As If Nuts and Gluten Weren’t Enough . . .

It seems that food allergies and sensitivities are destined to be a part of our lives.

While I am not Celiac, I had people tell me for years that it sounded like I was due to my IBS symptoms. I tested negative and thought I was home free until I discovered that non-Celiac gluten sensitivity is a very real thing and likely partly to blame for my digestive issues. The only way to diagnose it is the “try it and see” method, and I can tell you from experience that I am better off without gluten in my life so that is where I remain. It isn’t the only culprit. I can’t drink milk without having horrid stomach pains, but other forms of dairy don’t seem to disagree with me. And processed foods in general bother me, although I don’t know what is in them that gives me trouble so I just try to avoid them as much as I can.

I’m just a barrel of laughs. Ask anyone who tries to go out to eat with me.

My son has a severe allergy to tree nuts and sesame, and at 13 it is highly unlikely that he will outgrow it, so they are part of our household food restrictions.

My older daughter had an allergy to milk and eggs when she was a baby, but fortunately she outgrew them.

We thought my younger daughter had it made without any allergies or sensitivities, but I suppose it was too much to hope for with her genetic makeup.

She has been complaining of stomach aches off and on for months, probably over a year. I have been keeping tabs on her and have been suspicious about possible food sensitivities but we couldn’t see any obvious patterns or triggers. We’ve discussed doing a trial elimination diet to see if we could pinpoint what might be bothering her, but we could never seem to commit. Dairy seemed like a good place to start. It seems to be one of the more common culprits where food sensitivities are concerned, but you’d have to see the contents of our fridge to understand my reluctance to attempt such an experiment. Cheese, yogurt, butter, cream and milk make up about 75% of it. We’re a dairy family, let’s just say that. Still, we gave it a half-hearted effort a few times but never got very far. I suppose gluten could be an issue too, who really knows, but the stomach aches are infrequent enough that no one felt too motivated to try such a restricted diet.

Then she spent two mornings this past weekend complaining of tummy aches, and I decided to take her into the pediatrician to get his take on the situation.

We arrived at the office at 8:30 this morning. The doctor listened to my story, asked us some questions, and decided to order an x-ray to make sure there was nothing stopping her up. When the x-ray revealed nothing (and I had lost 2 hours of work time and exposed my daughter to her yearly quota of radiation) he suggested that we try taking her off dairy for two weeks and see how she does.

WHEN will I learn to trust my instincts??? It would save me a heckuvalot of time.

Why is it that I still need to be told what to do by an authority figure in order to find the wherewithal to make the commitment to do what I know needs to be done? Will I ever grow up?

Anyway. The dairy free experiment starts now. My daughter is not amused, but she is so thrilled to have no needles involved in her diagnosis that she is willing to cooperate.

I tried going dairy free myself when my older daughter had the allergy because I was nursing. I lasted about three days, and it was pure misery. I honestly think living gluten free is easier than living dairy free, but that’s me.

In this case, our entire household will not join her on the dairy free experiment, but I will be trying to make dinners that are dairy free (and gluten and nut free) just for simplicity’s sake. We always eat together as a family, and I don’t cook separate meals.

Then I’ll need to find her some dairy-free replacements for her favorite snacks that do not include soy. I once made an ice cream with coconut milk that was tasty. I need to look that up. She doesn’t really need to drink a milk replacement. She likes water, and I don’t think kids need milk. But she does need to get her nutrients somehow. You know me, I’d prefer the most natural, real food options available. I’m wide open to suggestions.

This could end up being only a two-week experiment, in which time we decide dairy is not the culprit, or we might find that she can take a Lactaid tablet and tolerate some dairy. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, I need advice, yo! I’m talking specifics… recipes, brand names, products, etc. I will share everything I learn in a follow-up post.


  1. Allison says

    We were dairy free for about a year when we were trying to find the cause of my daughter’s reflux. She liked rice cheese and the coconut milk ice cream. I cooked with almond milk (but that might not be an option with a nut allergy). We also used Earth Balance “butter” sparingly when needed. In general I found it easier to just avoid things that had milk instead of trying to replace it. Also, I found vegan recipe boards helpful because my other child has an egg allergy.

  2. Tiffany says

    Have you thought about putting your family on the GAPS diet. It does cure food allergies and might even help you with your gluten intolerance.

      • Tiffany says

        I hear you – it is a tough diet to follow. We have thought it about mostly for our 7 year old and my husband but it is too drastic – at least right now. We have cut down on carbs and bread big time.

  3. Barb @ A Life in Balance says

    My Paleo cookbooks have a lot of great recipes that are dairy-free and use coconut milk. Maybe if you came at the menu from the Paleo angle for 2 weeks (just take out the nuts) that might give you more options that everyone can eat. Though Paleo doesn’t include potatoes which work for you. Hmm, maybe write a list of what you can eat for the 2 weeks and go from there?

    Good luck! I sometimes wonder if my dd6 is sensitive to dairy. 2 of her cousins are definitely lactose-intolerant.

  4. Melanie says

    Good luck!! I’m a celiac and gluten free, and to agree that dairy free is much more of a challenge. Crossing my fingers for you all that dairy isn’t the culprit. Have you tried Almond milk…with vanilla? My 3 year old loves it. She was a huge milk drinker and she easily switched to it.

  5. Melanie says

    Oops…disregard comment about almond milk…stupid me…you have a nut allergy in the house. Sorry!

    • says

      It’s okay, I might buy it just for her. I tried it tho (b/c of my own lactose issues) and didn’t care for it. I don’t care for coconut milk either. But she might like it…

  6. says

    Food allergies are so frustrating. I am currently gluten, soy, and dairy free. Ever since I was a kid I knew I shouldn’t eat dairy. But I did anyway. I was a huge cheese addict and convinced myself that the small bit of stomach gas was worth it. As I got older, I started to develop a severe soy allergy so I cut that out too. And then finally, just like you, I had my eyes opened to gluten sensitivity.

    I started Pain Free Kitchen to help document my allergies and have learned a lot in the process. Number one being I can live without dairy. I thought my boyfriend was crazy when he told me that the reactions I was getting to dairy shouldn’t just be ignored. That they were doing a lot more harm than just a bit of gas. And he was right. After completing the Whole30, a 30 day elimination diet, my asthma magically disappeared. I’ve been on so many steroids for it for years and nothing ever worked…until I cut out dairy. I haven’t had to use any steroids at all nor my rescue inhaler. It’s been life changing.

    My best advice is don’t try to replace dairy but instead focus on recipes that don’t call for it. Sure I use coconut milk in my recipes or almond milk in my smoothies, but I don’t buy coconut yogurt or fake cheeses. I just redefined what I considered good food. My snacks are now nuts or fruit instead of greek yogurt, and I treat myself with grass-fed burgers and sweet potato fries instead of pizza.

    Also one last thing, don’t trust allergy tests. Even my doctor told me they are wrong. I have proof that I’m allergic to dairy (gas) and soy (immediate run to the bathroom) but both of those showed up as negative on my tests. What did show up was peanuts and tomatoes, two things that I eat regularly, even during my elimination diet and have never had any negative reactions at all. At first I was really upset but after speaking with my doctor, she told me to trust my body.

    • says

      I absolutely do not want fake substitutes. I guess I meant alternatives. :-) Thanks for these suggestions!

      And I expect that dairy is probably a problem for me more than I want to admit. I just get the immediate reaction with milk.

      I have been seeing people doing this Whole30 but didn’t know what it was. I will google it!

  7. says

    Oh! PS. I totally forgot to mention that you should look into the nutrients (specifically calcium) in non-dairy foods. I think you’d be surprised that she won’t be missing out on much by cutting out dairy. You can get a significant amount of calcium in things like kale or spinach. Really any dark leafy green.

    The huffington post wrote an article about it but really just a quick google search of non-dairy foods high in calcium will give you a ton of ideas.

    • says

      Thanks, yes, I knew that but it’s a matter of getting those greens into our diets more. So glad that CSA season is almost upon us! Thanks for the link, that is what I needed.

  8. DeAnn says

    So I have two suggestions, but they are not exactly answers to your questions. There are two things worth trying. One, a nutritional blood analysis. Where I live, it was only about $70 and he did a quick finger prick, put my blood on a slide and for the next 30 minutes proceeded to tell me a wealth of information. I found that I have a leaky gut, which is the cause of my gluten sensitivity. Once it heals, I should be able to tolerate gluten again. Also, as I had suspected, I have an overgrowth of yeast, which could have caused the leaky gut or vice versa. He can also tell any vitamin deficiencies and other possible allergies. Anyway, that would be a great thing to do and it’s totally painless. I think, especially with diary, it’s good to know if it’s an actual allergy, or an intolerance due to a leaky gut. (GAPS diet can heal a leaky gut, as can an L-Glutamine supplement.

    Next, acupuncture. I don’t understand how it works or why, but my dear friend’s sons have been completely cured of nut allergies and my other friends’ family of dairy allergies. It has also helped tremendously with my seasonal allergies. I don’t typically like going the “eastern route” but for some reason, the tall blonde Californian lady who does my treatments does not make me feel like it’s weird or new agey. :) I’m sure if you ask around you can find a trusted one in your area.

    Coconut milk ice cream is yummy! 😉 There are also digestive enzymes that are specifically for gluten and dairy sensitivities. Might be worth a try.

    • says

      I did some type of food sensitivity testing once and it came up with a list as long as my arm. I guess I don’t trust them. My sensitivity to gluten is so mild that I do expect it could be cured. I have read about these options but they all seem so overwhelming. I know it sounds like a copout but OMG I do not want to start into all this research again. I have been blissfully living on autopilot for some time. I suppose if my daughter needs it, we could do it together, and perhaps both be helped. I will be interested to see how she does off dairy as a first step.

      I have heard a lot of great things about acupuncture. I am not entirely opposed to the idea but I don’t know which of our myriad of ailments I’d even want to address first, lol. I tend to bury my head in the sand when I get overwhelmed, can you tell? LOL.

  9. June C. says

    Have you tried the meal plan in the book GREAT TASTE NO PAIN by Sherry Bresscia (I think that’s the correct spelling). It is fantastic. You can order it online and it’s a wonderful way to eat by pairing foods correctly. It is very simple to follow and the results are fantastic for your digestive problems. Give it a try or e-mail me with any questions.

  10. says

    I had to avoid most dairy when I was nursing David, and it was misery for me. My sister just decided to eat vegan, and my response is, “BUT CHEESE???”

    I love cheese.

    But there are a lot of great Asian recipes that don’t have gluten or dairy. (I think almost all Chinese are lactose-intolerant, from what I understand and my travels to China.) So that might be a way to turn for dinners.

    • says

      I know. CHEESE! That is the hardest part for Becca. And the yogurt. It’s so unfair, those are so healthy, ya know? I always feel so good about her having them. The Asian food tip is a good one. At least we can still have our Chinese takeout!

  11. says

    oh Jo-Lynne, I am so sorry. We have been on an elimination diet with my daughter since November. She has an awful dermatitis. We picked dairy before gluten bc we thought it would be easier. Dairy is soooo much harder. Gluten has been fairly easy and simple substitutes can be made. Since we try our hardest to avoid soy as well, dairy-free is very hard. Here are some of the things we have in the house to help us through…

    butter: earth balance soy free

    milk subst. in baking/cooking (pancakes, cupcakes, etc…): almond breeze (blue diamond) or So Delicious coconut milk (both soy free) – but I have found no sub for heavy cream or yogurt :(

    Ice cream: So Delicious (soy free)

    Vans crackers and frozen waffles

    Chocolate: Enjoy life (soy free) and most organic cocoas are soy free and not produced with any milk (but the label should spelled that out)

    Eleanor has completely turned her nose up to every single vegan cheese. Honestly, I think she has tried every single one thats without soy. But she will eat the Vans vegan french bread pizza and the Bold pizzas.

    Panera makes two things without dairy but they contain soy – Country White and Blueberry bagel

    But we basically introduce an entirely new diet to a 2 year old. I praise the Lord that she has responded with little protest!

    Is your daughter GF too? I ask bc we are now reintroducing dairy (gluten appears to be the enemy) to Els and she is responding well. In this journey, I learned that some people with a GF allergy believe they also have a dairy sensitivity bc the gluten has destroyed their gut so much that the gut can not digest the dairy, but after eliminating gluten and the gut beginning to repair, it now handles dairy fine. Of course, thats not the case with everyone!

    P.S. your GF recipes have helped us along our own journey, so I cannot wait to see what you post about dairy free!

    Good Luck!

    • says

      Courtney, that is super helpful. Thanks SO much. This is what I needed – brands I can try b/c I don’t want to have to research it all.

      I had heard about the gluten/dairy connection. I am not about to drink a cup of milk to test it tho. LOL!!

    • says

      Re-reading your comment and making a grocery list and you’re making me wonder if I should take her off gluten and dairy. GAH. THAT would be a nightmare. But I am wondering if I might as well do both in case they are working together in the way that you describe. Sigh…

      • says

        I know its such a daunting task, but may be worth it. We did 8 weeks off dairy (saw minimal changes), then 8 wks off gluten (saw amazing results after 3 wks), started reintroducing just dairy (in small doses — no glasses of milk!). Still in that process. But we definitely know Gluten is the evil doer just not 100% if dairy is his side-kick. Good Luck!

        Maybe one day I will start blogging again to just document this journey…

  12. kwithme says

    I know you are getting a lot of advice. But I am going to add to it. I am lactose intolerant and have been for 21 years (maybe longer). I don’t eat alot of dairy but not all dairy has lactose. I can eat yogurt, cheese and cooked milk (not pasturized, boiled like making a white sauce). The processes that make those items break down the sugar and makes them digestible for me.

    I did do a full elimination of dairy when my youngest had very bad colic and gas as an infant. It was difficult, no baked goods, nothing that even had whey listed.

    I hope that if she has a dairy sensitivity, it is like mine. Basically, if I avoid uncooked milk and ice cream, I am good.

    • says

      That is how I am. As long as I don’t drink a glass of milk, I’m good to go… unless some of my more minor complaints are due to a low level aggravation caused by dairy. But I feel like I’m okay with it.

  13. Paula says

    Hi Jo-Lynne,
    I ordered a gift box from Healthy Surprise for a friend with a broken leg. They specialize in natural, vegan, soy-free and gluten-free snacks which they guarantee to be delicious! Maybe having some new all-natural snacks would help out as a treat for your daughter? They have lots of vegan recipes on their blog too.

    My friend said the snacks in her box were awesome

  14. anagie hale says

    Hi Jo-Lynne,
    Since you have already received some great advice, I thought I would just share some of my favorite websites I go to for dairy free, nut free and gluten free recipes.
    Against All Grain
    Comfy Belly
    Multiply Delicious
    Urban Poser
    Lexies Kitchen
    Elana’s Pantry
    The Spunky Coconut
    Not only will you get great recipes but you will get ideas on how to substitue dairy and links to other great dairy free websites as well.
    Hope this helps! :)

  15. says

    Hi Jo-Lynne,

    Just wanted to pop in and say that I’m sorry you & your family have to go through this. It is so hard not having any answers and being left to try and figure it out on your own. There is some really great advice here; product recommendations in particular help out so much! Saves money and time trying to decide what on earth to buy. We have a lot of food allergies in our house as well, and I find posts like this, with the added comments of others, so helpful. Thanks for posting and thanks to your readers as well; they help more than just your family and its truly appreciated.

    • says

      Hey Lora. Yes, the product recommendations are what I needed. I am running to the store this morning. Last night, the kid had almost NOTHING to eat. I fortunately had some g-free pasta and a few jars of Rose Romano’s peppers (marinara sauce that my client produces) for her to have for dinner, but there were no snacks she could have, nothing. This is going to be challenging.

  16. Jenn says

    I second all of Courtney’s food recommendations. My daughter also loves chocolate coconut milk in the single serving containers by So Delicious. And that brand is the best for an ice cream substitute. The other coconut milk ice cream brand, can’t remember it’s name right now, is gummier in texture. Although I recall Bliss being nice so give that a try as well. My daughter also loves Amy’s gluten-free and vegan macaroni and cheese. The price and ingredients make me wince but I buy it as an occasional treat.

    Also, it’s easy to substitute out the milk in things like pancakes and other breads. Gravy does not need dairy. Coconut milk will change the flavor but can be a nice substitute in certain dishes. I know many of the recipes you’ve posted have sounded lovely but we’ve had to pass because they have dairy so I can see how it may be difficult for you to get started. We keep a gluten, dairy and mostly egg free kitchen so let me know if you have any other questions.

    As for baking, I would use baking sticks as a butter substitute unless you really need a better flavor that coconut oil can provide. Coconut oil is just different and when you’re baking with gluten free flours it can sort of boil in the oven and I haven’t been able to figure out why yet. So be willing to experiment…and fail. Our latest favorite boxed cookie is Home Free vanilla cookies. They are gluten, egg, dairy and also (pretty sure) soy free. You can order them on Amazon. Oh, and we recently found a divine mostly paleo apple crisp recipe that I’ll pass along if you’re interested. I substitute coconut oil for the butter and we love it.

    My daughter and I both are (according to iGg tests) lactose, casein and whey sensitive and I think that’s accurate based on our symptoms. As long as you’re going through all this trouble you may want to consider an extra challenge or two to understand more about any reactions. Even something as simple as adding a challenge with lactose-free dairy products may tell you something. Good luck!

    • says

      Thanks SO much. So, what do you sub for milk in pancakes and waffles? Or I suppose I can google vegan recipes, right? This is so incredibly helpful, thank you.

      The test I had that I feel was really ridiculous, showed up sensitivities to EVERYTHING was Allertess. Dont know how that compares to the iGg or the other blood test someone spoke of above.

      • says

        I use almond milk with pancakes. Was fine with regular recipes (flour, etc…), but I have not found the greatest recipe for GF/DF pancakes. So once you get one, please!! pass it along

      • Jenn says

        I’d recommend trying oat milk in pancakes just to stick to a similar flavor family. But really any of the milk substitutes will do. My pancakes are very free-form since they get doused with syrup anyway. I dump in some pancake mix, dump in some ground flax or chia, mix in milk (almond or coconut) until it seems right and then cook ’em. They’re not always great, but there’s syrup. Bob’s Red Mill gluten free is my current everyday mix and King Arthur Flour is a nice occasional treat. (Love Barbara’s mix as well but it has milk) I haven’t found a go-to pancake recipe yet but I’m working on it. And we like Van’s gluten, egg and dairy free waffles from the freezer section.

        I’m not sure about the tests. It looks like Alletess is a brand of allergen testing that offers a few different types of tests so I’m not sure what you had. Both my daughter and I had small sets of positives but I’ve heard of tests like yours that show you’re sensitive to everything and I have no idea what causes it. I think there’s a lot of variation in brands, testing methodologies, etc and so the results can vary widely. The only way to really know is to do an elimination diet with challenges. Our one wild card was my daughter showed a sensitivity to asparagus, which we think is hilarious since I doubt she’s ever tasted it. I showed an additional sensitivity to cane sugar. It’s a bit frightening to think about eliminating that one!

        Try this for dinner one night: cook diced chicken and then create a gravy using olive oil or coconut oil as your fat and gf flour as your starch and chicken stock for your liquid. Season with salt, garlic, herbs, whatever. I often use potato starch for thickening these days. Serve over toasted waffles and drizzle a little bit of syrup on top. Serve with a ton of veggies and salad. It’s a family favorite here and fast and easy. Works great with leftover rotisserie chicken.

        Since it’s still soup weather you could make some sort of pureed veggie soup and accent with coconut milk instead of cream. Pulled pork is allergen free. Coconut milk curry…peanut butter pasta…peanut butter soup…chicken skillet with gf biscuits…sloppy joes…stew…chicken bog (chicken and rice)…

  17. says

    I realize that almond milk may not work for you (because of your son’s nut allergy), but if you decide to go with it, Trader Joe’s *unsweetened* *vanilla* almond milk is really, really good. Closest to dairy milk I’ve found. I usually don’t like almond milk (too thin, too bland), but this is good. My son, who turned vegan last year in college, introduced me.

  18. Dawn says

    Hi Jo-Lynn,
    My daughter (age 9) has dairy, soy, and chocolate allergies (all flare her eczema badly) and is mostly gluten free. We primarily follow a paleo diet since it eliminates all of the above (except dark chocolate). We use many of the allergy-free brands and products mentioned above. I would also highly recommend a couple of books that I swear by – Everyday Paleo (Sarah Fragoso), Practical Paleo (Diane Sanfilippo) and Well Fed (Melissa Joulwan). My daughter also really likes the Eat Like a Dinosaur book by Paleo Parents. All of these offer awesome, simple recipies and practical tips for eliminating these foods from our diet. We have been eating this way for a while and really don’t miss what we CAN’T have because there are so many things that we CAN. It has opened up a whole new world of fresh, quality food that we would never have found if we didn’t have these dietary challenges.

    I know this seems like a daunting task. Embrace it, focus on the exciting food options that are available, and have fun experimenting!

    • says

      Thanks, Dawn, I’ll definitely check them out. I already brought her home some new foods to try today and she likes what she tried so far. SO GLAD!! I think she kind of enjoys the special treatment at this point…. although I know that will get old when everyone else is noshing on pizza. LOL! I am definitely going to try to cook paleo for dinners. I’ll look into those books.

  19. says

    I have no advice, but wanted to offer some empathy. Also, you should email Roo (Nice Girl Notes) if you haven’t already. I’m almost positive that she keeps a dairy free/nut free kitchen for her girls who have food allergies… and maybe egg. I know there is something else. I’m sure she would have some recipes and suggestions for you to try.

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