If you are taking part in Veganuary this month and have a food allergy, it’s important to understand the difference between a food labelled ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based’ and an ‘allergen-free’ claim. Always double check the ingredients to make sure vegan or plant-based products are free from your allergens and safe for you to eat.
Many vegan or plant-based alternatives include ingredients that are common food allergens so it’s important to check the labels (including precautionary labelling such as ‘May contain’) or ask a member of staff.
It can be surprising to find out that foods labelled vegan or plant-based can still contain traces of ‘animal’ allergens. There is no agreed definition for ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based’ in UK food law, and it’s important never to rely on these terms to mean allergen free.
If you have a food allergy to an ‘animal’ allergen such as dairy, fish, crustacean, mollusc or egg , remember that a vegan or plant-based product may still have a ‘May contain’ warning for your allergen. This is because unintentional cross contamination can occur when vegan or plant-based food is produced on the same line or in the same factory as non-vegan food. This means some vegan or plant-based food ‘may contain’ allergens.
If you have an allergy to an animal product, never rely on a vegan or plant-based label to manage your allergy.
This list does not feature all ingredients. Please remember to check the ingredient label to see if the food is safe for you.
Tofu is made from soya bean and so it is an important ingredient to avoid for anyone with a soya allergy. Tofu is used in a wide variety of dishes, often as a meat replacement but can also be found in desserts, such as ice cream, or as a scrambled egg alternative.
Similar to tofu, tempeh is also soya-based and a versatile meat substitute. It can be found in a variety of products including vegan bacon.
Seitan is sometimes regarded as a good alternative to tofu or tempeh if you have a soya allergy. However, this replacement comes from gluten and is unsuitable for anyone with a wheat allergy. It is often used as a meat alternative and commonly used to replicate chicken.
If swapping meat for a substitute, be aware that some alternative ingredients might cause allergic reactions. Concentrated pea, soya and wheat protein is often used in meat substitutes. Because the protein in these foods is very concentrated, they might cause a more serious reaction if you eat them when you have an allergy to that food. Peas and soya belong to the legume plant family which includes peanuts, chickpeas, lentils and beans. Peas are not in the top 14 UK food allergens so won’t be highlighted in ingredients lists. Read more about allergy to Legumes
Quorn is a popular meat substitute made from mycoprotein. There is not very much information about allergic reactions to Quorn, but some people have reported symptoms.
Read our factsheet about Quorn here.
There are so many alternatives to dairy milk, however, they often include other potential allergens such as almond, soy and coconut. If you are visiting a café or coffee shop , remember to ask staff about the risk of cross contamination. Unfortunately, some venues will not be able to guarantee an allergen free beverage if they are using the same equipment for all drinks.
Vegan butter, cheese and yogurt
Like plant-based milk, butter, cheese and yogurt also comes in dairy-free alternatives, but these can also include other allergens. Be vigilant and double check ingredients and ‘May contain’ labelling.
There are lots of different replacements for egg available made from variety of different ingredients including aquafaba (chickpea water), nutritional yeast, corn starch and pea protein. Always double check the label for allergen information.
Want to learn more? Check out our extensive range of evidence-based factsheets for specific allergen information.
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