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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nuts and Seeds
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.