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Alpha Gal Diet: What’s Safe, Off-Limits, and Risky

A person eating a plate of food with a fork.

Living with alpha-gal syndrome means rethinking your plate, transforming the way you eat out of necessity. As you adopt an alpha-gal diet, let’s explore the foods you can still relish, the ones you’ll have to give up, and the ingredients that you’ll need to cautiously consider.

The information provided on this site is based on my personal experience living with alpha-gal syndrome. I consistently cite and link to expert sources, but nothing published on this site should be perceived as medical advice.

Alpha-gal sensitivities vary by person. You should understand your dietary restrictions, making any adjustments needed, and directing any questions to your physician.

Alpha-gal syndrome is more than avoiding red meat. Unfortunately, the alpha-gal molecule can be found in many foods beyond ground beef and pork chops. You can find it in a variety of packaged foods as well as beverages, beauty products, and medications. So it is a condition that demands attention and care, because a single bite can mean the difference between your well-being and a medical emergency. This article dives into the alpha-gal diet, identifying the foods that comfort and nourish without harm, and those in which hidden dangers lurk. 

The alpha-gal diet is shown on a wooden table.

    

In This Article

Who Should Follow an Alpha-Gal Diet?

Before we dive into the alpha-gal diet, let’s tackle a fundamental question: What exactly is alpha-gal syndrome? Alpha-gal syndrome is an allergic reaction to galactose-α-1,3-galactose, a sugar molecule found in most mammalian meats. After a bite from a lone star tick, your immune system can be reprogrammed to react to alpha-gal. Allergic symptoms range from annoying hives to severe gastrointestinal distress to downright dangerous anaphylactic shock — often hours after exposure. 

But alpha-gal is not a one-size-fits-all condition. Unlike a conventional food allergy, it’s as varied as the individuals it touches, with reactions and sensitivities that can differ wildly from one person to the next. Take my hiking buddy, for instance — she sidesteps mammalian meat and is good to go. Yet, my oldest daughter has to steer clear of an entire “maybe” list that we’ll explore below.

And it doesn’t stop there. The plot thickens with time, as what’s tolerable today might not be tomorrow — especially if you receive additional tick bites. You could be sipping on a decadent hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and marshmallows, feeling fine, only to find that the next cup sends your body into a tailspin. It’s a dietary roller coaster that keeps those with alpha-gal syndrome on their toes.

Sage Advice: You may also hear alpha-gal syndrome referred to as a mammalian meat allergy or red meat allergy. But as you read on, you’ll quickly learn that alpha-gal can be found in much more than red meat.

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Safe Foods to Eat on an Alpha Gal Diet

Navigating the alpha-gal diet can feel like a culinary puzzle. Yet, amidst the restrictions lies a bounty of safe, delicious foods that can be enjoyed without worry. Let’s explore the vibrant variety of alpha-gal-friendly foods that can fill your plate with color, flavor, and nutrition.

A man is standing in front of a basket of fruits and vegetables.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Fruits and Vegetables

The rainbow of fruits and vegetables is your playground. Crunch into a juicy apple, savor the sweetness of a ripe strawberry, or roast a medley of vegetables — using a plant-based oil like olive, of course — for a comforting dinner. These natural delights are free from alpha-gal, making them a cornerstone of your diet.

A wooden bowl with seeds and bread on it.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Grains

Whole grains form a foundational element of the alpha-gal diet, offering both variety and versatility. Whether it’s the fluffy quinoa in your salad, the warm rice in your burrito bowl, or the comforting oats in your morning porridge, grains provide essential energy and comfort without risking an alpha-gal reaction.

An assortment of nuts and seeds on a table
Photo Credit: Canva.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are allies in your alpha-gal journey. Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds not only offer a satisfying crunch but also pack a nutritional punch with their healthy fats and protein content, all while being completely alpha-gal safe.

White and Brown Eggs in a Carton.
Photo Credit: Canva.

Eggs

Eggs are a versatile staple in the alpha-gal diet. Scramble them for breakfast, slice a hard-boiled egg onto a salad, or use them in baking. They’re a fantastic source of protein and nutrients, free from alpha-gal.

Fish and Seafood

Fish and Seafood

With its vast selection of fish and seafood, the sea offers a safe haven for those on the alpha-gal diet. From a well-seasoned white fish filet to a pot of steamed mussels, these aquatic offerings are alpha-gal allergy-safe proteins packed with essential omega-3 fatty acids. 

Sage Advice: Looking for ways to round out a fish or seafood meal? Here are more than 40 incredible sides for fried fish.

Raw Chicken Breast on Cutting Board
Photo Credit: Canva.

Poultry

For those yearning for the heartiness of red meat, poultry offers a delightful alternative. In addition to grilling and baking, chicken, turkey, and duck can be creatively prepared to replace ground beef and pork sausage. Meanwhile, emu or ostrich can safely stand in for steak and roasts.

Sage Advice: Get a detailed list of foods you CAN enjoy with alpha-gal syndrome, with this free download.

Foods that are Off-Limits on an Alpha-Gal Diet

While an alpha-gal diet can include a variety of safe and tasty foods, mammalian meat products should be avoided by all alpha gals. Saying farewell forever to crispy bacon, a grilled cheeseburger, or a juicy steak can be hard. One of the lessons I’ve learned through adopting an alpha-gal diet is that it is okay to feel sad, angry, or some other emotion as you accept this reality.

A wooden cutting board full of beef and pork.
Photo Credit: Canva.

Mammalian Meats

When it comes to alpha-gal syndrome, mammalian meats are one of the main culprits, including beef, bison, pork (and yes, that includes bacon), lamb, deer, and rabbit. These meats contain the alpha-gal sugar that can trigger severe reactions. 

Sage Advice: While being diagnosed with alpha-gal syndrome means no more “regular” cheeseburgers, you can enjoy these turkey smash burgers. Just be sure to skip the cheese or use a plant-based option if you’re sensitive to dairy.

A piece of beef liver on a wooden tray surrounded by red peppercorns.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Mammalian Organs

It’s not just mammalian meat that’s off the table — their internal organs are also a no-go. Kidneys, liver, heart, and intestines contain high levels of the alpha-gal sugar. This also includes pork gut casings commonly used in sausages. For someone with alpha-gal syndrome, these organ meats can pose the same risk as the meats themselves, necessitating their complete avoidance to prevent allergic reactions.

A pot of beef bone broth on a wooden table surrounded by carrots and garlic.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Broth, Gravy, and Items Containing Red Meat Extracts

Beef broth, beef bouillon, and other mammalian meat-based ingredients are also off-limits for people with alpha-gal syndrome, as they contain the alpha-gal sugar that can trigger allergic reactions. This restriction extends to gravies and sauces that are often enriched with mammalian stocks hiding potential dangers in seemingly safe dishes. Even packaged chicken gravy can have hidden mammalian ingredients! For a safe alternative, look for vegetable-based broths and homemade gravies made without mammalian products.

An infographic that answers the question, What is an alpha-gal diet?

Foods to Eat with Caution on an Alpha-Gal Diet

While many people with alpha-gal syndrome can enjoy a wide range of foods without issue, there are certain items that sit in a gray area. These foods may be tolerable for some but can cause reactions in others. When I was determining my own “maybe” list, I created this trigger tracker. If you’re still determining your sensitivities, I encourage you to download a free copy.

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According to resources like the Alpha Gal Information website and the Fig app, most people with AGS can handle the following foods, but it’s important to know your sensitivities, carefully read ingredient lists, proceed with caution, and pay attention to your body.

A slice of bread with parsley and parmesan cheese on a wooden table.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Lard and Beef Tallow

Lard, a type of fat rendered from pork, can be found in everything from refried beans to pie crusts. Beef tallow is a similar animal fat derived from cattle. Both are commonly used for frying. For those with alpha-gal syndrome, it’s important to be aware of these ingredients, as they can be hidden in otherwise innocuous foods like vegetable side dishes or doughnuts.

A clump of carrageenan, an edible red seaweed also known as Irish moss
Photo Credit: Canva.

Carrageenan

This seaweed-derived substance is a common thickener in dairy products, including some dairy-free vegan items. Although carrageenan is a plant-based ingredient, it contains the alpha-gal epitope, which can cause a reaction in some people with alpha-gal syndrome. Fortunately, many food manufacturers are phasing out carrageenan in favor of other plant-based thickeners.  

Milk, cheese and other dairy products on a blue background.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Milk and Dairy Products

Dairy can be a complex category for alpha-gal individuals. Some can consume milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter without issues, while others may react to these products. Your intolerance may be tied to products that contain animal rennet, animal enzymes, or whey. And with all triggers, your sensitivity may change over time.

Speaking from experience, after two years of avoiding all dairy products when initially diagnosed with alpha-gal by my primary care physician, my allergist encouraged me to slowly introduce select dairy products back into my diet. I started with skim milk and low-fat cottage cheese and, under my allergist’s supervision, slowly added to the list. Unfortunately, I still react to products containing whey or animal enzymes, but I’m so excited to be able to tolerate vegetarian cheese.

Related Article: Dairy Free Baking: Proven Tips for Beginners

Red Jello in a white bowl with a mint leaf.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Gelatin

Found in products like JELL-O, marshmallows, jelly beans, and gummy candies, gelatin is typically derived from bovine or porcine sources and can be problematic for those with AGS. Alternatives made with fish gelatin or vegan options are generally safer, although it’s worth noting that vegan marshmallows often contain carrageenan, which can be a trigger for some alpha gals.

Woman Stirring Collagen into Coffee
Photo Credit: Canva.

Collagen

Collagen supplements are commonly sourced from cattle or pigs, which is a no-go for alpha-gal folks. However, marine collagen, derived from fish, is a suitable alternative and may even offer additional health benefits, according to this report.

Natural Flavors and Flavorings

The term “natural flavors” on packaged goods may sound wholesome, but they can be a minefield for people with alpha-gal syndrome. These hidden allergy triggers are often made from meat extracts, including mammalian bouillon, and are found in an array of products, from soups to snacks. Without clear labeling, the only surefire way to determine the presence of mammalian ingredients is to use a tool like the Fig app or to reach out directly to the manufacturer.

Pile of Granulated Sugar on Wooden Counter
Photo Credit: Canva

Sugar

The white color of some sugars comes from a refining process that uses bone char, which can be an alpha-gal concern. For those sensitive to this ingredient, look for raw cane sugar, certified-organic cane sugar, or sugar made exclusively from beets. You can also use ingredients like agave, honey, and maple syrup to sweeten your life without the added worry.

A flight of beers in glasses on a wooden bar.
Photo Credit: Canva.

Beer, Wine, and Spirits

Following an alpha-gal diet means being vigilant about what’s in your glass as well as what’s on your plate. Gelatin is a common clarifying agent in beer, wine, and spirits, yet producers aren’t required to disclose this ingredient. This lack of transparency can pose a risk for those with alpha-gal syndrome. However, resources like Barnivore can help you find alpha-gal friendly beverages, ensuring you can enjoy a drink without the worry of an allergic reaction.

Do You Follow an Alpha-Gal Diet?

What alpha-gal friendly foods do you enjoy? What foods do you miss most? Do you have any additional tips and tricks to pass along to your fellow alpha gals? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thank you for sharing!

3 thoughts on “Alpha Gal Diet: What’s Safe, Off-Limits, and Risky”

  1. I am so happy to find this website. My friend Mary was recently diagnosed with Alpha-Gal and every month we get together (with our other girlfriends) and have a dinner party. I was panicking because it is my turn to host and I want to surprise her with an all Alpha-Gal friendly menu. This post covered all of my questions! I also love all the other posts you have with recipes I can make. Thank you so much!

    1. I’m so sorry to hear your friend has alpha-gal, but she’s so lucky to have an allergy ally like you! Being able to continue to enjoy food-related festivities, like your monthly girlfriend get-togethers, means a lot to the newly diagnosed. You are such an awesome friend! <3

  2. Debbie Harrington

    I have been alpha Gal cooking for over a year now for my Husband with Alpha gal. You newsletter have been very insiteful. We are awaiting his blood test results for 2023. Thank you for all you do to educate and inform new Alphagal patients. The hardest part has been overcoming the fear of eating out and of traveling. We got an RV so I can cook on the road and alleviate some of that stress for us.
    My husband was a picky eater before and now even more so. But using some of the plant based meats has been a lifesaver, because ground turkey was getting old fast. Now I supplement the ground turkey with beyond meat and the flavor enhancement is amazing.
    Every week I try something new. It is challenging but absolutely doable.
    Keep up the good work!!
    Blessings for 2024.

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