For those of us who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the low fodmap diet can be a godsend, but it can be very tough to stick to food that’s low fodmap while travelling.
Having travelled extensively since I’ve been on the low fodmap diet, I wanted to share the handy tips I’ve used to stay low fodmap while travelling.
What is the low fodmap diet?
As an introduction for those who may not have come across the term before, the low fodmap diet helps people discover what foods are their IBS triggers. This is done by first eliminating the main culprits, which are a number of different carbohydrates/sugars known as fodmaps found in everything from garlic and onion through to apples, wheat and dairy. You then test each type of ‘fodmap’ one by one through a reintroduction process, allowing you to learn which foods cause you problems and which are safe to eat. More information is available from the NHS’ website and the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet blog.
The low fodmap diet is quite restrictive, and therefore tough to stick to when you’re not able to cook for yourself at home. It can be hard enough trying to stay fodmap-friendly when at a local restaurant, but even more so when you’re travelling overseas and have different foods and a possibly language barrier to deal with too.
1/ Travelling on the low fodmap diet – airline food
You might be wondering how the hell you’re gonna survive a long haul flight when its likely the only thing you’ll be offered that’s safe to eat are some peanuts, but there’s no need to panic.
As well as offering passengers gluten-free and lactose-free options, many airlines also offer a ‘bland diet’ dining option. Yep, sounds dull as hell, but it’s the best one to pick for low fodmappers as it’s likely to be plain and free from those pesky ‘hidden fodmaps’ like onion and garlic that happen to be the most common IBS irritants.
If that’s not an option with your airline then pick the simplest option on offer, which is likely to have fewer sauces, helping you to avoid a flare up.
2/ Pack some low fodmap travel snacks
One of the most useful things you can do when going away is to pack yourself some low fodmap travel snacks that are easy to carry around. These will tide you over on the plane, as many people on this diet like to eat little and often, but will also be exceptionally handy for when you’re out and about and really need to something to eat. Yes, fodmappers can get ‘hangry’ too.
Good options include low fodmap snack or chocolate bars, biscuits, rice cakes and crisps. Some of my faves to take along include mini babybels (for day trips), Tyrells lightly sea salted crisps, popcorn and gluten free pretzels.
I also often pack Quaker Oats porridge packs, so that if I’m struggling at the breakfast buffet and crying over the pastries, worst case scenario I can make up something more filling than a couple of slices of pineapple. (I’m a hearty breakfaster you see).
3/ Do your research
Travelling on the low fodmap diet can be made easier through preparation. Where possible try to find restaurants that offer fresh, made to order dishes. This way you know it’ll be easier to request certain ingredients aren’t used as meals are freshly made as you wait.
Also research the most popular local dishes before you go. This way you can find out which may be safest to order, easiest to alter to become low fodmap, or need to be avoided at all costs.
Low-fodmap in South East Asia
Many of my travels are to Southeast Asia, so I’ve come to learn which are the safest dishes to pick. For example, rice is a staple, which makes life easier, but if you get a craving for noodles you can usually find somewhere that serves rice noodles rather than wheat ones.
The main thing to keep an eye on in Asia is onion and garlic as they’re base ingredients in many dishes. Curries and soups often need to be avoided, although pho can be a great option as you can ask for it without onion.
Asian pancakes and spring rolls are often be made using rice flour and rice paper, so are fodmap-friendly, and lots of freshly grilled or steamed meats and fish will be available, so there’ll always be something you can have.
There’s one site I’ve regularly turned to for info and inspiration, which is R&M Dietetics. These two dieticians have undertaken a round-the-world trip and written several articles about what to eat in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. Worth checking out if you’re heading to that part of the world.
4/ Carry with you a card of your triggers – in the local language
Before you go a great idea is to make a little laminated card, the size of a credit card, so it can be carried in your purse or wallet that lists off the main items you’re trying to avoid.
If you’re going somewhere where the language is different from your own, get these foods translated, so it will be easier to show and explain to your server what you can and can’t eat. This could save you a whole world of communication problems – and an icky belly!
There are too many high fodmap foods to fit on a card like this, so the key is to focus on the hidden ‘ingredients’ like onion and garlic that may be used in sauces and pastes etc. Those vegetables and fruit that are high fodmap will be easy to spot on your plate and can just be removed or avoided.
If you’re with a guide on your travels also bring a copy of your laminated card to give to them and explain the situation. They may well be able to ring ahead and let restaurants know of your dietary requirements or help you explain the situation to servers when you arrive.
5/ Say you’re allergic, not intolerant
Yes, it’s a bit cheeky, but don’t try and explain that you’re intolerant, or have IBS. Just tell your server that you have an allergy to these foods so they must not be in your meal.
Restaurants are much more likely to take this on board and be very careful about what they serve you in this scenario.
6/ Check and check again
Don’t feel uncomfortable to double check when your food arrives. To play it safe, when the server brings you food just politely asked them to confirm that the dish is ‘without onion and garlic’ or something of that ilk. Mistakes do happen and one quick question could save you days of a bloated, painful stomach.
7/ Make your own meals
Avoid the stresses of always eating out when you travel by choosing self-catering accommodation and cooking as much as you can at home. This way you’ll know for certain that your food is entirely free of high fodmap ingredients. Also, for when you’re out and about you can make up a suitable picnic lunch to take out with you and enjoy worry free.
As we’ve already ascertained, the low fodmap diet can be decidedly dull, so another useful tip is to make up some of your own seasoning to bring with you – either before you come or when you’re at your destination but are going out for a meal. Bored of plain, grilled fish? Why not spice it up with a low fodmap seasoning of your own making?
8/ Keep drinking
Keeping hydrated is a top tip for anyone, but for someone with IBS-C it’s even more important, as hydration helps keep your symptoms at bay.
So, pack a reusable water bottle and keep it topped up at all times.
9/ Be prepared for the worst
Yes, you don’t want it to happen, but sometimes an IBS flare up can’t be avoided as simple changes to your routine, diet, drinking habits or stress from travelling can cause your symptoms to raise their ugly head.
So, for this case, be sure to pack some stoppers and starters (binding agents and laxatives), toilet roll and baby wipes just in case. Better safe than sorry.
10/ Don’t let IBS overshadow your travels!
IBS can be a royal pain in the ass (literally!) but don’t let it ruin your trip or stop you from going out and enjoying yourself.
Taking on board some of the above steps should help you lower the risk of your IBS symptoms flaring up, but in the worst case scenario, you’ll have everything with you to get through a bout pretty unscathed.
Eat well, have fun, and make the most of every day of your travels!