Sunday, December 19, 2010

Surprises abound

If you are anything like me, spending a lot of time learning to live well despite multiple food allergies in the family, you’ve discovered that many surprises await us, some of them quite unpleasant but some of them causing a kind of “wow” moment when a welcome piece of new information gives us hope for the future.

Yesterday I had a couple of the “unpleasant” food-allergy surprises, but I also had some of the wonderful “wow” ones too; maybe the latter will give you the lift you’ve been needing, as they did for me:

I had finally made it over to the food co-op and Whole Foods Market that are closest to my house (translation: they’re on the other side of town and I just can’t get there as often as I would like).  I always want to stay a long enough time to take full advantage once I’m there.  Aside from needing to replenish some of my pantry items, I also was interested in looking at items that I have been writing about in the “substitutions” section of my soon-to-be-finished food allergy cookbook, both to compare costs and to investigate ingredients.

Among the unpleasant surprises were how so many products are still so expensive, despite the increasing availability of choices for multiple food allergy sufferers.  Another was the discovery that “Ener-G Egg Replacer”, so often touted in food allergy cookbooks as a replacement for eggs, has potato starch listed as its first ingredient.  I knew that most commercially sold “gluten-free” flour and baking mixes contain potato starch – a big allergen in our family – but I didn’t suspect egg replacer would have it, and I was immediately thankful that I know of many other alternatives to replace eggs.

On the brighter, “wow” side of surprises, though, I found a bunch of newly-available products in Whole Foods, all made by a company called Coconut Secret, offering excellent alternative sweeteners, salty-flavored but saltless seasonings, and even vinegar.  Their “coconut nectar” first caught my eye, as a great low-glycemic option similar to agave nectar/syrup.  Then I noticed that unlike Bragg’s “Liquid Aminos”, which is made from soy, and unlike soy sauce which often contains wheat as well, Coconut Secret’s “Coconut Aminos” serve the same salty-tasting seasoning sauce purpose but is both soy-free and gluten-free.  I also saw that Coconut Secret also produces crystallized coconut sugar and a bottled coconut cream that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and can give you that creamy texture and taste you want without having to use up a whole can of coconut milk at one time.

I went online today to look up this exciting company and found a few more surprises – like the fact that when they started production they had been relying on agave syrup as a sweetener and then learned that their supposedly “reputable” raw, organic agave producer was actually selling them agave syrup which was not only NOT raw nor organic but also was watered down with corn syrup!  As that’s one of my worst food allergens, I’m now going to be extra careful to check out any agave items I buy. 

Coconut Secret also produces coconut sugar (made from the raw sap of coconut tree blossoms) and is the only other source I’ve found for that, aside from my current favorite which is produced by a company headquartered here in my home town of Pittsburgh: Love Street Living Foods.  Lastly, while I know that a food allergy to coconut is relatively rare (though unfortunately it’s one of the many that my mother has) and that coconut sugar is low on the glycemic index, I was not aware that coconut also offers a variety of health benefits including heart-healthy short- and medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), insoluble dietary fiber which therefore has no calories, support for the body’s absorption of nutrients, and healing properties that can aid functioning of both the immune system and thyroid.

I’m not one to take claims at face value, of course, so I will continue to investigate this company and its products, but it was definitely one of yesterday’s hope-inspiring surprises.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and to learn of any discoveries you’ve made in your own ongoing quest for food allergy substitutes – please don’t hesitate to use the comment box below!!

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