Can You Go Primal with Food Allergies or Restrictions?

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Over the past couple months, I’ve steadily been accumulating questions from readers with food allergies and food restrictions looking for assistance. They are all interested in giving the Primal Blueprint lifestyle an honest shot, but because they can’t eat certain foods, many of which enjoy an (real or imagined) exalted place in our community, they need help. Can it be done without eating red meat? Can it be done as a vegetarian? Can one eat Primal without eating land animals? Can a person succeed without tree nuts? Without coconut products? Are almonds essential? Can a vegan succeed on this eating plan? Are these nothing but minor speed bumps on the road to Primal, or something more serious? Let’s find out.

I’m allergic to tree nuts…and they are such a big part of the Primal Blueprint diet. Is it possible to still succeed on the plan in a healthy way without eating nuts?

Terri

Definitely. I actually wouldn’t say that tree nuts are “a big part” of the eating plan, but rather supplementary garnishes to be added as desired/tolerated. They aren’t essential. Many people who are just starting out with this stuff turn to nuts as their go-to snacks, because they’re low-carb, high-fat, and relatively convenient. This gives nuts the allure of essentiality. They are not. Nuts make a fine snack, sure, but they also tend to run pretty high in omega-6 fats. While there’s nothing wrong with some whole foods-based linoleic acid from time to time — eating a walnut is not the same as quaffing rancid seed oil, after all — making nuts a “big part” of your diet will likely result in a lopsided omega-3:omega-6 ratio. Over reliance on nuts is a common problem faced by many a Primal eater, and it’s one you’ll never have to worry about. Be happy!

Since you can’t tolerate them, you simply don’t add them to your routine. That’s fine, and you won’t be missing much. You certainly won’t be missing anything that you can’t get from other foods. In fact, I’d wager that you’ll be much better off than the tree nut-tolerant person who can’t seem to stop himself from tolerating five handfuls of nuts every single day. Because they’re so energy-dense, what begins as an innocent post-lunch snack of filberts can easily turn into a full-fledged meal rich in omega-6s.

My daughter is allergic to almonds. Is there another flour I can use in my recipes?

Laurie

Absolutely. Coconut flour is probably going to be your best option, but it’s nothing like almond flour. Coconut flour is far drier, with far more fiber and far less fat than almond flour, so you can’t substitute coconut flour 1:1 for almond flour without getting a very different final product. Luckily, I did a post on coconut flour a couple years ago, and the comment section to that post contains several reader recipes. If you look around, you’ll find that the Primal recipe blogosphere is quite fond of coconut flour. Sure, you need to add a couple extra eggs to account for the drier texture (but more eggs are great!), but coconut flour doesn’t pack quite as a big of a caloric whop as almond flour. Baked goods made with almond flour can really add up fast, especially if they’re sweetened and delicious; using coconut flour in your pancakes instead of almond flour means you won’t be eating 1500+ calories in the form of a half pound of ground almonds, several eggs, a couple tablespoons of butter, a banana, and honey without really even realizing it.

Tapioca flour, rice flour, sweet potato flour, or potato flour are also options. They are higher in carbs than either almond or coconut flour, but they are largely free of possible irritants like gluten or other grain lectins. If you’re not worried about the carb load, these can be used.

Here are a few links to various flours: coconut, tapioca, rice, sweet potato, potato.

I’m allergic to bananas and avocados. What are good substitutes for these in any recipes?

Amina

Well, it depends. If you’re talking replacements for guacamole or frozen bananas dipped in 85% cacao dark chocolate, I have some bad news for you. It ain’t gonna happen (they aren’t that good anyway).

But if you’re trying to replicate the textural enhancements provided by the aforementioned forbidden foods, you have options. In smoothies, a creamy texture can be achieved via yogurt, frozen fruit, and/or coconut milk (use the cream and omit the water, if possible) infusion. And this may sound odd, but frozen macadamia nuts tossed in a smoothie provide a buttery texture that, while not perfectly analogous to that of a frozen banana or avocado, stands up well on its own merits. In a Primal baked good, unsweetened applesauce can replace mashed bananas. If you’re missing the fat content of the avocado, both olive oil and macadamia oil contain similar amounts of monounsaturated fats.

Oh, and I lied. Guacamole and chocolate dipped bananas are definitely that good. Sorry.

I have been intermittently following a Primal lifestyle, but have had difficulty transitioning my household to it because my husband is allergic to coconut, in all it’s forms. As DH has recently (today, actually) been diagnosed as having high cholesterol and borderline high blood pressure, and he has difficulty regulating his blood sugar, finding a substitute that would allow for greater implementation of a Primal lifestyle has taken on a measure of urgency; he is only 34, and I would like to have him around and healthy for several more decades I will be consulting the forums for information, and re-scouring the historical files on MDA — however, any direct assistance that can be provided would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

Sarah

Although coconuts are popular with this crowd, they are not essential. Yes, they taste good and provide healthy medium chain saturated fats, but so do palm oil and dairy fat. Both can be worthy replacements. If your husband wants the medium chain triglycerides (MCT) for which coconut is popular, he could always try MCT oil, made up of pure medium chain triglycerides extracted and refined from coconut oil. I had a funny experience with MCT oil, and I prefer coconut oil, but it’s a perfectly reasonable, completely refined alternative stripped of all vestiges of its coconut past that should be tolerated by those allergic to coconuts (but be careful and introduce very small amounts; I’m talking a quarter teaspoon at a time, just to be safe). As for palm oil and dairy fat, go with grass-fed dairy fat and unrefined red palm oil, and you get extra vitamins and nutrients along with your medium chain triglycerides.

Just don’t think “no coconut” is a deal breaker.

I am allergic and/or intolerant to eggs and dairy and coconut (in addition to wheat, soy, yeast, etc.). Do you think it is possible for me to go Primal in that circumstance?

Laura

Yes. You’ll likely be forced to go “strict” Primal, what with no dairy and no coconut flour baked goods bound together with eggs, but I think that’s actually a blessing in disguise. Sticking to meat, vegetables, fruit, and nuts will keep you honest, and it’ll keep you away from any potentially problematic foods (even the ones that most Primal eaters readily and happily accept) that can add up rather quickly. Check out Robb Wolf’s autoimmune protocol, which restricts dairy, eggs, nightshades, wheat, soy, and all the regular neolithic foods. Since plenty of people thrive on that way of eating, and you’re just avoiding eggs, dairy, and coconut, there’s no reason you won’t succeed.

Since you’re not eating yogurt or kefir or some other fermented dairy, which is how many people work fermented foods in their diets, you should look into lacto-fermented vegetables, like sauerkraut, kimchi, or pickles.

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