Recently, I’ve been noticing that the dietary restriction du jour has shifted from gluten to FODMAPS.
As a veteran of the GF trend, I have spent the last five years feeling sorry for myself at Italian restaurants and ramen stands. But after hearing from some of you about your latest dietary travails, I feel like I have it easy. Eliminating FODMAP foods is no picnic. Doing so while eating out is pretty much impossible. And friends who try to feed themselves in the comfort of their own kitchens have reported feeling like a daily contestant on Chopped.
So where is all this FODMAP hysteria coming from?
Recently, several studies have tested the effectiveness of this diet with IBS sufferers, and seen very positive results. And lord knows, 75 percent of you reading this have probably been told you have IBS at some point.
Truth be told, I’ve always thought that IBS was a BS diagnosis. Really, it’s a symptom of an underlying issue, not a disease in and of itself. But often that underlying issue is a hidden food sensitivity. So if you’ve been experiencing frequent tummy trauma (yes, IBS) it’s worth doing an elimination diet to see what your body isn’t particularly fond of at the moment.
If you’ve already tried cutting out the basics (wheat, dairy, sugar, soy, corn) and are still a gassy, bloaty mess, then your body might be reacting to something more specific: one of the carbohydrate groups included in the FODMAP acronym. In fact, many doctors now believe that insensitivity to wheat has less to do with gluten and more to do with a certain type of carb (fructans).
As someone who’s been diagnosed with a Hashimotos-related gluten issue and had great results going off of it—and who consumes the un-holy trinity of FODMAPS (onion, garlic, and shallot) on a daily basis–I’m skeptical that gluten sensitivity is completely bogus, as many practitioners now say. But if you’re not feeling better just by eliminating wheat and dairy (two sub categories of FODMAP foods), then it might be worth digging further.
So WTF are FODMAPS?
The key things to avoid are legumes, lactose (including most dairy, with the exception of certain cheeses), wheat/gluten, high fructose fruits and sweeteners (honey, agave, corn syrup), members of the onion family (garlic, shallot, scallions) and other vegetables high in inulin.
There are plenty of lists of what foods are off the table (this is a great one). But like a good healthy hedonist, I would instead like to focus on what you can eat. Consider the following the foundation of your Chopped mystery box (and also keep in mind there are even more foods not listed!):
Berries (Strawberry, Raspberry, Blueberries)
Root Vegetables (Sweet Potatoes, Butternut Squash, Parsnips)
Fresh green herbs
Salad greens (arugula, spinach, lettuce)
Gluten-Free Grains (Quinoa, Rice, Polenta, Oats)
Nuts (peanuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts. Some others have quantity restrictions)
Seeds (sesame, chia, pumpkin, etc.)
Corn tortillas (and chips)
Almond or Lactose-Free Milk
Dijon mustard & Mayo
Meat (except sausage and processed meats with additives)
Keeping all of these low FODMAP foods in your head is a struggle. And it’s certainly not a list that you can easily relay to a server in a restaurant setting. So, the burden of feeding yourself largely falls on your own shoulders at home.
Now that we have some basic ingredients to work from, let’s go over some of the more general, easy alterations you can make at the stove! Read on for all my tips on how best to cook for someone on a low FODMAP diet (and check out the products I love here).
What are your thoughts on the gluten-FODMAP controversy? Let me know in the comments section!
1. Make your own stock.
Garlic and onions are the real enemies of the FODMAP diet because they are in EVERYTHING—especially the bases of sauces and soups. Not only is it a struggle to avoid members of the onion family, but most people have a hard time creating layers of flavor in their meals without these aromatics. Luckily though, once you have a hardy stock, you can pretty much make any soup or stew have a sense of depth. Try making a chicken or vegetable broth using peppercorns, lots of herbs, carrots and celery, and any other FODMAP-friendly vegetable you have lying around.
2. Swap honey for maple syrup.
The M in FODMAP stands for monosaccharides, meaning fructose. So many fruits and sweeteners are off the table. If a recipe calls for honey, an easy swap is maple syrup (which is lower in fructose). You can also use table sugar (sucrose) but it’s easier to substitute another liquid sweetener to make sure the quantity is comparable.
3. Replace yogurt with lactose-free kefir.
There are many brands now that will completely eliminate lactose in the process of making their yogurt. The good bacteria added in the fermentation process helps break it down, which is why people sensitive to dairy often find that they don’t have as much trouble digesting yogurt, even if it still has some lactose.
If you can’t find lactose-free yogurt, you might have more luck with kefir. It’s slightly thinner and more drinkable, plus it packs even more of a probiotic punch. I’m a big believer that adding more probiotic foods to your diet is the key to a more long term treatment of IBS symptoms. So give it a try in dressings, with your morning granola, or as a substitute for yogurt in any sauces. Just make sure to add it off the heat as to not kill all those good critters.
4. Stick with Asian flavors and condiments.
You’ll get a ton of flavor with gluten-free tamari, sesame oil, and fresh ginger—enough that you’ll hardly notice the absence of garlic or onions. In general, ethnic cuisines with lots of FODMAP-friendly condiments are a great place to start with your recipes.
5. Make your own salad dressing.
On a low FODMAP diet you can have most acids—vinegar, lemon or lime juice—and emulsifiers like mayo and mustard. Really the no-no are the sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup and honey that are in many store bought dressings and condiments. Luckily, making your own salad dressing is one of the easiest things to do at home. And having flavorful homemade condiments around at all times, makes throwing together a not-sad desk lunch or dinner that much easier.
6. Almond or lactose-free milk for dairy.
Milk and cream are to be avoided, but many cheeses that are low in lactose are okay for the FODMAP diet. This means that your favorite comfort foods like mac and cheese are still doable at home if you make the right tweaks, like subbing a lactose-free milk and gluten-free pasta. Try this recipe for my “creamed spinach” mac and cheese (just omit the shallot and garlic. duh).
It should be noted that many low FODMAP food lists recommend a limited intake of almonds, so just be mindful of how much almond milk you’re adding to your meals. It’s fairly diluted, so shouldn’t be a problem for most of you.
7. Let spices be your friend.
Like Asian condiments, a lot of good spices can go a long way. For Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, you need only omit the garlic and onion and you’ll stick get plenty of flavor. A bold curry doesn’t need a whole lot of other aromatics to make the main ingredients taste wonderful.
8. Add some heat!
Another partner tip to the above is to light your taste buds on fire!! If you suffer from IBS, you might have a hard time with spicy foods. But for those who feel better simply from omitting FODMAPS, jalapeño and hot sauce can add a much needed punch to everyday cooking.
9. Make your own sausage.
All meat, seafood and poultry is fair game on a low FODMAP diet, with the exception of processed meats, which could contain flavorings like onion and garlic. The solution is to simply make your own sausage—and it’s easy! All you need is ground meat and the herbs/spices of your choice. For sweet Italian, try fennel seeds, thyme, and oregano. You can add some red pepper flakes to make it hot. Or make your own chorizo by adding cumin, smoked paprika, and coriander.
10. Brown your meat and deglaze the pan.
Understanding basic cooking techniques for layering flavor will be a huge asset in cooking without onion, garlic and shallots. First and foremost, you want to cook your meat, seafood, and poultry as simply and perfectly as possible. This means giving it a good sear on the stovetop.
Get your pan nice and hot. Dry the protein with towels and season it generously with salt and pepper. Add it to the pan, making sure you’re not packing it to the gills with food (crowding diffuses the heat). Then DON’T TOUCH IT. Your meat needs to hang out on the surface area of the pan undisturbed to develop that beautiful brown crust.
When you’re finished cooking, remove the protein to a plate and make use of all those brown bits on the bottom of the pan—that’s flavor! To scrape them up and create a pan sauce, add some sort of acidic liquid like wine, vinegar, lemon juice or tomatoes. You want to use wine in moderation on a low FODMAP diet, but you’ll only need ½ a cup. Simply add water to create more sauce if needed.
11. Make puttanesca instead of marinara.
Antipasti like olives, capers, and sundried tomatoes are also full of flavor and great for adding some interesting elements to your sauces. Italian cuisine is tough on a FODMAP diet since there’s so much garlic involved. Pasta sauce (or a basic marinara) is just a few ingredients. Instead, try making a puttanesca which is packed with briny things from the antipasti bar. Just make sure to skip the garlic and onion.
12. Bacon makes everything better. Even a low FODMAP diet.
Okay, it isn’t the healthiest. But when in doubt, or in extreme diet depression, a little crispy bacon goes a long way. Make sure to check the ingredient labels for added flavors (like honey) and buy organic if you can. Sprinkle it on salads, add to your risotto, or enjoy a slice or two just because.
A final note: one aspect of the low FODMAP diet that continues to puzzle me is eliminating legumes and veggies that are high in inulin. When I was first reading through the list of banned ingredients it seemed to almost mimic the list of foods in a GOOD gut diet. Beans and fiber-rich vegetables are some of the favorite foods of the good bacteria in your intestines. In fact, many drug companies are now packaging probiotics with inulin (a prebiotic) and packaging it as a symbiotic. If your system isn’t used to these ingredients, they can definitely be gas producing, hence IBS symptoms. But eating these foods are what many experts on the microbiome urge people to do in the name of their long term GI issues. Of course, you should eat the way that makes your body (and therefore spirit) feel the best. But I also think it’s worth considering what pushing through some short term discomfort could do for your lasting gut health. Check out my interviews with Dr. Robynne Chutkan and The Sonnenburgs for more on feeding your gut bacteria. I’m curious to know your thoughts.
Disclaimer: There is no MD after my name. All articles shared on this site are informational, based on my own personal experiences and research, and not intended as medical advice. Please consult a professional before implementing any of the dietary protocols discussed.