Dietary restrictions are common, and the food and beverage industry is more accommodating than ever before to a broad range of preferences and needs.
We are well past the days of wedding response cards that assume a preference only between meat or fish. Here are some of the dietary restrictions you may come across and should know about while planning events.
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Medical-Based Dietary Restrictions
These dietary restrictions are based on medical issues that many people have.
Gluten is a protein that is found in most grains. It is what makes dough stretchy rather than brittle. However, it can cause intestinal distress in some people.
It is commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is not in rice, corn, or potatoes. For guests with this condition, anything that includes flour is off-limits. That means bread and pastries, but also any proteins that are dredged in flour before sauteing or use flour as a thickening ingredient, like potato gratin.
The Mayo Clinic has a good list of what is allowed and what is off-limits for those who are gluten-free.
Nut-free (tree nuts and peanuts)
Nut allergies can be fatal for the most sensitive. For the less sensitive, it could just mean an EpiPen injection and a trip to the Emergency Room.
If tree nuts or peanuts are included in any dishes, make sure that the attendees know. The majority of people with these types of allergies will ask about the specific ingredients they are allergic to, so make sure that the food servers know what each dish contains.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The diet is based on studies that have shown to lower blood pressure. It emphasizes fresh fruit and vegetables,reduced-fat dairy, whole grains, and meats with limited legumes, seeds, and nuts. It discourages high amounts of saturated fats, excess sodium, and lots of sugar.
This dietary restriction is much more common at events that have older guests or medical conferences.
Belief-Based Dietary Restrictions
These dietary restrictions are due to religious beliefs. You will find these most often at weddings, funerals, and other religious events.
Jainism is a religion that originated in India. Their followers have a spiritually motivated diet centered around the prevention of killing creatures, big or small. Thus Jains are vegetarians who do not eat onions, garlic, potatoes, or other tubers to prevent injury to the smallest insects and microorganisms. They do consume milk products.
Halal means lawful or permissible in Arabic but is also used to refer to Islamic dietary laws. Haram means forbidden, and there are some, but not many foods that are prohibited. However, the most common ones are pork and alcohol.
These dietary restrictions also take into account the treatment of animals during their lifetime and their manner of death. An animal, such as a cow, is halal, but beef may not be considered halal if it was slaughtered in an inhumane matter.
While it may seem simple to keep pork and alcohol off the menu, keep in mind that they may be included in non-obvious ways. Vanilla extract, for example, is alcohol-based. And gelatin may be made from pork or improperly slaughtered animals.
Jewish dietary regulations are referred to as kashrut, and the food is termed Kosher. The major restrictions are the prohibitions of eating pork and seafood (though fish are allowed) and the inability to eat milk and meat within the same meal.
This means that all food is divided into those which are either milk (made from or including dairy products), meat (all Kosher land and air animal protein), or neither, aka parve (fruit, vegetables, grains, fish, eggs). Parve can be eaten with either milk or meat.
As with Halal, the methodology of slaughter matters, and a kosher animal can be killed in a non-Kosher manner. However, the slaughter of a non-Kosher animal in a Kosher way will not make that animal Kosher.
A Brief Note About Kosher And Halal Foods
When serving kosher or halal food to religiously-observant guests, the ingredients are often only part of the regulations. You may need some level of certification that the foods adhered to the correct preparation restrictions. For example, kosher food prepared in a non-kosher kitchen is not considered kosher by most observant Jews.
It’s a best practice to work with a Food & Beverage supplier who understands the restrictions and has connections with the local relevant religious organizations to ensure the food is certified kosher or halal. There’s a well-worn process, and most local synagogues or mosques will be happy to help advise too or connect you to the right people.
Plant-Based Dietary Restrictions
These do not include animal flesh but differ regarding the amount of animal products included.
Vegetarians do not eat meat, meaning red meat, poultry, fish, or seafood. They also do not eat foods that contain meat products, like cheese that includes animal rennet or marshmallows that contain gelatin.
Meals that are made of separate main and side dishes can be easily configured to suit vegetarians. Since most side dishes are vegetarian (i.e., salad, rice, potatoes), offering a vegetarian protein as a main course option is a simple addition to the menu.
A vegan diet is plant-based. It includes fruit, vegetables, edible mushrooms, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts. It does not contain any animal flesh or products, which excludes meat and eggs, milk, and honey.
While this is the most restrictive of the plant-based diets, it includes many delicious and diverse foods that those who are not vegans will enjoy, such as pita and hummus, chips and guacamole, or sushi.
Dietary Restrictions Are About Inclusion
Food is imperative at most events. So make your guests feel welcome by being aware of what their dietary restrictions needs are.