Dietary restrictions, such as lactose or gluten intolerance, a peanut allergy, or being vegetarian, are extremely common in workplaces. Whether self-imposed or not, people are becoming more and more strict about what they eat, which makes ordering food for the office all the more difficult. How do you keep track of everyone’s food preferences and restrictions?
Learn all about dietary restrictions, including a list of dietary restrictions and what you can do to manage dietary restrictions in the workplace.
What Are Dietary Restrictions?
Dietary restrictions refer to any limits that are placed on an individual’s diet, whether willingingly or unwillingly. If someone decides that eating meat is immoral, they may choose never to eat meat (vegetarian) or eat any products that come from animals (vegan). Some may have special dietary needs because of an allergy or an illness, and some may be forbidden to eat a certain kind of food because of their religion.
Regardless of the reason behind a team member’s dietary restrictions, it’s important that these restrictions are respected and considered whenever someone brings food into the office or organizes a team meal. Even if employees keep their lunch and snacks to themselves, it’s vitally important to the health and safety of your team that office allergies are always part of the conversation surrounding what food is permitted in the office.
But a dietary restriction should not have to be life-threatening in order to be respected. If any of your employees have dietary restrictions, it’s important to find out so that the workplace can be as inclusive and comfortable as possible.
Common Types of Dietary Restrictions
A food allergy is a condition that causes certain foods to trigger an abnormal immune response. They occur because your immune system occasionally becomes confused and overprotective; it may wrongly classify some of the proteins in a food as harmful, then launch a range of protective measures that cause inflammation.
Depending on the severity of the allergy, even minor exposure to the food can cause a severe reaction. Peanuts, for example, are one of the most common causes of food-related death because they can easily trigger anaphylaxis, which is a reaction that can prove fatal if not treated immediately.
Common food allergies include peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, shellfish, fish, soy, sesame seeds, and garlic.
Vegetarianism is the practice of refusing to eat meat. “Vegetarians don't eat any foods which have been made using processing aids from slaughter.” People may choose to become a vegetarian for a variety of reasons, including fighting the climate crisis, but often, people choose to become vegetarian because they value the life of all sentient animals and believe it is morally unreasonable to imprison an animal in poor conditions, slaughter it, and then eat its flesh.
Vegans take things even further than vegetarians. Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of all animal products, particularly when it comes to diet. Generally, vegans believe that animals should not be used against their will in any way for humanity’s benefit or profit—and certainly not for our consumption. However, just like there are several different forms of Christianity, there are many different kinds of vegans and vegan philosophies out there. Just because someone is a vegan does not necessarily mean they will have the exact same dietary restrictions as another vegan.
If you have a team member living with diabetes, it’s important to consider their dietary restrictions as well. Someone living with diabetes should avoid white bread, sugary cereals, refined rice or pasta, pizza, fast food, baked goods, processed meat, red meat, chips, dessert, and so on.
“Pizza Fridays” for team building can have the opposite effect on someone living with diabetes, as they will not be able to participate.
Kosher is a term used to describe food that follows the strict dietary guidelines outlined by traditional Jewish law. For most Jewish people, keeping kosher is more about adhering to religious tradition than health or food safety. But not all Jewish communities stick to the strict guidelines, and some don’t follow any of the rules at all.
Kosher laws don’t just tell Jewish people what to eat; they also mandate how the approved foods must be produced, processed, or prepared before consumption. The main Kosher laws involve banning certain food pairings. For example, according to Kosher tradition, any food categorized as meat cannot be served or eaten during a meal that contains dairy.
Gluten intolerance is when someone feels ill after eating gluten; symptoms usually include feeling bloated, gassy, or tired. Gluten is a protein that’s found most commonly in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale, which is a cross between wheat and rye.
There are a number of different causes of gluten intolerance, including celiac disease, non-celiac disease, and wheat allergy. In any form, gluten intolerance can cause widespread symptoms that go far beyond stomach issues; gluten intolerance is also known to trigger autoimmune disorders as well as depression and anxiety.
Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, which is a sugar found in milk and milk products. It’s a condition that affects both adults and children, and it’s known to run in families. While symptoms vary from person to person, the most common symptoms of lactose intolerance are bloating, gas, diarrhea, stomach pains, and nausea.
Sensitivity to Spicy Food
Spicy food affects all of us differently. Some have iron-clad stomachs that can seemingly withstand any level of spice, and others among us may be forced to run to the bathroom after eating spicy food. If you belong to the latter group, you may be surprised to find out that there’s nothing actually wrong with you—it’s your body’s natural reaction to spicy food. Your body is simply protecting you from any possible harm.
Food made with hot spices, like cayenne or chili peppers, contain an ingredient called capsaicin. When you eat spicy food, it’s the capsaicin that causes the burning. Capsaicin can irritate your stomach lining or intestines. Some people are able to handle it, but if you have a more sensitive stomach, capsaicin can cause diarrhea.
It’s also important to note that you aren’t born liking spicy food; spicy food is an acquired taste. That’s because of capsaicin and other spicy food molecules. They deplete a neurotransmitter called substance P, which sends pain signals to the brain. Once you become desensitized to the heat, you’re able to pick up on the other flavors hiding behind the spice. And the longer you’ve been eating spicy food, the more desensitized you are to it.
So, by and large, if you don’t eat a lot of spicy food, your body won’t be used to dealing with it. Things will taste spicier, and you may experience tummy trouble. A sensitivity to spicy food is likely just your body’s way of keeping you safe from chemicals. But while allergies to spicy food are rare, they do happen.
How to Manage Dietary Restrictions in the Workplace
Maintain an Up-to-Date Dietary Restrictions List
There are a lot of dietary restrictions out there and a lot of potential allergies at work. There’s only one way to know for sure what your team can and can’t eat, and that’s to ask. Prepare a discreet dietary restrictions survey to find out what your employees are and aren’t able to eat.
Once you have that information, don’t lose it. Make sure each new hire fills out a food allergy questionnaire, and check with your employees every six months or so to see if their restrictions have changed.
Save yourself the guesswork. Gather this information upfront and keep it in a secure location so that you never lose it. Your employees will appreciate you going out of your way to ensure everyone’s dietary needs are met, and you won’t have to worry about ordering a meal that will exclude your team members.
It’s also a good idea to keep track of the local restaurants and caterers preferred by your staff. If a team member has food allergies or restrictions but knows of a local spot they always enjoy, jot this information down next to their allergies so that you can find an inclusive delivery option quickly if you’re in a pinch. Does the establishment have food the whole team can enjoy?
🥪 We put together a list of some of the Huntsville area’s tastiest eateries: 7 Best Lunch Spots in Huntsville.
Keep your dietary restrictions list updated, and consult it every time you consider ordering food for your team. If you are having clients or guests into the office for a snack or meal, make sure to ask about any dietary restrictions they may have as well.
Promote Food Allergy Awareness
Promote food allergy awareness by posting a food allergies poster in your office kitchen. If you didn’t grow up with allergies yourself or haven’t had much contact with people with severe food allergies, it’s easy to forget how serious of an issue it can be. But ignorance is no excuse.
Place food allergy awareness posters around your workplace and educate your team on how common, varied, and dangerous food allergies can be.
May is Food Allergy Awareness Month, and every year around this time is food allergy awareness week. Take May as an opportunity to check in with your staff to determine if your workplace is proactive enough in managing each team member’s dietary restrictions. Do you need to update your dietary restrictions database?
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