Food allergies and intolerances in vegetarians

Some people are allergic to certain foods. If they eat them, their immune system responds in a certain way, which can cause mild discomfort or be life-threatening. Many people cannot tolerate certain foods. They may experience unpleasant allergy symptoms, but are often able to eat small amounts of any food without an acute reaction.

The most common food allergies and intolerances develop in vegetarians due to gluten, eggs, nuts and seeds, milk and soy.


Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley, and some people also react to oats. Vegetarians who avoid gluten should eat gluten-free grains such as corn, millet, rice, quinoa, and buckwheat. Popcorn and many processed vegetarian foods such as hamburgers and sausages contain gluten. Food labels must contain information about the content of gluten in the product.


Egg allergies are common in children, but most children who have egg allergies outgrow them. All packaged foods must be labeled with information about the egg content. Eggs are a good source of protein, but there are many other plant-based alternatives.

Nuts and Seeds

Most people with nut allergies react to peanuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans. People who are allergic to peanuts often also cannot tolerate sesame, the main ingredient in tahini.  


Lactose intolerance is a reaction to the sugar in milk and usually develops in older children and adults. Milk allergy is more common in children, but most children outgrow it by the age of three.

If you think your child may be allergic to milk, talk to your doctor or health visitor before making any dietary changes. Dairy alternatives include fortified soy milk, soy yogurt, and vegan cheese.


Tofu and soy milk are made from soybeans. Some people with soy allergies do not react to products made from fermented soy, such as tempeh and miso. Soy is widely used in vegetarian products, especially meat substitutes, so it’s important to read ingredients on labels. Soy is a good source of vegetarian protein, but there are many others.  


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