Navigating Dietary Restrictions with Confidence

Your Guide to Allergen-Free and Specialized Meal Planning with recipes from the Lifesum App

  • Published: 7/14/2023
  • 5 min. read

Dietary restrictions can make it difficult to get adequate nutrition and enjoy diverse, flavorful dishes. Read expert advice on how to navigate the most common dietary restrictions without compromising your health or the joy of the eating experience.

What is a dietary restriction?

A dietary restriction is defined as a reduction of specific foods or food groups (1). This includes restricting total calories, certain macronutrients, allergenic or intolerance inducing foods or ingredients, and specific preferences such as vegan or vegetarian. 

Common restrictions and recipes


If you’re trying to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you’ll avoid some or all animal products. A well planned plant-based diet can offer tons of benefits such as improved heart health and disease prevention (2). But it’s important to replace animal products with lots of legumes (beans and lentils), whole grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables in order to get all the nutrients you need. Try some of these simple swaps for animal products:

  • Lentils instead of meat
  • Tofu instead of eggs
  • Tempeh or seitan instead of chicken
  • Nut butter instead of butter
  • Hummus instead of mayo 
  • Bean or veggie burger instead of burger 

Try starting your day with this delicious Toast with Scrambled Tofu, enjoy Vegan Taco Soup as a main meal, and dig into Chia Pudding with Berries for a mid afternoon snack or dessert. For more, check out: Plant-Based High-Protein Eating.


If you’re vegetarian, follow the tips above for vegan restrictions but feel free to include low fat dairy and eggs. You can swap fish, chicken, or meat for cheese, yogurt, or eggs. 

Try adding hard boiled eggs or cheese to healthy bowls like Egg, Sweet Potato and Paneer Bowl or this Feta Cheese and Bean Salad. Enjoy yogurt as a side like in Carrot and Mashed-Pea Patties.


For a pescatarian diet, follow the advice for both vegan and vegetarian restrictions but you’ll have even more flexibility to add fish and seafood. Simply swap out meat and poultry for fish or seafood such as having salmon instead of meat for a main or shrimp instead of chicken in a stir fry. 

Try this super simple Tuna and Pasta Salad or fresh and crisp Shrimp Bowl.


If you have an allergy, especially if you experience an anaphylactic response, make sure to speak with your doctor. They may prescribe an EpiPen and can tell you what to do if you come into contact with nuts. 

You’ll also want to be very careful of cross contamination. Check food labels and if you’re eating out, ask questions like if cooking utensils or tools have been exposed. Cuisines which often contain nuts include Asian, Indian, Mexican, and Middle  Eastern.

Many foods incorporate nut products or oils. Depending on the type of nuts you’re allergic to, you may be able to simply swap one type for another. However, if you need to avoid nuts all together, try these swaps:

  • Roasted edamame instead of snack nuts
  • sunflower seed butter instead of nut butter
  • Avocado or soy oil instead of nut oils
  • Cow’s milk or oat milk instead of nut milk 

Many smoothies and candies contain nuts. Try these smoothie alternatives: Chocolate Black Bean Smoothie with oat, soy, or coconut milk. For a tasty and healthy candy replacement, try Yoghurt Bark or Raspberry Popsicles.


If you have Celiac disease, are gluten intolerant, or have a wheat allergy, you’ll want to steer clear. Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and triticale. In particular, it’s found in these grains:

    • Wheat: breads, cereals, pasta, baked goods, some soups, sauces, and dressings
    • Rye: breads, beers, cereals
  • Triticale: pastas, cereals, bread
  • Barley: beers, malt, some soup and food colorings
  • Oats: are gluten free but often grown next to wheat, barley, rye which can lead to them having traces of gluten

Many foods and dishes contain gluten, but there are some helpful swaps that can help you feel like you’re still enjoying without gluten:

  • Brown rice instead of pasta 
  • Quinoa instead of couscous or orzo
  • Gluten-free oat or buckwheat flour instead of wheat flour 
  • Coconut aminos instead of soy sauce
  • Corn tortillas instead of bread 

Some keto dishes such as Keto Salmon Bowl use cauliflower rice as a base so they can be a great way to avoid gluten. If you have a hankering for a treat, try these tasty Almond Muffins, just make sure to get gluten-free oats.


One of the best ways to improve your health is to avoid or limit refined sugar. In fact, excessive sugar intake is a factor in promoting overweight and obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (3). The problem is, sugar seems to sneak its way into many of our foods like sauces, yogurt, and of course sweets. 

Try these swaps to reduce your sugar intake:

  • Carbonated water instead of soda or juice 
  • Oats instead of sugary breakfast cereals
  • A drizzle of oil instead of pre-made dressings 
  • Fresh fruit instead of jam or jelly
  • Plain yogurt instead of sweetened types 
  • Fresh tomato instead of processed pasta sauce

If you miss the sweet stuff, try out these sugar-free replacements: No-Bake Chocolate Power Treats, Baked Gingerbread Energy Bars, or Mango Smoothie.

Navigating dietary restrictions

One of the easiest ways to pinpoint whether your foods have an ingredient you’re trying to avoid is to check for a symbol or claim on the product or meal. If you’re buying a product, check the package for symbols or signs and check the food label to see what it contains. If you’re not sure, check with your dietitian and consider an app like  Lifesum to help you filter recipes according to your personalized requirements and preferences. 

All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice.

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All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.