food, allergy, alternative, healthy, eatingPhoto:

If you suspect that you may be allergic or intolerant to a particular food, it may be natural for you to avoid it completely.

We are fortunate that we live in a country where we have an abundance of food choices and there are alternatives to the daily protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals that our body needs. 

“Having an allergy or intolerance to a food does not mean we have to live in a poor nutritional state. Speak to your doctor to determine what kind of reaction to food you are really having, is it a true allergy or just a sensitivity or intolerance,” says Dr Melvyn Wong, Senior Physician, Raffles Medical.

What is the difference?

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the terms allergy, intolerance and sensitivity. If someone has an adverse food reaction, it could be a true allergy (immunologically mediated) or an intolerance or sensitivity (non-immunologically mediated). Non-immunologically mediated reactions are more common than true allergies. Dr Wong explains the differences.

Food allergy

Your immune system reponds defensively to a specific food protein. Onset of symptoms is rapid (within minutes to two hours) and can manifest as urticarial (skin rash), angioedema (swelling), wheezing and breathing difficulties, congested and runny nose, with vomiting.

Food intolerance and sensitivity

Your body lacks a particular enzyme to digest the food or has a unpleasant reaction to it. It can take up to hours or days before symptoms arise. Typically, symptoms are confined to the gastrointestinal trace, for example, nausea, vomiting, cramping and diarrhoea.

Keep allergies at bay

  • Never assume. Read the fine print on food labels as your health depends on it. 
  • In doubt, say no. Your host will understand when you explain you are allergic.
  • Make it known. Let others know about your allergies so they would pay attention when preparing food.

Even if you are allergic, that’s no reason to be nutritionally deficient. Ms Bibi Chia, Principal Dietitian, Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre, shares food substitutes you should include in your diet if you are allergic to these foods.

Instead of these Go for these


The humble egg is packed full of nutrients and can be cooked in a variety of ways. It is a great source of iron, Vitamins A, D, E and B12, folate, protein, selenium, lutein and zeaxanthin and choline.

Lean meat, poultry, fishes, dairy, legumes and wholegrains

– For protein, riboflavin, selenium, Vitamin B12 and pantothenic acid

Leafy greens, legumes and wholegrains

– For folate and riboflavin


Fish contains omega-3 fats and is rich in nutrients such as Vitamin D and selenium, high in protein, and low in saturated fat.

Lean meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products 

– Protein and vitamin B12

Health oils (flaxseed, safflowers, sunflower, canola), nuts & seeds (flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, walnunts) 

– For Vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids

Wholegrains, fortified grains

– For selenium


Milk is often associated with strong bones as it is rich in protein and calcium. It also contains Vitamins A, B6, B12, C & D and magnesium.

Leafy greens, calcium-fortified juices, calcium-fortified cereals and breads, calcium-fortified soy milk or rice milk

– For calcium

Meats, poultry and wholegrains

– For phosphorous and riboflavin


– For Vitamin B12

Exposure to sunlight 

– For Vitamin D


Nuts are rich in energy, protein, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and omega-3. They add crunch to whatever foods you eat.

Meats, poultry and diary

– For protein

Oily fishes (salmon, sardines, tuna)

– For protein and omega-3

Wholegrains, green vegetables and several fruits

– For other nutrients

Seeds (flaxseeds, walnuts)

– For omega-3 fatty acids


Shellfish are often low in fat, high in protein. They also contain Vitamin B12, zinc, choline and cholesterol. 

Lean meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products

– Protein and Vitamin B12

Healthy oils (flaxseed, safflowers, sunflower, canola), nuts & seeds (flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts)

– For Vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids

Wholegrains, fortified grains

– For selenium


Soy is rich in protein, calcium, fibre, magnesium and Vitamin B12. It is the number one source for isoflavones and is rich in vitamins and minerals.

Meats, poultry, fish, legumes and dairy

– For protein and riboflavin

Fortified and enriched grains

– For thiamin, Vitamin B6, iron, folate, magnesium and phosphorous


– For fibre


Wheat, in particular wholewheat, is rich in carbohydrates with low fat content. It is a good source for protein, vitamins and minerals.

Alternative grains

– Barley, rice, oat, corn, rye, quinoa and soy


– Carbohydrates, B vitamins

Non-wheat-fortified and enriched grains

– For all nutrients missed by avoiding wheat

Republished from Raffles Healthnews publication, Issue 04/2015, “Food Allergy Swaps”, pp. 22. Copyright 2015, with permission from Raffles Medical Group.