I know I sound completely obsessed by Fodmaps at the moment and I think I probably am. You can’t make a major dietary change and stick to it for life without going a bit tunnel vision in the process. Not only does it help focus your mind, it distracts you from the sense of tedium you get as you eat the same meal again. And again. And again.
I’ve been attempting to be free of my particular Fodmap triggers since just after Christmas so have managed the guts (pun intended) of six months of it and learned plenty along the way so thought I’d share a few nuggets of information I’ve picked up. I’m pretty much fine with wheat and lactose unless I combine them with other Fodmap triggers, so my experiences might not be as helpful for the wheat-free brigade, but you never know.
The main thing I’ve learned is that people will put onions and garlic in every single bloody thing possible. I won’t even be surprised if someone serves me an onion based dessert or sticks a clove of garlic in my cocktail (and yes, I do know there’s a bar called Garlic and Shots in London before you ask. I had a terrible night there once.)
Being an allium dodger in this town is hard. No cuisine completely eschews them and between onions, garlic, shallots, spring onions, leeks and their powdered versions, there’s a lot of ways to add them to things. I find lunchtime easier because not only am I lucky enough to be able to eat a sandwich, eggs are still on the menu before 5pm. Variations of breakfast and brunch food work well here if you avoid black pudding with its dried onion evilness.
My other lunchtime option is always sushi or sashimi. Not only is it less expensive at lunchtime, it’s now relatively easy to come by on the go (just avoid Marks and Spencer here. Theirs is vile.) Scotch eggs are another potential if you don’t mind a blast of sulphurousness as an accompaniment to lunch. Cocktail sausages are surprisingly filling with a bag of crisps on the side and make any bus journey seem like an actual picnic.
Yet crisps are a Fodmap minefield. Gone forever are my beloved Tayto cheese and onion or a pickled onion Monster Munch, but so are just about any ‘fancy’ versions that sound like a meal in a bag. From prawn cocktail to roast pork with mustard or the suchlike, they will have dried onion in. I have become the person who always chooses ready salted now.
And don’t even think of trying vegetable crisps instead. The beetroot are little deep fried Fodmap bombs covered in salt. Kale chips smell like death itself and come doused in onion powder or garlic salt. Prawn crackers and mini poppadoms should be surrounded at parties and guarded fiercely because they are the only snack foods in town you can still eat. Cashews and pistachios inexplicably have Fodmaps and let’s not even remind ourselves of the existence of dip because it is gone to you forever. Lactose, pulses, vegetables and alliums combine to do their worst here.
Ironically the fact you have to basically give up savoury snacking (and sweet ones if you like Haribo. Those fizzy ones will kill you off trust me) means you will be even hungrier by the time of the main meal which can make it harder to concentrate and spot potential menu pitfalls. Instead of adding joy to life, chorizo adds problems to every dish it finds its porky charms into, which in 2015 is most of them. Soup is a complete no go as all stock will have onions in it. Pasta is problematic as a base and a vehicle for Fodmappy sauces. Pulses have to be avoided and the foodie fascination with avocado and cauliflower with their tricksy little polyols cannot end soon enough for my innards.
In fact this whole ‘healthy’ eating kick at the moment that constantly replaces certain foodstuffs with fruit and veg products is a nightmare for me. Date syrup or agave instead of sugar, root veg instead of flour, cauliflower instead of rice, green juicing and smoothies, all agonising for me. Especially accompanied with the constant refrain that they are ‘healthier’ so I end up with envy of other people’s cast iron digestive systems as I politely shuffle their wonder food round my plate without being able to eat it.
My failsafe on most menus these days is steak and chips or salmon and potatoes which means that ‘ethnic’ food tends to be a no no. I may think I’m all cosmopolitan living in Brixton but my small bowel is acting like UKIP and classing everything as ‘foreign muck’ to be viewed with culinary suspicion. About all I can eat from outside Northern Europe is dim sum and some Vietnamese dishes. On a recent trip to The Real Greek, the only thing on the entire menu I could safely eat were the boiled potatoes. Thank god for white wine.
Because the Fodmap fun doesn’t stop with drinks. Oh no, fruit juice is a complete no go for me now along with anything dandelion, fennel, chicory or chamomile based. Cocktails have to be checked carefully for certain juices and purees and rogue agave syrup. Red wine bloats me and gives me terrible hangovers in any amount. Beer, except oddly Guinness, is an occasional treat. Luckily prosecco and cava work fine as do espresso martinis, so I’m sure I’ll survive Happy Hour if not the main meal itself.
After years of mocking those people, I now understand why they bring their own portion of fish to be steamed alongside some rice. Only now that I’m in eating disorder recovery do I actually look strange around food. Alanis Morrissette would have a field day.
I’ve tried the Monash University Fodmap app and it’s mainly only been useful in acquainting me with the names of fruit and vegetable varieties. I cannot become the person who asks if the tomatoes in the sauce are baby plums or cherry or vine ripened after some of the responses from wait staff to queries about garlic and onions. I see why people with food intolerances stick to chains where they serve the same thing repeatedly and can consult their big binder of facts. Wahaca were helpful and can adapt five or six dishes for me. Nandos suggested the chips and shrugged on everything else but since I live in South London I can always go to the chicken shop on the way home or simply eat before I go out.
So if anyone has any tips on Fodmap free dips or tips on what the hell to serve wheat and dairy free Fodmappers who of course can’t eat fruit for dessert, do tell me in the comments. I’ll buy you a drink in thanks. We should both be ok with soda water…
*the trick is that you can’t live without potatoes on this diet.