Part II: Wheat, Soy, Peanuts, and Tree Nuts
Welcome to Part II of our FOMO series! Here we’re discussing how to replace nutrients lost from eliminating wheat, soy, peanuts, or tree nuts from your diet. You can find Part I here covering dairy, eggs, fish, and shellfish.
If you’re used to eating toast, cereal, pancakes, or other baked goods for breakfast, avoiding foods that contain wheat will likely be a hard adjustment. Or maybe you fed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to your first child with no issue and your second child cannot eat peanut butter. It is an adjustment, to say the least!
As a pediatric nutritionist, my work focuses on making sure kids with special dietary needs are getting the nutrients their growing bodies need. As you can imagine, many of my patients have multiple food allergies and have a fairly limited diet. The silver lining for these patients is that these children tend to have healthier diets because they’re avoiding lots of processed foods!
I like to start by looking at each food that’s avoided and its corresponding nutrients side by side. As we discussed in Part I, this approach can make it less intimidating to identify other food sources for those lost nutrients.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the nutrients needed when avoiding wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts.
Wheat products in America are fortified with B vitamins, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin.
Thiamin is important for maintaining a healthy metabolism and key function of cells. The major thiamin food sources are whole grains, meat, and fish. In the US, breads, cereals, and infant formulas are enriched with thiamin as well as other B vitamins. If you’re avoiding wheat and most breads and cereals, you may want to ensure your wheat-free products are enriched with these key nutrients as well!
Niacin is another B vitamin—B3 to be specific. Niacin helps our bodies use fat, protein, and carbohydrates to create energy. This vitamin is also enriched in processed wheat products and can be found naturally in most meats as well as mushrooms, avocados, and sunflower seeds, to name a few.
If you’re a meat eater and wheat-avoider, I’m not typically concerned that you’re missing out on B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin) or iron. However, you may want to think about how much fiber is in your diet. Many people substitute rice, potatoes, and corn-based products for wheat. However, these are mostly low in fiber.
Fiber is a carbohydrate that your body does not digest. There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps to regulate blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and works to move food through the digestive tract. Many people experience symptoms like constipation after making a change in their diet. In these cases, I tell my patients to increase their fiber intake and add fruits, vegetables, legumes, brown rice, and other whole grains like oatmeal and quinoa.
If you are not a meat eater, and you’ve eliminated wheat or soy, this next one is for you.
Iron is found in red meat, fish, and poultry, but there are many plant-based sources of iron outside of wheat and soy, including spinach, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds (e.g., pumpkin, chia, sunflower, and hemp), dried fruits, quinoa, and some fortified breakfast cereals. Iron is better absorbed with vitamin C, so I recommend adding an orange alongside your trail mix for your next snack. Calcium inhibits iron absorption, so whether you get your calcium from dairy or a dairy substitute, try to avoid eating them together.
Avoiding soy is not easy because it is in so many foods. Both peanuts and soy belong to the legume family and contain many of the same nutrients such as B vitamins, protein, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Magnesium helps normalize blood pressure and keeps our bones strong. Phosphorus also helps to keep our bones strong and helps our bodies make energy and move our muscles. Both of these minerals are found in abundance in beans, seeds, and tree nuts. Phosphorus is also found in dairy, eggs, in meat products, whole grains, potatoes, and dried fruit.
The goal for everyone should be to expand their diet and add more variety! A more diverse diet will lead to greater nutrient intake, and hopefully more delicious meals. If you feel like you’re in a food rut, take a chance and add something new to your routine. Your body (and likely your taste buds) will thank you!
Tara McCarthy is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has a passion for pediatrics. She has worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for over 15 years as well as a private practice and specializes in nutrition for children with special dietary needs such as food allergies, celiac disease, FPIES, EoE, allergic colitis, and sucrose isomaltose deficiency.