Diet-Sensitive Dating

Have you (or your date's) food sensitivities kept dinner dates off the menu? No worries! This handy guide will help you find great meal options for the most finicky eaters.

By Janet Schultz

eart palpitations, sweaty palms, stomach cramps…No, these aren't symptoms of first-date anxiety (well, OK, they can be). Rather, they're just a few of the things that someone with food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities can encounter on a daily basis. According to the National Institutes of Health, while a true food allergy occurs in only an
It must make dating even more stressful than it already is!
estimated 4 percent of adults, a recent study in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology cites the incidence of food sensitivities at nearly 25 percent. So out of your last three dates, chances are good that at least one of them has some type of food sensitivity, and you might, too. And that's not even counting those with strong dietary preferences, such as vegetarians.

So what's the allergic or sensitive party (or his/her companion) to do? According to Sloane Miller, (a.k.a. "Allergic Girl"), author of Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies, "It is essential for the allergic person to have a clear picture of his/her diagnosis, limitations, and emergency plan, and to be able to explain this succinctly and confidently." As for the companion, Miller says it's helpful to listen and be open, accepting and supportive of whatever the other person has to say" and always ask questions rather than making assumptions about any aspect of the situation.

With that in mind, here's a helpful guide for food-sensitive folks and their dates.

Food issue: Celiac disease/Gluten intolerance
What is it? Celiac disease is an autoimmune system-based food absorption disorder that causes damage to the small intestine after consuming gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains including rye and barley. Sensitivity to gluten (or gluten intolerance) is slightly different in that Celiac causes severe intestinal damage and can be inherited, but both require removing gluten from the sufferer's diet.
Typical symptoms: gas, bloating, cramps, chronic diarrhea, constipation, anemia, weight loss.
Good eats: Seafood, Mexican (corn-based), Indian or Middle Eastern (avoid the breads), steakhouses (but remember to always inquire about cross-contamination if you are unsure).
Challenging choices: Chinese buffets, Italian, pizza places, sandwich/sub shops, bakeries, soul food, fast food.
Chains that get it: P.F. Chang's, Carrabba's, Outback, Chili's, California Pizza Kitchen, Panera Bread.
What companions can say to earn extra points: "I'm sorry you have to deal with this. It must make dating even more stressful than it already is!"
What not to say: "Yum...(drooling) this garlic bread is awesome! Don't you wish you could have a bite?"
Where to learn more:

Food issue: Lactose intolerance/Dairy sensitivity
What is it? Lacking enough of the enzyme lactase required to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products is true lactose intolerance, while experiencing ensitivity to milk proteins, casein or whey products means cheese, some yogurt and thickeners are off-limits, too. Some people who experience symptoms while consuming dairy are helped by taking Lactaid supplements; others can tolerate small amounts of lactose, and some people need to avoid these types of foods altogether.
Typical symptoms: Gas, bloating, cramps, diarrhea.
Good eats: Steakhouses, Asian fare (Japanese, Chinese, or Thai), Brazilian, vegan/raw establishments, salad bars, soup places, delis.
Challenging choices: Ice cream/yogurt shops, fondue, Greek restaurants, upscale chefs who refuse to alter a dish or whose menus state "no substitutions."
Chains that get it: P.F. Chang's, Boston Market, Outback Steakhouse, Chili's.
What companions can say to earn extra points: "So we can't spoon-feed each other Ben & Jerry's…we'll just use Tofutti instead!"
What not to say: "She can't have the French onion soup, it makes her really gassy!"(Note: Especially if you're in a crowded place and yelling your order.)
Where to learn more:

Food issue: Peanut/tree nut allergy
What is it? An often life-threatening allergic response to peanuts and/or walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, or Brazil nuts.
Typical symptoms: Rashes, hives, asthma, anaphylaxis (i.e., the sufferer's throat closing up). Note: Carrying an EpiPen (which contains injectable epinephrine) is essential. Check to be sure your date has one at all times — unless you enjoy hanging at the emergency room.
Good eats: Steakhouses (but, again, remember to always inquire about cross-contamination), and wherever you go, call ahead to
Remember, a food allergy is just one aspect of who you are…
see if they allow menu changes or take custom requests. Once you're there, talk with the server, manager, and chef to clarify your food requirements.
Challenging choices: Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, African/Ethiopian, bakeries.
Chains that get it: Red Robin, Macaroni Grill, Chipotle, California Pizza Kitchen.
What companions can say to earn extra points: "Wow, that must be scary to deal with. What's a place you know will be safe for you?"
What not to say: "So you're not gonna die on this date, are you?"
Where to learn more:

Food issue: Other specific food allergy/food sensitivity
What is it? A possibly life-threatening immune system reaction to certain foods and/or intolerance to certain types of foods. Common culprits include: eggs, seafood, milk and soy, but there are many others. Food additives like MSG, artificial flavors and food dyes can also be problematic. Note: For any type of food allergy, carrying an EpiPen is a must.
Typical symptoms: Hives, itching, rashes, tingling in the mouth, swelling of the lips/face/tongue/throat, trouble breathing, anaphylaxis, gastrointestinal symptoms, headache, nasal congestion, dizziness, fainting.
Good eats: It depends on each individual's allergies, of course, but always call ahead of time if you're going to eat somewhere. Once you're there, talk with the server, manager, and chef to be sure they can accommodate your needs. Regarding food additives, choose restaurants that use freshly prepared whole foods.
Challenging choices: It depends; but regarding food additives, avoid fast food joints and places serving pre-made/packaged foods, such as snack bars.
Chains that get it: See above.
What companions can say to earn extra points: "I did some Iinternet research, called the restaurant to double-check, and found the perfect place for us to have dinner tonight!"
What not to say: "I don't know what I would do without shellfish, it's my favorite food! How do you live without crab cakes?"
Where to learn more:

Food preference: Vegetarian/vegan/raw food diets
What is it? A mostly plant-based diet (fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts) with varying allowances for dairy products, eggs, or fish (vegetarians); vegans are vegetarians who followa strictly plant-based diet devoid of animal-derived ingredients, such as milk, eggs, gelatin and anything containing casein. Raw foodists consume a diet comprised of at least 75% whole, live, uncooked, unprocessed plant-based foods only.
Typical symptoms: Nausea and other unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, psychological distress.
Good eats: Vegan/vegetarian/raw establishments, Asian, Indian, Mexican, Italian, pizza places, Middle Eastern
Challenging choices: Steakhouses, burger places, seafood, and some fast food places.
Chains that get it: P.F. Chang's, Moe's, Panera Bread, Macaroni Grill, Olive Garden, Little Caesar's, Papa John's. Many restaurants — even fast-food places — offer veggie burgers and other vegan options.
What companions can say to earn extra points: "I admire your commitment to eating this way. Tell me more about what led you to vegetarianism/veganism/raw foods."
What not to say: "Oops, I forgot to mention I used chicken stock in the base of that soup you're eating…"
Where to learn more:

With straightforward communication a little acceptance and support and the handy guide we've provided here, dating with food issues is a breeze. Says Miller, "Remember, a food allergy is just one aspect of who you are, and talking about it with your date is just another part of getting to know each other." Happy dining and dating!

Janet Schultz, a.k.a. "Organic Janet" (, is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and humorist, specializing in the topics of natural health, organic living, personal growth, and dating. Her work has appeared in PINK Magazine, Georgia Psychologist, and The Journal of Nonverbal Behavior.
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