’t enjoy.  And frankly, I didn’t want to do all the work of preparing both allergy-free and regular foods.

Then I went to Amy Brown’s party.  Take a look at this table of yummy appetizers:

Delicious appetizers for an allergic foodie

Photo by Amy Brown


The food was incredible!  Amy and her husband, Brandon, follow a “Whole30” diet, eliminating grains, dairy, sugar, and legumes. This made many of the appetizers free of  gluten, soy, and dairy!  They did include some macaroni and cheese the kids devoured and deviled eggs that my husband devoured.

My favorite appetizer was incredibly simple: A BLT on a toothpick!

Bacon, Lettuce, Tomatoe Appetizer

Photo by Amy Brown


Then there were these adorable olive penguins.

Gluten-free treats

And the zucchini wrapped around sausage with pesto and olive oil were fabulous.

Delicious sausage/zuchinnin wraps

Photo by Amy Brown


Amy also made several types of dips, including one with eggplant and red peppers that she found at She Cooks . . . He Cleans  (recipe follows). I’m not a big fan of eggplant, but I’ll be making this dip soon.  I eat a lot of veggies and hummus, so–cover your ears, Amy–I wasn’t that excited to try the black bean hummus. But I did, and it was delish!

And who wouldn’t want to eat their veggies when presented this way?

Christmas Vegetable Tree

Amy also served the gluten-free crackers on a separate plate and labeled them!

None of the guests seemed to notice the appetizers were “different” or “allergy-free” or “gluten-free.”  The food was just good . . . actually, better than good.  And oh so cute.

Roasted Egg Plant and Red Pepper Dip

(Note this recipe includes sesame seeds)

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded
  • 4 garlic cloves, whole, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (to start with…)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons tahini paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • cayenne pepper, to taste
  • juice of one lemon
  • lots more good extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut the eggplant up into 1-inch square pieces.  (Before cutting, I like to take off some of the skin in stripes around the eggplant.  Up to you.)   Cut the red bell peppers into 1 inch strips.  Toss the eggplant, peppers, and garlic in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, and several grindings of pepper.

Spread the vegetables on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast for 35-45 minutes, tossing once during cooking, until the vegetables are soft and lightly browned.  Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Place the vegetables in a food processor; add the tahini, cumin, cayenne, lemon juice, and another glug (or two) of olive oil.  Process in pulses until blended.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Try to avoid over-processing or it will become paste-like in texture.)

Drizzle with more olive oil on top, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Appetizers for an Allergic Foodie originally appeared at Adventures of an Allergic FoodieRoasted Eggplant and Red Pepper Dip originally appeared at She Cooks . . . He Cleans.  Thank you to Amy Brown for sharing these treats and photos.

Black-eyed Peas

A Yankee-Coloradoan Dishes Out Some Lowcountry Cuisine

Hi y’all!

I’m in South Carolina perfecting my Paula Deen accent along with my Southern cooking skills.  I know, I know.  You’re asking yourself how can an allergic foodie with celiac disease even get near Southern food?  Let’s see, there’s wheat in them there fried green tomatoes, flour in both ‘em biscuits and gravy, dairy and corn in that heapin’ pile of grits, and the pecan pie has a smorgasbord of allergens that’ll send a Yankee gal like me skedaddle ling to the powder room.

Is it me, or does my Southern accent sound less like Paula Deen and more like Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies?

My accent may stink, but my Southern cooking has improved—thanks in part to good friends and fellow Coloradoans, Judy and Ky, who paid George and me a Hilton Head visit last week. Judy and Ky are the kind of friends an allergic foodie really appreciates; they totally get my dining-out limitations and are more than willing to put on an apron and pick up a wheat-free spatula.


And they’re not afraid to try new foods!  Like Wahoo.  No, I’m not talking about a chocolate beverage. Wahoo is a firm and mild saltwater fish from the South Carolina waters.  You may have tasted it at Wahoo’s Fish Tacos. It looks like this:

Wahoo, a SC saltwater fish (from Wikipedia)

Wahoo, a SC saltwater fish (from Wikipedia)

And boy is it tasty!  Especially after marinating in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil and oregano for about twenty minutes, then grilling over hot coals. Add some baby grilled romaine, chopped local tomatoes from Low Country Produce, and a bottle of St. Francis Merlot, and you’ll think your dining at one of them fancy restaurants down at Harbour Town.

View from the Harbour Town 18th hole (photo by Judy M.)

View from the Harbour Town 18th hole (photo by Judy M.)

Now, George and I have been coming to Hilton Head since he had hair and I had a waistline, but we’d never really appreciated the local fish until Judy and Ky’s visit. Years past, I’d saunter up to the seafood counter at Harris Teeter or Fresh Market and stand there perplexed, not knowing what was local and what was flown into the island from another island. Of course, coming from Colorado, one appreciates all good seafood, but it’s nice to support the local fishermen and to eat sea-to-table fish.

Hands down, George and Ky did the best “fishing.”  While Judy and I trailed the local shops for designer shoes and Spartina handbags, the guys met one of the friendly locals–there are three of them on the island–who, when asked for the best seafood market, pointed in the direction of Coligny Plaza and the Piggly Wiggly’s Fish and Tails Seafood Market.  Based on the Wahoo and the South Carolina Shrimp those two came back with, the local was tail on . . .er,  I mean spot on.

Of course, no Southern meal is complete without black-eyed peas, which are actually not a pea but a legume. True confession: my mother always served them for New Year’s Eve because they are supposed to bring luck; I found them boring and flavorless and not at all lucky.  But after Judy and I spotted them at the Sea Pines Farmers’ Market, I figured I’d give them another try.  After all, I’m not allergic to them.

After soaking the peas in water the night before, I tossed them into a crockpot before we all left to bike on the beach.  When we came home, the kitchen smelled heavenly. They tasted even better.  Paula Deen would be proud.

Black-eyed Peas

Here’s my recipe for black-eyed peas fit for an allergic foodie.  Please let me know what y’all think.

Crockpot Black-eyed Peas

1 16-ounce package dried black-eyed peas

1 medium Vidalia onion, or other sweet onion (real Vidalia onions come from Vidalia, Georgia)

1 organic red bell pepper

1 jalapeno pepper, diced (optional)

3 ounces of organic Andouille sausage (I used Applegate)

3 ounces diced ham (I used Hormel)

2 cups gluten-free chicken stock (I used Pacific Natural Foods)

Salt and pepper to taste

After soaking peas for 8 hours, drain and place in 5-quart crockpot along with above ingredients. Cover and cook on LOW for 7-8 hours or HIGH for 5-6 hours. Be sure to check peas for doneness; you don’t want them slightly firm, not mushy.

 A Yankee-Coloradoan Dishes Out Some Lowcountry cuisine first appeared in Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Simple Salads

I find the fewer ingredients in recipes the less chance this allergic foodie will get sick. My general rule is less than ten ingredients.  So I was thrilled when my friend Susan brought over a simple salad to this weekend’s outdoor barbecue. It was the perfect accompaniment to grass-fed steak on the grill and organic potatoes pan-fried in olive oil.  Add some good wine and wonderful conversation, and it was the perfect way to spend an August evening.

Simple Salad

Susan’s Simple Salad

1 large head of romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
2 TBSP 100 percent extra virgin olive oil (see my past post on olive oil)
2 ½ TBSP fresh lemon juice
1 shallot, minced
1 TSP Dijon mustard (I like Annie’s Organic)
I bunch fresh chives, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
Optional: 1 cup crumbled blue cheese, gorgonzola, or goat cheese

Place lettuce in large bowl. Whisk oil, lemon juice, shallot and mustard in small bowl to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix in chives. Drizzle the dressing over lettuce and toss to coat. Add cheese, if desired. Serves 4.

Grilled Romaine

The other simple salad I’ve been making a lot this summer is grilled romaine hearts with tomatoes and bacon.

An Allergic Foodie’s Grilled Romaine Hearts

1 organic baby romaine heart per serving
100 percent extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar
Organic Campari tomatoes, sliced
Gluten-free bacon (such as Coleman Natural, Applegate, Boar’s Head, or Beeler’s)
Optional: 1 cup crumbled blue cheese, gorgonzola, or goat cheese

Take a cooking brush and brush olive oil all over romaine. Place on med-high grill and cook for two to three minutes, until the leaves are slightly brown. Remove and add tomatoes and crumbled bacon. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Add cheese, if desired.  Susan’s Simple Salad dressing, above, would also be delicious on grilled romaine.

For more allergy-friendly salads, follow my Pinterest board, Queen of Salad.

If you have an easy-to-make salad that’s allergy-free, add your recipe or a link below.

The Olive Oil Controversy

Soon after my extensive food allergies diagnosis, I visited a nutritionist.  At the time I was eating mostly fruits and vegetables and rice, but I was still sick.  Fearful I was developing even more allergies, I kept a food journal.  After reviewing the very short list, the nutritionist asked me what type of oil I was cooking the veggies in.  I assured her I was using olive oil (absolutely no soy, corn or vegetable).

Oil tasting, BAIA October 2006 Wine Tasting, C...

Turns out not every olive oil is created equal.  Who knew!

The one I was using contained soy oil (I consider soy to be my worst allergy).  According to the nutritionist and the research I later conducted, counterfeit extra virgin olive oil, fake EVOO, can be found on most grocery store shelves.  Read this July 2010 report by UC Davis Olive Center and this Natural News article.  I find it maddening that while I only buy 100 percent extra virgin olive oil, I might still be drizzling corn or soy oil on my salads–and getting sick!  Peanut, canola, sunflower, safflower, and hazelnut oils have also been found in olive oils.  While my reactions are not life-threatening, what about those who have anaphylaxis symptoms?

Of course there are many safe and tasty olive oils out there.  If I had read all the reports about adulterated olive oil before we travelled to Italy a few months ago, I would have been wary of tasting the olive oil and I would have missed some wonderful meals, like this one:

Fortunately, at that time of our trip, I assumed all olive oil in Italy would come just from olives (and most probably do).  While my husband tasted the wine, I tasted the olive oil, usually dipping my fingers into the bowls since I couldn’t eat the bread.  Oh my!  The taste of real Italian olive oil is incredible.

Our trip to Italy introduced me to the variety of olives and how the earth and processing of the oil creates its flavor.

We came home with a case from Casa Emma Winery (the winery is in the photo above).  I’m not sure how to describe this oil, but it tastes natural and green and a tiny bit spicy.  Guests often ask me for my salad dressing recipe, and I tell them it’s the olive oil that makes the difference.

So how do you know if you are getting the real thing when the label “100 percent olive oil” isn’t foolproof?  Paying more isn’t always necessary;  I’ve never gotten sick from Costco’s Kirkland brand and use it regularly for cooking.  But I have to say whenever I’ve bought a more expensive bottle of olive oil, my stomach hasn’t paid the price.

Some experts say real olive oil will solidify after a couple of days in the refrigerator, so you can give that a try.  Most good olive oils come in dark glass, so steer away from clear bottles.  You can also go to tastings at one of the many olive oil stores; bring your own gluten-free bread.  Ask the staff to help you identify the taste of true olive oil.  If you are a connoisseur like me, research olive oils that have won competitions.  As an allergic foodie, I’ve given up a lot, but I refuse to give up my olive oil!