Thanksgiving is about gathering with friends and family to give thanks for the positive things in life. But it’s also about food – a lot of food.
For many people, the abundance of food at Thanksgiving only means loosening their belt and preparing for the inevitable “food coma.” For those with food allergies or intolerances, however, the holiday can be a little more complicated. A food allergy is a potentially life-threatening medical condition in which the immune system triggers an extreme reaction to harmless substances, including some Thanksgiving food staples and the ingredients in them.
Unfortunately for those with food allergies, many foods on the Thanksgiving table contain at least one of the “big 8” allergens – milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. With this in mind, we’ve put together this list of where you might find hidden allergens this Thanksgiving:
The turkey is usually the star of the Thanksgiving table and you might think something as simple as turkey would be allergen-free, but there are a few places allergens might lurk. First, if this is the year Dad wants to experiment with deep-frying the turkey and you have a peanut allergy, make sure he doesn’t fry in peanut oil. You should also read the ingredient labels in any seasoning packets or basting broths that might be used on the bird while it cooks. Soy is a common ingredient in vegetable soup stock and bouillon cubes that can be used to make broth or gravy. (You should also know how the gravy was prepared before you pour it over your plate: it could contain wheat.)
Those with dairy allergies need to know what’s in the mashed potatoes especially, as many potato recipes call for milk, cream, butter, or cheese. Potatoes can be prepared without any of these ingredients, but it’s important to check with your host before spooning mashed potatoes onto your plate. When it comes to sweet potatoes, some recipes will call for the addition of tree nuts. The nuts may be chopped, so even if you don’t see them on the dish immediately, they may still be present.
Stuffing (or “dressing,” depending on where you hail from) is as varied as the families that make it. It is generally made from bread, however, so those with a wheat allergy should steer clear. Some recipes call for tree nuts, vegetable soup stock (soy), and others may require the use of eggs as a binding ingredient. Family recipes are unfortunately a great place for allergens to hide, so you’ll want to double check with Great Aunt Rita on what she puts into her stuffing. No “secret” recipes allowed!
Cranberry sauce seems pretty straightforward, but in recent years there has been a trend to glam up this Thanksgiving staple by adding unusual ingredients, including tree nuts, other fruits, and even wine.
While whole cooked vegetables are likely safe, remember to check if any sauces, butter, or spices have been added to them. Also, be aware that some vegetable dish recipes call for the addition of tree nuts or dairy products (we’re looking at you, green bean casserole).
Know the ingredients of salad dressing before you put it on your leafy greens. Some dressings, including homemade versions, require adding fish, peanuts, or tree nuts.
Dessert is often a pleasant end to a wonderful meal, but when you have food allergies you need to be cautious when it comes to these sweet treats. Many Thanksgiving dessert recipes require the addition of tree nuts, peanuts, or dairy. If the dessert was bought at a store, ask to read the ingredient label. If a family member or friend made the dessert, ask them if it contains what you are allergic to.
In addition to checking ingredient labels and asking about recipes, there is one rule we recommend you follow this Thanksgiving: when in doubt, leave it out! If you can’t be sure of how safe a food is for you to eat, err on the side of caution and leave it off your plate. If you’re worried there won’t be much you can eat on the table this holiday, make arrangements to bring your own allergy-friendly meal to enjoy at the same time as your family.