As you adopt an alpha-gal diet, you may be wondering, “What foods can you eat with alpha-gal?” And as you sort through all of the information, you might be confused and overwhelmed. Here are answers to your most commonly asked (and Googled) questions.
The information provided on this site is based on my personal experience living with alpha-gal syndrome. I cite and link to expert sources as often as possible, but because I have an MBA (and not an MD), nothing published on this site should be perceived as medical advice as I’m clearly lacking the letters required on my diploma to be a physician.
Newly diagnosed alpha-gal patients often have questions about the foods that align with an alpha-gal diet. Because alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) is a relatively recently discovered disease, and few restaurants and food manufacturers detail the allergens that trigger an alpha-gal reaction, it can be a tricky path to navigate, but here are the answers to your most frequently asked questions.
In This Article
What is Alpha-Gal Allergy?
Alpha-gal syndrome – also known as alpha-gal allergy, red meat allergy, and tick bite meat allergy – is an allergy to a sugar molecule. While scientists and medical professionals use its official name, galactose-α-1,3-galactose, the rest of us simply refer to it as alpha-gal.
In the United States, AGS is most commonly caused by a bite from the lone star tick. While not everyone bitten by a lone star tick will develop alpha-gal syndrome, those who do can no longer consume foods that contain alpha-gal without experiencing an allergic reaction that can range from terribly uncomfortable to life threatening.
Food Products That May Contain Alpha-Gal
The alpha-gal epitope is present in all non-primate mammals – so basically all mammals except lemurs, monkeys, apes, and humans. As a result, everyone diagnosed with alpha-gal is advised to avoid mammalian meats like beef, pork, and lamb. Some alpha gals will also need to avoid dairy products and mammalian by-products like gelatin, lard, and collagen.
Fortunately there are still plenty of delicious and nutritious options available for alpha gals! For example, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, eggs, poultry, fish, and shellfish are all safe to enjoy on an alpha-gal diet.
For many alpha-gal patients, dairy products like milk and cheese are also generally considered safe. However, alpha gals who continue to show symptoms while avoiding mammalian meat may want to avoid dairy products.
Alpha gals should always read ingredient labels carefully and avoid foods that include animal-derived ingredients like gelatin, glycerin, and lard. Another sneaky source of an allergic reaction is flavoring that may be made with meat extracts that aren’t always detailed on the package.
It’s also important to avoid foods that are fried in animal fats like tallow or lard as well as foods prepared or cooked on the same surfaces shared with mammalian ingredients.
Related Article: Alpha-Gal Food List: Allergy-Friendly Options for Alpha Gals
Can I Eat ____ with Alpha-Gal Syndrome?
Alpha gals have different sensitivities to foods. As you learn to live with AGS, be sure to understand your tolerance level. As you continue reading this article, please note that the answers to these questions are based on a standard alpha-gal diet, which excludes all mammalian meats and by-products but allows limited, lower-fat dairy products. If you are a highly sensitive alpha gal, have histamine intolerance, other dietary restrictions, or additional food allergies beyond alpha-gal syndrome, please consider your additional limitations as you continue reading.
While you may need to bid an emotional farewell to some of your favorite foods (in my case, it’s burnt ends), an alpha-gal diet doesn’t have to be restrictive or boring. With mindful cooking habits and a careful review of ingredient labels, you can still enjoy a variety of deliciously filling meals and satisfying snacks.
Related Article: Living with Alpha-Gal Syndrome: 10 Lessons Learned
What Meat Can You Eat with Alpha-Gal?
Being diagnosed with alpha-gal syndrome means bidding a fond farewell to juicy Angus cheeseburgers, thick pork chops, and ballpark hot dogs. If it comes from a mammal, it’s now off limits, including beef, pork, venison, lamb, mutton, rabbit, and goat. However, eggs, poultry, fish, and seafood are all alpha-gal friendly options.
Can You Eat Chicken with Alpha-Gal?
Yes, you can still eat chicken with alpha-gal syndrome! While red meats like beef and pork are not recommended for those suffering from AGS, poultry is safe to consume. This means that, in addition to chicken, you can enjoy dishes made with turkey, goose, duck, emu, ostrich, and pheasant.
But before digging into a saucy chicken wing or a big slice of roasted turkey breast, you will want to be mindful of a few things. First, be sure that all ingredients used to prepare the dish are alpha-gal friendly. Poultry is often injected with carrageenan (more on that below) to keep it juicy. And most chicken sausages are made with pork casings, which rules them out as an alpha-gal safe food. Lastly, you’ll want to be sure that the poultry isn’t cooked in animal fat like lard or beef tallow.
Can You Eat Fried Chicken on Alpha-Gal Diet?
On the surface, this classic comfort food sounds alpha-gal friendly. It can be, but you’ll want to dig a little deeper before you take the first crunchy bite. Most importantly, the chicken should be fried in an alpha-gal safe cooking oil. Instead of lard, opt for vegetable shortening, peanut oil, canola oil, or coconut oil.
Can I Eat Duck with Alpha-Gal Allergy?
Like chicken, duck is an alpha gal-safe food. To enjoy it safely, be sure it’s prepared with alpha gal-friendly ingredients in a manner that doesn’t cross contaminate it with beef, pork, lamb, or other mammalian products.
Can You Eat Pork with Alpha-Gal?
Although pork is the most consumed meat globally, alpha gals can no longer enjoy it, including ham, bacon, pork chops, pork loin, and pork sausage. You’ll also have to avoid by-products, including gelatin, glycerin, and collagen.
Alpha gals can replace traditional bacon with turkey or duck bacon and can substitute fresh ground chicken sausage (not in casings) for pork sausage. I’ve had great luck with the options available at the butcher’s counter at my local Sprouts Farmers Market.
Can You Eat Deer Meat with Alpha-Gal?
Because venison is a mammalian meat, it’s also off limits for alpha gals.
Can I Eat Meat Collagen on an Alpha-Gal Allergy Diet?
Most collagen is made from the skin and bones of cows and pigs. With these bovine and porcine ingredients, meat collagen is not alpha-gal friendly. The good news is that marine collagen is safe for alpha gals because it’s made with fish by-products.
Can You Eat Fish with Alpha-Gal?
Yep! Fish and seafood, including tuna, salmon, oysters, crab, and lobster, are safe for alpha gals Like with chicken and poultry, you’ll want to be sure any fried fish is cooked in an alpha gal-safe oil (like canola, peanut, or avocado). I also recommend following US Food & Drug Administration advice and limiting your weekly consumption of canned tuna to 12 ounces per week because it can have high mercury levels.
Sage Advice: To help you make environmentally sustainable decisions when purchasing seafood, download one of the Seafood Watch consumer guides published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Can You Eat Eggs with Alpha-Gal?
Absolutely! The majority of eggs consumed in the US are chicken eggs, but alpha gals can enjoy any type of egg, including those from ducks and quails. Just be sure that your eggs are not prepared with animal fats (like frying them in bacon grease).
Can You Eat Dairy with Alpha-Gal?
Although cow’s milk contains alpha-gal, this article by leading alpha-gal physician Dr. Scott Commins states that most alpha gals in his practice tolerate moderate amounts of lean dairy (like skim milk and low-fat cheese). However, if you know you react to dairy or if you continue to have allergic reactions while avoiding mammalian meat, you may want to avoid dairy products.
Can People with Alpha-Gal Eat Cheese?
If you are an alpha gal who can fully tolerate dairy products, you should be able to continue eating cheese of all kinds – from a big bowl of macaroni to thick slices of Brie on a turkey sandwich. Or, you may need to limit your dairy consumption to low-fat options like low-fat cottage cheese and part-skim mozzarella.
If you cannot tolerate dairy products, you’ll want to substitute a plant-based alternative. Try making your own ricotta cheese using silken tofu or a creamy vegan cheese sauce using nutritional yeast.
Can I Eat Sour Cream with Alpha-Gal Allergy?
As with all dairy products, the answer depends on your sensitivity to them. Some alpha gals can enjoy sour cream without any issues. Others may be okay when opting for a low-fat variety, and others may need to avoid sour cream (and all dairy products) completely.
If you need a plant-based alternative to real sour cream, Good Karma makes a plant-based sour cream. Or, you can whip some up at home using the cream from a can of full-fat coconut milk blended with apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and sea salt.
Can You Drink Milk with Alpha-Gal?
A post from 2014 in the Alpha-Gal Allergy Awareness Facebook group and an old post in a Subreddit dedicated to the alpha-gal allergy link mention an article published in the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology reporting that no detectable alpha-gal was found in skim, 1%, or 2% cow’s milk. However, the links to the research no longer work, and I was unable to find the report via an online search.
Consider your sensitivity level when evaluating whether to retain or eliminate milk from your diet. Some alpha gals are able to drink whole milk, put a splash of half and half in their coffee, and enjoy fresh whipped cream without issue. Others can only drink skim or low-fat milk. And some alpha gals have to select a plant-based alternative.
Sage Advice: When evaluating plant-based milks, be sure to read the ingredient list. Some brands – including the Kirkland soy milk sold at Costco and the coconut and soy milk used at Starbucks – contain carrageenan, which can trigger an allergic reaction for some alpha gals.
Related Article: Best Milk Alternative for Alpha-Gal Syndrome
Can People with Alpha-Gal Allergy Eat Butter?
As with cheese, milk, and other dairy products, the answer to this question about foods you can eat with alpha-gal depends on your sensitivity. Some alpha gals can continue to enjoy butter without any issues while others will need to switch to a plant-based alternative. Miyoko’s Creamery makes a vegan European-style cultured butter that’s great for baking, and Wayfare makes a dairy-free whipped butter that’s perfect for spreading on everything from sourdough toast to a stack of pancakes.
Can You Eat Bread with Alpha-Gal?
With main ingredients of flour, water, yeast, sugar, salt, milk, egg, and oil, bread is typically an alpha-gal friendly food. However, alpha gals who are highly sensitive may want to make bread at home or select a vegan option to ensure that the milk and oil used are plant-based.
Can You Eat Mayonnaise with Alpha-Gal Allergy?
Typically made with egg yolks, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, oil, and salt, mayonnaise should be an alpha-gal friendly ingredient. If you make this popular condiment at home, you can ensure its safety by using plant-based oil. However, if you purchase mayonnaise, be sure to confirm that there are no surprise alpha-gal triggers hiding in the ingredients list.
Sage Advice: For an even longer list of foods you can enjoy with alpha-gal syndrome, check out this article.
Can You Eat Jello If You Have Alpha-Gal?
If you’re asking about the JELL-O brand gelatin made by the Kraft Heinz Foods Company, then the answer is no. When it comes to their classic gelatin dessert, whether it’s cherry, berry blue, lime, or another flavor, the second ingredient listed on the box (right after sugar) is gelatin. And if you are considering one of JELL-O’s sugar-free options, then gelatin is the top ingredient.
Why is gelatin a problem for alpha gals? It’s typically derived from mammals like cows and pigs. As a result, it can cause an allergic reaction.
Fortunately, there are alternative products that are safe for alpha gals. Bakol, Gefen, and Lieber’s all make Kosher gelatin products that are either fish based or vegan friendly (and therefore typically safe for alpha gals). But you’ll still want to carefully read the ingredients before selecting one of these options as some contain carrageenan.
Can You Eat Peanut Butter with Alpha-Gal?
In its purest form, peanut butter is simply peanuts that have been ground into a creamy spread. Because alpha gals can safely enjoy all nuts and seeds, peanut butter is an alpha-gal friendly food. And, they can also enjoy other nut butters, including almond butter, cashew butter, and hazelnut butter. While it’s made from roasted sunflower seeds (instead of nuts), alpha gals can also eat sunflower seed butter.
Sage Advice: Some manufacturers add extra fat, salt, sugar, and other ingredients to their peanut butter to enhance its taste. If you are a highly reactive alpha gal or are trying to avoid trans fats and added sugars, always read the ingredients carefully before selecting a store-bought option.
Can You Eat Chocolate with Alpha-Gal?
Alpha gals who are sensitive to dairy need to choose chocolate treats carefully. There are three major types of chocolate: dark, milk, and white. Let’s look at each one to answer this question.
This type of chocolate is made by blending cocoa solids with cocoa butter (natural fat from the cocoa bean that is dairy free) and sugar. Although it should not contain any dairy, some brands may contain up to 12% milk.
With “milk” as its first name, it should be no surprise that milk chocolate contains at least 12% milk. The milk used to craft the chocolate can be liquid milk, condensed milk, or powdered milk.
Although it includes the word “chocolate,” white chocolate contains no cocoa solids and isn’t really chocolate. Rather, it’s a confection made of sugar, cocoa butter, milk, and sometimes vanilla.
If you are an alpha gal who avoids dairy, stick with dark chocolate treats that you can be certain do not contain milk based on a certified vegan label. You can also look for vegan-friendly milk- and white chocolate products that are made with plant-based milk. Just be sure to check for carrageenan on the ingredients list.
Related Article: The Truth About Alpha-Gal and Chocolate: Is it Safe to Eat?
Can Alpha-Gal Patients Eat Carrageenan?
Carrageenan is an extract from an edible red seaweed commonly known as Irish moss. It is a food additive used to emulsify and thicken foods, and because it is plant-based, carrageenan is often used in vegan products like cheese, yogurt, and chocolate milk. The problem for alpha gals is that this plant-based ingredient carries the alpha-gal epitope and may cause an allergic reaction.
Related Article: What is Carrageenan (And Why Should Alpha Gals Avoid It)?
Can You Drink Alcohol with Alpha-Gal?
When I was diagnosed with the alpha-gal allergy, I was stunned to learn that some brewers, winemakers, and distillers use gelatin to clarify their products. And, to make life even more challenging for us alpha gals, these manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients that go into their products.
As a general rule, you can safely enjoy your favorite adult beverage, provided it doesn’t include any allergy-triggering ingredients. But how do you find out if your drink is safe? I recommend Barnivore. Use the free app to identify beer, wine, and liquors that are vegan friendly, and you’ll know you can raise a glass without an allergic reaction.
Can I Drink Beer with Alpha-Gal?
Whether you enjoy beers that are household names – like Budweiser and Miller – or craft beers – like Boulevard and KC Bier Co here in Kansas City – you can use Barnivore, a free app to see if your favorite mug of suds is alpha-gal friendly. (Spoiler Alert: All four of the brands I just mentioned produce alpha gal-safe beers).
Sage Advice: Unlike other food allergies where reactions occur almost immediately, it’s not uncommon for an allergic reaction to alpha-gal to occur several hours after eating. Please note that drinking alcohol can speed up the reaction time.
What Do You Eat with Alpha-Gal?
What are your favorite alpha-gal friendly foods? Do you have any food questions not answered above? Share your thoughts and ask any questions in the comments section below.