I try to be as accommodating as possible when it comes to special diets.  My husband is vegetarian, my brother is vegan and gluten intolerant, my mom follows the American Heart Association diet, my dad is diabetic, and I have a few food intolerances myself.  Oh, and my sister-in-law doesn't really love vegetables.  Honestly, I think my mom just throws up her hands in despair when we all get together for a meal... which is why handling the menu often falls to me!  Needless to say, I have learned a whole lot about making substitutions to fit a variety of special diets, and -- hopefully-  making things taste good no matter what the dietary restrictions.  Throughout the website, when I refer to special diets I will use the following abbreviations:

 

WF: This means "wheat-free", though not necessarily gluten-free.  There is a difference, and for individuals with celiac sprue, it is a vital distinction.  Celiac diets require foods to be completely gluten-free, and gluten is found in many ingredients other than just wheat.  I often use a white spelt pastry flour made by Vita-spelt and highly recommend it as a substitute for white flour, because it doesn't give baked goods the extra density (which I describe as "the doorstop effect", as in "It's so dense you could use it as a doorstop") often found with other alternative flours not specifically designed for pastry; while this flour is great for wheat-free diets, it is glutinous and not acceptable for those with a gluten intolerance.

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GF: As I mentioned above, gluten-free is the diet requirement for those with celiac disease, and it is this diet to which I am referring with this abbreviation.  I am still experimenting with various gluten-free alternatives, searching for that elusive "perfect flour blend" that will satisfy my high standards... and my determination never to have one of my cakes used as a doorstop!  So far, the "Gluten-Free Pantry" and "Bob's Red Mill" are leading the pack for "eatability", and "Namaste" makes a flour blend that isn't bad, though I still think is had a bit of a grittiness to it.

 Click this link to learn more about Celiac Disease:

http://www.celiac.org/

 Click here for a helpful guide to ingredients for which to watch when avoiding wheat:

http://www.nowheat.com/grfx/nowheat/primer/ingred.htm/

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D: A dietetic recipe should be "low-glycemic"; in other words, the food should produce only small fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels.  Diabetics can-- and certainly should-- eat carbohydrates, but it is important to choose carbs that slowly trickle glucose into the blood stream, keeping energy-- and insulin-- levels balanced.  Whole grain options are lower glycemic than the more refined versions often found in the standard American diet, such as white flour and pasta.  Sweeteners also come into play, especially in baking-- no white sugar or high fructose corn syrup in these recipes!  I have used Splenda to make frosting; however, I had to literally grind my own "powdered" Splenda with a mortar and pestle because, as far as I can tell, there is no powdered version on the market.  (If anyone knows of a source for powdered Splenda, please, please email me!  It would certainly make things much easier!)  Some diabetics tolerate agave nectar well because it is lower on the glycemic index, but this is not true for everyone.  Sometimes I have to try out a new recipe for my dad by making it and serving it to him, and then having him check his blood sugar to let me know whether it raised it too high.  If it did, then it's back to the drawing board for me.  (If at first you don't succeed, try,try again, right?)

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AHA: When baking for my mom, I typically try to cut down fat content and refined sugar in a recipe and to omit salt wherever possible.  Applesauce can be a great substitute for oil in baked goods, for example, and I almost never use as much sugar as is called for in any given recipe.  

The American Heart Association has the following recommendations:

Vegetables: at least 4 servings a day / Fruits: at least 4 servings a day / Grains: choose whole grains, high fiber / Fish: at least 2 servings a week Fats: Aim for <300mg cholesterol, <1% of total kcal transfat, <7% of total kcal saturated fat / Salt: use little or no salt; aim at 2300 mg of sodium daily (~1 tsp of salt) / Sugar: minimize sugary foods and drinks to < 5 servings a week / Alcohol: limit alcohol intake to no more than 2 drinks a day for men, 1 drink a day for women.

Visit the AHA website's nutrition page to see a more detailed description of the AHA diet recommendations:

 http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1200010

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V: When I use this abbreviation, I am referring to a vegan diet: no meat, dairy, eggs or any animal products whatsoever.  Some-- but not all-- vegans also eschew white sugar because it is processed through bone char, and honey because it is the by-product of a living creature.  If the vegan for whom you are baking does not eat white sugar you can replace granulated sugar with "raw" or turbinado sugar, which has a tannish color because it is less refined.  Confectioner's-- or powdered--  sugar is more refined even than granulated white sugar, but you can find vegan powdered sugar in health food stores.  (At least for now, I have not mastered creating my own vegan fondant; fortunately my brother will eat white sugar on special occasions, which is why I have been able to make such funky birthday cakes for him!)  Honey can be replaced with maple syrup, barley malt or agave nectar, but keep in mind that any of these substitutions will-- each in their own distinct way-- substantially change the flavor of the finished product.  This is not necessarily a drawback, but it is something to consider when deciding which substitution best suits the recipe, and the tastes of those for whom one is baking.  

 Learn more about the vegan lifestyle here:

http://www.vegan.org/about_veganism/index.html

or here:

http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/vegan.htm

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VG: This denotes a vegetarian diet.  All vegetarians refrain from eating meat (this includes beef, pork, poultry, mutton, and fish-- or as Phoebe said on the TV show Friends, "anything with a face"), but there are some distinctions to be made.  When I use this abbreviation I will also specify whether the recipe is suitable for ovo-vegetarians, lacto-vegetarians, or lacto-ovo-vegetarians.  Here's a breakdown of those terms for you:

►OV: Ovo-vegetarian means the individual eats eggs, but not dairy (milk) products.

LV: Lacto-vegetarian means dairy products, but no eggs.

►LOV: Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat both eggs and dairy products.

 Here's a link to more information about vegetarianism in its many forms:

http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/nutshell.htm

 

 For anyone looking for a resource for vegetarian friendly accommodations or restaurants while traveling, animal rights groups, health groups, religious organizations, and about a gazillion other things related to vegetarianism, here's the address for the International Vegetarian Union: ("Promoting Vegetarianism Worldwide Since 1908"):

http://www.ivu.org/

Website created and maintained by Robyn Piper                                                                                                        Last updated January 2011