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Low-FODMAP eating out: 5 tips to prevent IBS symptoms

Do you like to eat out, but aren’t sure how it fits in with your low-FODMAP eating plan?  Or, maybe you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and eating out increases your symptoms, leaving you frustrated and confused about what you ordered that may have triggered your symptoms? 

Low-FODMAP eating out might seem like alot of detective work to find something appropriate on the menu to order, as you analyze each item carefully to decide if it is safe to eat. 

While eating out with IBS is challenging, learning how to choose acceptable foods by following a few simple guidelines can make a world of difference at your next restaurant visit.  Read on for 5 tips that will make it easier and more enjoyable to eat out while limiting high-FODMAP foods.

What are FODMAPs again?

The acronym FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols. These are certain types of carbohydrates in foods that some people can’t properly digest or absorb. Eating these FODMAP containing foods causes digestive symptoms for some people. 

Symptoms may include gas, pain, bloating and diarrhea within several minutes to a few hours or more after eating high FODMAP foods. Not everyone has a FODMAP intolerance. Often, symptoms are related to the overall amount of FODMAP foods consumed in one meal or an entire day, and this is referred to as a FODMAP load.

Eating out may trigger IBS symptoms due to the typical larger food portions consumed compared with a meal eaten at home, leading to a higher FODMAP load. 

A FODMAP load doesn’t apply to just one meal. If dinner is the meal eaten out, it’s also possible that FODMAP foods from earlier in the day will contribute to an excessive FODMAP load. And, that means you’ve eaten too much FODMAP containing food for your body to process. This leads to symptoms!

It is estimated that up to 86% of people who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) experience improvement in symptoms when following a low FODMAP eating plan. (1)  Let’s review common foods that are high in FODMAPs.

Where are FODMAPs found?

Again, FODMAPs are found in carbohydrate foods. That means proteins and fats do not have them. Beef, pork, poultry, wild game, fish, eggs, butter and vegetable oil are all examples of low-FODMAP protein and fats that are considered safe to eat on a low-FODMAP plan.

Not all carbohydrate foods are high in FODMAPs either.  Levels are determined by analyzing single food items and may vary depending on the food source, processing, and testing methods used. 

Examples of high FODMAP foods include:

  • Fruits: apples, pears and watermelon
  • Vegetables: onion, garlic and asparagus  
  • Grains: wheat, rye, barley
  • Dairy: cow’s milk, soft cheeses, ice cream
  • Nuts: cashews, pistachios
  • Sweeteners: honey, agave,high fructose corn syrup, sugar alcohols, sugar-free gum 
  • Legumes: most beans and peas  
  • Beverages and Alcohol: black, green and chai tea, kombucha, most fruit juice, rum

For an extensive list of high and low FODMAP foods, check out this one from Monash University, a leading site of FODMAP research.

At this point you might be thinking: Oh no!  Onions and garlic are out? Wheat too? Those foods alone seem to be found in everything! Is it really possible to go out for a burger and fries? Pasta or pizza? My favorite Asian food?  

Yes, it really IS possible to eat out and enjoy your favorite foods- without regret.  Keep reading for 5 tips on how to do so.

5 Tips for Low-FODMAP eating out

Tip 1: Plan ahead to prevent trouble later.

If you know far enough in advance, take a few minutes to check out the restaurant menu online if possible. Are there any items that look like they will fit into a low FODMAP food plan? 

Call ahead to see if special preparations can be made, or substitutions. What you don’t want to do is end up at a restaurant where nothing on the menu looks safe to eat!

Earlier in the day (or after, depending on time of day you’ll be eating out), plan to eat low FODMAP foods at your other meals or snacks.  Remember, it’s often the total FODMAP load throughout the day that determines the severity of IBS symptoms. Intentionally limiting high FODMAP foods at other times may make small amounts of high-FODMAP foods in your restaurant meal more tolerable.

Tip 2: Eat simply. 

It may be easier to order separate items than dishes that have many foods or unknown ingredients mixed together. 

Some hidden restaurant sources of high FODMAPs include: sauces, dips, dressings and marinades. The very popular high-FODMAP onions and garlic are in many of these. Ask your server if they can be served on the side so it is easier to limit portion sizes.

Tip 3: Choose lower FODMAP appetizers.

Lots of appetizers are low in FODMAPs. You can even order your whole meal from the appetizer menu. Here are some lower FODMAP appetizer options:

  • hard cheeses 
  • olives
  • corn tortilla chips 
  • shrimp 
  • grapes
  • almonds
  • wheat free (gluten free) crackers

What about bread?  Unless there is a gluten-free option (wheat free), it’s best to avoid the bread basket. Wheat is high in FODMAPs.  

While the low-FODMAP eating plan is NOT intended to be gluten-free (gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, not a FODMAP), it may be easier to look for gluten-free items on menus as many restaurants now identify their gluten-free options. Gluten-free will be wheat free as well.

Tip 4: Order entrees without high FODMAP ingredients.

Remember, protein foods are low in FODMAPs, but preparation methods such as breading, sauces and marinades may change that.   Ask your server questions to clarify and whether changes can be made. 

Ordering an entree such as chicken, potato, and side salad is generally a safer choice than a mixed dish such as pasta with chicken and vegetables in a specially crafted sauce- with unknown ingredients.

Below are popular types of restaurants and lower FODMAP choices from each:

  • American
    • hamburgers with a gluten-free bun (or no bun) 
    • steak 
    • non-breaded fish, seafood or chicken 
    • potato, rice, risotto, quinoa 
    • many salads if made with low-FODMAP vegetables like lettuce, tomato, carrots
    • limited condiment portions of ketchup, BBQ sauce, salad dressings
    • specially prepared entrees without onion or garlic (ask your server!)
  • Chinese
    • non-breaded shrimp, beef, or chicken with vegetables 
    • rice or fried rice; rice noodles; egg drop soup 
    • limited portion sizes of sauces as many have garlic and/or onion
  • Italian
    • gluten-free pasta  
    • risotto 
    • non-breaded fish, chicken or meat  
    • salads with low FODMAP vegetables (skip the onion)
    • hard cheese, olives, gluten-free (wheat-free) pizza 
    • tomato sauces may have garlic and/or onion; use in limited amounts 
  • Mexican
    • corn tortillas 
    • chicken, beef, pork, cheese 
    • chopped tomato, sliced avocado, corn 
    • fajitas (skip the onion) 
    • taco seasoning and salsa usually have garlic and onion; use sparingly
  • Thai
    • stir fries with rice and vegetables 
    • many Thai soups are lower in FODMAPs than curry dishes
  • Breakfast/Brunch
    • eggs, sausage, bacon, ham  
    • gluten free bread, pancakes or waffles 
    • mixed low-FODMAP fruit such as cantaloupe, pineapple, berries, and bananas
    • oatmeal
    • smoothies made with non-dairy milk and low FODMAP fruit

Tip 5: Enjoy dessert, if you want!

Desserts don’t have to be denied. Here are some examples of low-FODMAP desserts you may find in a restaurant:

  • flourless chocolate cake or torte or souffle 
  • sorbet or gelato
  • fortune cookies
  • gluten-free cookies
  • macaroons

Sharing a dessert with a dining companion is another way to limit FODMAPs. Or, plan to have a dessert later on at home that you know won’t cause symptoms.

The Bottom Line

Remember, low-FODMAP eating out does not mean no-FODMAP eating!  Limiting FODMAP portion sizes is the key to decreasing the chance of developing bothersome IBS symptoms. Unlike a food allergy, complete avoidance of a high FODMAP food is unnecessary.  

Other than limiting portion sizes, a few key ingredients to be on the lookout for in restaurants are:

  • Wheat (found in large amounts in breads, flour tortillas, pastas, couscous, pizza crust, crackers, croutons, desserts)
  • Garlic or onion (found in seasonings, sauces, marinades, dressings, dips)

So plan ahead, eat simply-prepared foods, ask for preparation modifications or substitutions and then enjoy your low FODMAP restaurant meal! 

I help people manage their IBS. If you would like to get a personalized eating plan for managing your IBS, schedule a complimentary discovery call with me. 

For more nutrition and lifestyle guidelines on managing IBS symptoms, check out this article on sensitive stomach solutions.

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