Beyond lentils: allergy friendly ‘Vegetarian Proteins’


Brrr – winter is here – what can be better than a bowl of warm and nourishing lentil soup?  Yummy – and yet a simple pleasure like this is denied if one tests positive for lentil allergy. Recently, a reader asked me if there are other kinds of lentils that one could try even if they tested positive for lentil allergy. Although, the allergist is the best person to give a qualified opinion – in my personal experience, the answer is ‘Yes’! At the very least – ‘lentils’ is just one kind of pulse and there are many more in this category that is worth investigating in conjunction with the allergist. 


Lentil is a kind of pulse – a tasty, versatile and nutritious food group from the plant kingdom.  There is an amazing variety of pulses but, the allergy test for pulses in the US seems to be done only for one variety – ‘lentils’. If the test comes back positive for lentils and the allergist is not very conversant with the multitude of pulses out there, he will ask us to stay away from the entire ‘pulses’ food group. That’s what happened to my son thus denying him one the best sources of vegetarian proteins, fiber, minerals, folate and Vitamin B. That is when I realized an important thing – even the best allergist may not know all the types of foods that are out there. Allergists are not food scientists, chefs or nutritionists. They are likely to be most conversant with common foods allergens and will know a little bit more based on their personal food habits and general knowledge.  The allergy-sufferer or the caretaker has to take a more active role.

Since, pulses are widely used in South Asia; I got an appointment with an allergist with knowledge of  South Asian foods. Lo, behold – he did know about the wide variety of pulses available and shed light on 3 important aspects:

1)    The type of pulse that is most likely to be highly allergenic is ‘Chick Peas’ (also widely known as Bengal gram or Garbanzo beans)

2)    Mung Bean (green gram), Matpe Bean (black gram) and Pigeon Pea ( red gram) are also rich in proteins, vitamins (especially vitamin B), minerals and fiber but the incidence of allergies to these pulses is negligible.

3)    He suggested trying lentils only after my son had had successfully tried mung beans, Matpe Beans and Pigeon Pea successfully.

My son’s numbers for lentil allergy was not severe, so, the allergist was confident that he would be able to try some of the pulses without adverse reaction. He suggested the following course of action:

1)    Introduce cooked mung beans for 2-3 weeks in increasing quantities starting with as little as ½ a teaspoon.

2)    If he had no reaction (not even the slightest rash or tingling sensation), introduce him to cooked Matpe beans in increasing quantities stepping up from ½ a teaspoon for 2-3 weeks.

3)    If he had no reaction to mung or matpe, I could introduce to one of the most versatile pulses – cooked pigeon peas in increasing quntities stepping up from ½ a teaspoon for 2-3 weeks.

Over a period of 2 months, Arjun was able to start eating 3 new types of pulses which made food more nutritious and palatable. It also served another important purpose – at that time his main source of protein was the hypoallergenic infant formula, Neocate and meat and his carb requirement was met through rice. All of them are extremely constipating!

So, I would have to force feed the foul tasting prune juice to an 18 month old to regulate his digestive system! The introduction of pulses to his diet was a dream come true because they are rich in protein and ‘fiber’. In this article, I will briefly introduce you to the 3 types of pulses which are   likely to be not allergenic.

1)    Mung Beans – This is known by various other names like green gram, green soy and moong. It is extensively used in South Asia. The skin is commonly green in color (there are other varieties too) and the inside is light yellow. 

Whole Mung Bean


Dehusked split Mung Bean


They can be used in some of the following forms:

  • Whole
  • Dehusked (split or whole),
  • Sprouts
  • Flour
  • Paste
  • Starch from mung beans is used to make jelly and cellophane noodles

A startling variety of dishes can be made using this versatile bean like:

  • Soup
  • Curries (on its own or with other vegetables)
  • Dessert
  • Pancakes
  • Accompaniment for rice and rotis (Indian tortillas made traditionally from wheat flour)

     Just 1 tbsp (13.0 g) packs in the following nutrition:

  • Calories 45
  • Calories from Fat 1 
  • Sodium 2mg
  • Total Carbohydrates 8.1g
  •               Dietary Fiber 2.1g
  •               Sugars 0.9g 
  • Protein 3.1g

 So, it is high in proteins and dietary fiber and very low in sodium and fats!

2)    Matpe Beans – Also known by other names like Black gram, Urad and white lentil and extensively used in Southern Asia. The skin is black in color and is white on the inside. It is most commonly used in the following forms:

  • Whole
  • Dehusked (whole or split)
  • Flour
  • Paste
Whole matpe Bean
Split Matpe Bean


This bean is also very versatile:

  • Fritters (this is used in an amazing variety of fritters with other flours in South Asian cuisine)
  • As soups and as an accompaniment to rice and tortillas.
  • Indian crepes, pancakes, steamed lentil cakes

Matpe Beans are also an excellent source of proteins, dietary fiber, Calcium and Vitamins and very low in sodium, fat.

     Just 1 tbsp (13.0 g) packs in the following nutrition:

  • Calories 47
  • Calories from Fat 2
  • Sodium 5mg
  • Total Carbohydrates 7.9g
  •              Dietary Fiber 4.2g
  •               Sugars negligible
  • Protein 3.3g

3)    Pigeon Peas – My personal favorite is also known by other names like red gram, toor and no eye peas. Widely used in the Indian subcontinent, Eastern Africa and Central America in the following forms:

  • Whole
  • Dehusked and split
  • Fresh or Green Pigeon peas
Green Pigeon Peas
Whole Pigeon Peas
Dehusked Split Pigeon Peas


They are used in a variety of ways:

  •  Lentil cakes
  •  Soups and accompaniment to rice and tortillas
  •  The green variety is used as a vegetable and also sprouted

     Just 1 tbsp (13.0 g) packs in the following nutrition:

  •  Calories 44.4
  •  Calories from Fat 0.3
  •  Sodium 2.2mg
  •  Total Carbohydrates 8.2g
  •          Dietary Fiber 2g
  •  Protein 2.8g

It is my favorite pulse because it very rich in proteins, folate, Iron, fiber, Vitamin B and Magnesium apart from being tasty and feeling light on the tummy!

In my succeeding posts, I will share recipes and more about each of these pulses. Hope this has been a glimpse into the powerful source of proteins in the vegetarian world!

The best place to shop for these pulses are South Asian stores (especially Indian stores), International cuisine aisle in stores like Wegman’s, Stop n Shop and Whole Foods and even

10 thoughts on “Beyond lentils: allergy friendly ‘Vegetarian Proteins’”

  1. Thank you for this. It is so true, the allergists do seem to have very limited knowledge about actual foods- mine reccomends a nutritionist. When I got off wheat, I began to really explore alternative sources of bran/carbs/fibre. Lentils came first. Lentil soup with ham. I loved it with a dash of malt vinegar in the past, but now a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar does just as well. I discovered mung beans in the Indian/Asian aisle at my local Wegmans (in South Jersey) and I began to sprout those, and make a nice salad, with a delicious mustard/miso paste vinagrette. And from a vegetarian cook book, made my first “lentil burgers”, or rissoles, as my Austrailian book calls them. These were hard to hold together, as I tried to make them without eggs, but they tasted good, just the same. Made my first hummus, with chickpeas and roasted beets. Then learned my brother-in-law (who loved hummus) tested positive for multiple food allergies, including garbanzo/chickpeas. So I experimented with white bean dip.Still working on that. In short, allergies forces you to get creative, and to go on a culinary voyage into the unknown. It is very exciting and satisfying for me, to be learning so much new in the vast array of foods available to us from around the world today. We are really quite fortunate in that! I am here on wordpress, also, under “Silky Sienna’s Autism Rox”. I just began posting vegetarian recipes today, though I will sometimes amend these and add fish or chicken or whatever protein I like. I found that Vegan recipes are good, because they often use novel grains and flours, plus avoid eggs and dairy. SO it is easy to just add whatever you CAN have back into the dishes. I will check back for more on Lentils. Thanks again! -Silky

  2. I thought I was allergic to lentils for a long time, because my mouth started itching every time I ate Progresso lentil soup. I later tried lentils elsewhere, and none of them made my mouth itch. I went through the ingredient list on the soup, and the only thing I could have been reacting to on that list is “natural flavors”. What do you think I might be allergic to in Progresso Lentil Soup?

  3. So glad I found your blog. I am glad that you are explaining all the different food ingredients. My son, who just turned 4, also started his young life with food allergies to the top 8 allergens. We have been able to add back wheat and dairy. Although, now his latest blood test showed his numbers went up on eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts (even though we have been avoiding them). The numbers had been going down for some time, so I was shocked when the allergist gave us this news. We also now need to avoid sesame seeds and keep beans on the “do not eat” list. We thought he would be able to add beans back into his diet because his numbers had gone down before (we had a reaction to mashed pinto beans at one point), but now those numbers on his blood test also went up. We have to do a food challenge first. So began this conversation with my allergist about each type of legume and what might be “less allergic”. I was reading somewhere about lentils and navy beans being easier for the body to digest, so I am glad you explained the difference between lentils. I will bring this up with my allergist about trying lentils. Again, so glad I found your blog. I am enjoying learning about international cuisine and new ingredients.

    1. Thank you Nora for visiting Allergy Foodie. My allergist says that 4 years is the age when numbers typically peak before they begin their downward journey. My son’s numbers also peaked at 4 but it has steadily improved since then. So, don’t be disheartened – better days are ahead. Sesame and mustard seeds round off the top 10 most allergenic items. As for lentils/ pulses – you may want to ask your allergist about starting off on mung bean and/or matpe bean – they are usually least likely to be allergenic.

  4. Thanks for the advice. You have helped a great deal in helping me understand a bit more about food allergies. You have given me some ideas of where to begin. Thanks again.

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  6. Hi Anu – I just happened to come across your blog accidentally and am so glad I did!
    My 18 month toddler has the top 8 allergies including lentils and potato.
    We did start with moong dal too, but he got itchy rash on his face. 😦
    We are vegetarians and the lentil exclusion from his diet means cutting out on essential proteins. We are on nutramigen, rice, and orange veggies for the most part. Hopefully it gets better with the years. You have some great ideas and recipes, and I’m sure I will be using many of these in years to come!

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