Holidays: Dodging Dietary Dangers

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

With family gatherings, work parties, cookie exchanges and food gifts, the season can feel full of dietary hazards if you have food restrictions.

Whether it’s an intolerance or allergy, your dietary restrictions may not seem important to others. From a “forgotten” ingredient in a side dish or a relative who thinks it’s “all in your head,” here’s how you can dodge dietary dangers.

We spoke with two experts from Buffalo. Here’s what they suggested.

TIPS from Danielle Meyer, clinical director of the dietetic internship program in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences from the School of Public Health and Health Professions at University at Buffalo:

• “For people newly diagnosed with a food allergy attending holiday gatherings, one of the easiest thing to do is to bring a dish they know they can eat. It looks as if they’re contributing to the party as a good guest but they’re also ensuring there’s something they can have.

• “Always feel you can check with the host or hostess to see what will be served. Tell them about your concerns. Ask questions; don’t dictate what the host can offer.

• “If you’re going to a restaurant or a work function, always check the menu ahead of time. If you have a concern, you can always call the restaurant or catering service. Most places do put the menu online they’re very happy to address concerns, especially ahead of time, as opposed to just asking the waiter.

• “Always bring emergency medications regardless, like an Epi-pen, in the event that something can happen.

• For food gifts, be very gracious and say, ‘It looks so great, but since I can’t have walnuts, I gave it to a friend who absolutely loved it.’ Or, ‘My husband said it was the best thing he ever had.’ If you give them that feedback and someone else said it was wonderful, it takes the sting out.

TIPS from Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian nutritionist with Nutrition and Counseling Services, Buffalo:

• “A lot depends how close you are with the people you’re going to be dining with. If you know the people well, then you can educate them and request that they prepare something separate for you that wouldn’t be in contact with the other food. Cross contamination is a big thing.

• “If you educate the host and let the host know the dietary restriction is real and that they have to be careful, it takes the host off the hook.

• “If it is buffet style so the toppings and dressings of food are on the side, that helps.

Buffet style is ‘safer.’ People can assemble their own plates and add the sauces and toppings or leave them off.

• “Some families decide to make the entire meal gluten free for everyone. That way there’s no danger in cross-contamination. Or they say no nuts in anything served if there’s a nut allergy.

• “A few bakeries are entirely gluten free. Hosts could order items in advance. Rather than taking a risk, they could buy something.

• “It’s tricky to cook gluten-free, but it’s so much easier than it used to be. Experiment with cornstarch to thicken gravy, for example, instead of flour. Look for substitutes on the internet at sites like  Flourless cakes are outstanding. The downside is that it’s typically more expensive.”