Dining Out on a Low-FODMAP Diet


Hands-down, eating at home is the safest way to ensure compliance on any sort of restricted diet. But it’s not always the most fun, and sometimes you just plain want to go out and have someone else do the work.

Is that even possible on a Low-FODMAP diet? Absolutely.

Steak Toscano and Grilled Vegetables from Olive Garden

Steak Toscano and Grilled Vegetables from Olive Garden

Once you’ve finished the elimination and challenge phases (the diagnostic portion) of the diet, the only limitations are your personal trigger-foods, and everyone is going to be a little different in that respect, and there’s nothing that says you cannot have something that might cause you some upset, if you’re willing to accept the intestinal consequences. The more numerous your intolerances, the tougher it might be to find suitable items on the menu, but it’s far from impossible.

Plan Ahead Whenever Possible

If you know you’re meeting up with friends for a celebratory dinner on Friday night, check out the restaurants menu online (if possible), or give them a call a day or two ahead of time (in the late afternoon, before the dinner crowd comes in) and ask about any substitutions that might be available. There are plenty of websites and apps that keep track of allergy-friendly restaurants with star-ratings, reviews, and sometimes links to their menus. Some of the apps will even use the gps-locator to find restaurants in your vicinity–useful for when you’re travelling.

If reservations are required, that’s also a good time to bring up a restricted diet situation.

Chain Restaurants are Your Friend

As much as we love to support local, independent restaurants, we’ve found that the chains are usually better equipped to handle special-diet requests, as the corporate office is able to figure out and disseminate the needed information and ingredients. For instance, Panera has a “Hidden Menu” of gluten-free entrees (salads and egg bowls) that you can find on their website and request to order from at any store nationwide.  Olive Garden has gluten-free pastas available as well as items from their grill that are suitable for a low-FODMAP client. And Five Guys Hamburgers and Fries has a bunless ordering option that turns your choice of burger and toppings into a sort of patty salad that, frankly, is more tasty than it sounds!

A bunless Bacon Cheeseburger from Five Guys

A bunless Bacon Cheeseburger from Five Guys

That’s not to say that you won’t find local establishments willing to serve your needs, but when it doubt the chains can help you out.

Beware of Soups and Sauces

This is probably one of the tougher things to work around in a restaurant setting as soups and sauces are going to be pre-made in large batches (for the most part) and will likely have onion and garlic–common trigger-foods for people sensitive to fructans (also the family of FODMAPs that contain wheat). So while you might be able to get gluten-free pasta at an Italian restaurant, the sauce options might still prove problematic.

Dine at Non-Peak Times

Regardless of where you choose to eat, if you go during the dinner rush it’s going to be harder for the restaurant to accommodate your needs. Eating early or late, when the rush has died down and there’s more room to breathe in the kitchen, might make the chef more inclined to whip up something special for you. It can also help to become recognized regulars at one or two places–in the interest of keeping your steady business the staff will often go the extra mile.

Keep It Simple

As always, the less complex a dish the easier it will be to spot problematic ingredients. While it may not be the most exciting menu item, a simply grilled cut of salmon or steak will provide a satisfying supper with little chance of triggering an IBS episode (just watch out for marinades), especially when paired with a side of steamed vegetable and rice or a baked potato.

Unless you’re someplace like Applebee’s who doesn’t serve baked potatoes in the “morning times” (which, apparently, extends to at least 4pm as that was when we were ordering on Saturday).

The infamous House Salad from Olive Garden, sans onions, with oil and vinegar dressing.

The infamous House Salad from Olive Garden, sans onions, with oil and vinegar dressing.

And, when in doubt, almost every place has a house salad on the menu that can be topped with some sort of grilled protein. With oil and vinegar for a dressing you can eat least eat healthily if nothing else.

So the next time a group of friends is going out, do some homework and see if there’s a workable solution before you decline. Just because you’re on a restricted diet, doesn’t mean you have to live a restricted life.

Technicolor Food: Think Before You Eat


For St Patrick’s Day, it’s not just people who will celebrate by wearing ‘o the green, food will be taking on a decidedly different hue.

Image by SteveFE via sxc.hu (edited by me)

Image by SteveFE via sxc.hu (edited by me)

Green beer is only the beginning.

It seems like green got an early start with many people celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday last weekend, there were lots of versions of green eggs (with or without the ham) popping up. I’ve seen green velvet cake on Pinterest, but at least it’s a change from the rainbow cakes featuring layer upon layer of technicolor batter. And that before we even get to the cakes, cupcakes, and cookies dripping with green icing.

We eat with our eyes, it’s true. And a great way to insure maximum nutrition is to have many colors on your plate. So I suppose it’s no surprise that we’re drawn to these technicolor foods: they’re meant to be festive, after all.

Yes, back in my cake-decorating days I dealt my share of vibrantly colored cakes and pastries. I used to love red velvet cake before I made my first one from scratch only to cringe at the 2 bottles of liquid dye it takes to achieve that rich, red color. These days all I can taste is the chemical bitterness, not the lightly-chocolate cake underneath.

Since putting away my decorating tools I definitely prefer simpler foods, in their rich, natural hues, to overly decorated sweets. Lately I’ve spent so much time reading labels, it’s clear that avoiding artificial colorings completely is unreasonable, it’s one thing to allow a little bit here and there to dumping the stuff into our food on our own.

Which brings us back to the point of my ramblings: there are plenty of green things to eat without resorting to food coloring!

For instance, in the green (deviled) eggs media maven Tori Spelling served up last week, instead of using green food coloring in the egg mixture, blend in a bit of pesto to add both color and flavor. I’m not a huge fan of green smoothies, but that’s another way to get some natural green into your diet–festive and healthy! Spinach and kale–common elements in those smoothies–can be added to many dishes to add some color. And for sweets, consider the flavor and color of mint to guide your choices.

Of course, green isn’t the only color abused so heinously. With Easter coming up, you might be looking for other creative colors to grace your table. If you want a bright yellow dish, try adding turmeric to a sauce or marinade. Carrots and sweet potatoes both make adding some orange to your meal simple as a quick steam. Pink can be achieved through pomegranate or cherry juices, as well as beets for a deeper, almost-purple color. Blue is the toughest color to get, but mostly because a vivid blue is generally a sign of mold in food–not something you really want. Even blueberries stain more greenish-purple than blue.

That said, the actual color of foods isn’t the only avenue to explore for a festive air. Colorful plates and napkins can dress up everyday foods, and a pretty cellophane bag or some colorful ribbon can dress up sweets in their natural state.

So pin as many felt or fabric clovers to yourself as you want, but resist the temptation of the watered down green beer being served this weekend (or ever) and consider finding the green (and other colors on your plate) in a more natural state.

Nibble on This: Nora Ephron on Carbs


I’ve had this one in my tickle file for a couple months, now, ever since NPR re-ran an interview with Nora Ephron after her death in June from pneumonia, a complication of her leukemia.

Screenwriter, Producer and Director, she’s had a hand in many of the movies that shaped my teens and twenties and, of course, served all three roles with the lovely Julie and Julia.

From that 2006 interview on Fresh Air, this particular portion snagged me enough that I sat at my desk and did the old-fashioned play-pause-type-rewind routine just to get it all down:

This is just a crap shoot. This is a lottery. Who knows? So I feel–I don’t think about the next 20 years, I think about today. So, today, I’ve already been to a bakery. This is the thing that I’m obsessed with is carbohydrates. I feel that I’m now living in an age where there’s the best bread we have ever had in the history of the world, there has never been more bread that is good out there. So it seems to me a shame not to eat some of it. Even if, and this is one of the terrible dilemmas of old age, you know, do you save all your money as if you’re gonna live til you’re 90, or do you spend it all because you might die tomorrow? Do you diet like a fanatic in the hopes that it’s gonna buy you a couple of extra years, or is it going to have nothing to do–are you gonna be hit by a bus and your last thought will be ‘I shoulda had that doughnut.’ And it’s very confusing to know what to do, but I’m coming down on the doughnut side. So I feel that, you know, that’s one of the things–I’m not so into 20 years, I’m kinda into is this meal I’m having something I really want to have? And if someone says to me ‘let’s go somewhere that’s not good’ I say ‘let’s not, let’s not, because I have a finite number of meals ahead of me and they are all gonna be good. They’re just gonna be good. That’s the truth.

I’d have to come down on the side of the doughnut, too. Or, in my case, lately, soft pretzel bread. I made some this weekend that was divine while being absolutely comedic in the making–kind of fitting for this quote in it’s own way. I’ll tell you all about it, I promise (next week), but for now, I’m going to enjoy a bit of wonderful, homemade bread and put on a fun movie to finish out my Sunday evening.

Stuck in a Recipe Rut


Anyone who’s ever followed any sort of mean plan probably knows what I’m talking about with the recipe rut.

Several years ago we were subscribers of a recipe service. There were definite upsides as it totally took care of the “what’s for dinner” quandary each night and, depending on which track you subscribed to, could help you adjust your eating habits to be a little more healthy. We subscribed for quite some time, saved our weekly pdfs, and were pretty happy with the convenience it provided, all-in all.

We stopped using the weekly recipes for a while but noticed, eventually, that we were picking up some tasty, but not quite as healthy, habits again, so at the beginning of the year we dusted off the archives and started cooking from them once again. And it was about that time I stopped going to the farmers market because it was easier to shop all at once from her list, than my current habit of shopping the farmers market and building a menu from that.

This time it only took 8 months (instead of 2+ years) to reach that feeling of recipe rut.

Even though each week’s menus were slightly different, there were a lot of similarities and it just started to get to me: every week there was at least 1 pork dish, 1 fish dish, a chicken dish or two, and something would go into the crock pot. There’d be a rash of the same core flavoring ingredients (I may never be able to stand soy sauce in a fish marinade again, folks), the same side dishes, the same rhythm each week. And it’s like that part of your brain atrophies that can think up creative substitutions.

You’re locked into the list.

That perceived stuck-ness took the fun out of cooking. I rolled my eyes and thought of picking up take-out many times (but I still cooked because I’m a so-called responsible adult). Even on the weeks it was Todd’s turn I’d mentally pout when I’d see what was on the menu that week.

It was just. so. boring.

So this week I went rogue. Played the rebel. Struck out somewhat on my own.

Since we’re still aiming for healthy, I reached for a stash of old Cooking Light recipes I’d kept around. And cobbled together a menu I’m actually looking forward to for a change. I didn’t make it out to the farmers market this weekend, but with fall around the corner I’m thinking I might be able to get back into that habit again as well.

I’m sure there will be weeks when I’m just totally uninspired that I’ll go back to the recipe service archives and pull one out for conveniences sake, but it won’t be any time soon, I’m thinking.

So whether your habit is Meatloaf Mondays or Taco Tuesdays or Pizza Fridays, consider shaking things up every now and then just to keep things interesting. Maybe even before you, too, get stuck in the recipe rut.

Variety is the spice of life, after all.

The Poor, Maligned Potato


I’m not sure why potatoes have been on my mind, lately, they just have, so let’s talk some spuds, shall we?

Obesity and weight-control being the buzz-words they are, potatoes are one of the first things (along with bread and another other carbohydrate-rich food) to be ditched in an effort to get “healthier.” While I applaud anyone’s effort to better their daily diet, I cringe at declaring an all-out war on staple foods, much less an entire category of macronutrients.

Yes, potatoes have a lot of carbohydrates, I’m not trying to say they don’t, but they’ve got a lot of other things, too!

  • A medium-sized potato (5.3 ounces) has more potassium than your average banana.
  • Potatoes are a good source of Vitamin C (as well as other vitamins and minerals).
  • And, especially with the skin left on, are a good source of fiber.

In fact, their good-for-you fiber load seems to increase if  you cook, then cool, the potatoes. Hello? Labor day is a week away and I’ll bet some of you are planning a cookout! Don’t fear the potato salad: load it up with diced veggies and use some Greek-style yogurt as the dressing base instead of the heavier mayonnaise or sour cream and you’ll be fine!

As long as you don’t over-do it.

It’s not about cutting out this, that or something else. Remember that a balanced diet needs about half it’s daily calories coming from carbohydrates (that’s what gives us the energy to do anything). Just like protein and fats, we need them all.

And speaking of fats. It’s the dunking in hot oil that gets potatoes (and us) into the proverbial hot water!

When I was working on my cookbook I had 1 recipe that was deep-fried (egg rolls–they just aren’t the same baked or steamed, you know?). Trying to figure out the caloric change from the base ingredients (sum of its parts) to post-fried was harder than expected. Short of carefully measuring the volume of oil in the fryer before the items go in, and measuring after they’ve come out again (and with no way of knowing how much frying oil filtered up into the air, etc. in the process), the best formula I could find was that frying adds approximately 20% more calories to a dish. And that’s assuming that you’re frying under optimal conditions (too low a heat on your oil, for instance, means the food cooks slower and has more time to absorb more fat).

I’d much rather have some roasted red potatoes tossed with olive oil and herbs or a fluffy baked potato with a little butter once a week or so and really enjoy it than a carton of French fries that leave me feeling leaden afterwards.

Still, having potatoes every night isn’t necessarily the best idea, either. Variety being the spice of life, and all, here are some alternatives to your potato staples to help vary your weekly routine.

  • Turnip “fries”: peel and slice the turnips into steak-fry size, toss with a bit of olive oil and seasonings and bake until tender
  • Mashed cauliflower: Steam cauliflower florets (a pound for 12 minutes in the microwave is our usual m.o.), then mash with 4 oz cream cheese, a little butter, and whatever flavorings you want (I’ve used cheddar and chives, Parmesan and parsley, even curry powder!)
  • Roasted root vegetables like parsnips, carrots, rutabaga, etc. can all be eaten as is or pureed

And it’s no secret that sweet potatoes are tasty on their own–I can skip the butter, salt or cinnamon easily!

Everything in moderation, folks. Even potatoes.