IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Ultimately, this is a symptom of an irritable gut and our body’s inability to digest certain foods, so it presents differently in everyone. This means that you may have mild IBS and not really need to watch what you eat too carefully - you might just feel a bit bloated after having too much rich food on a Sunday afternoon with the extended family. Alternatively, it can be debilitating and have a real impact on your day-to-day life - planning excursions around toilet breaks etc.! Essentially you have a sensitive gut which responds badly to the bacterial fermentation within the digestive tract of foods containing certain sugar chains. By “badly”, I mean “with pain” - and with undesirable toilet patterns. Whilst the information and recipes here are what I’ve discovered work for me, they can be helpful for people dealing with other or more general digestive issues, sometimes with a little adaptation, as well as other people with IBS.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. They are naturally occurring sugars, found in a huge range of foods from wheat to mangoes.
IBS is not about having allergies to foods containing these sugar chains - it’s about some intolerances, some sensitivities, some hyper-sensitivities. And what symptoms you get (slight bloating and cramping versus huge amounts of pain) depends upon which of the FODMAPs you’re most sensitive to, how much of them you eat, if you eat them in combination with others… There are no hard and fast rules, unfortunately, which is why it is important to eliminate all FODMAPS for a few months until your symptoms go completely, then slowly reintroduce (“test”) foods containing one of the FODMAPs one at a time to see if it triggers any symptoms. Crucially this reintroduction phase must be one at a time - otherwise you can’t know which FODMAP is causing the symptoms, or whether it’s the combination you’ve eaten (e.g. bread with avocado will contain at least Fructan Oligosaccharides from the wheat and the Polyol Sorbitol from the avocado).
Happily married 20-something, living in London with an amazingly supportive husband, IBS and Bile Acid Malabsorption, despairing of the lack of availability of low-FODMAP, low-Fat foods in supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, recipe books… I also have PCOS so I eat low-Gi foods as well, meaning I essentially live on celery - I haven’t included this angle on the website because it all comes a bit restrictive, but let me know if you have any requests for adaptable recipes!
I’m not a medical professional, so everything on this site is what I have learned from my own experience; from doctors, from recipe books and even from Wikipedia! Please don’t just take my word for it that you should try a Low-FODMAP diet (ask your doctor!); hopefully you will find some useful information and recipes here, whether or not you’re suffering from any specific digestive issues.
To fill the void! I aim to provide a website with the information you need to know about cooking for digestive relief - whether for you or for a family member - without annoying subscription costs. I aim to provide adaptable, crowd-pleasing recipes to give you an idea of the sorts of things you can still cook and eat, and, eventually, you’ll even be able to buy a range of foods through this website which I’ve created in my own Low-FODMAP kitchen! Watch this space!
My parents own a beautiful hotel in the Lake District, and I have worked in the kitchen for many years alongside my award-winning Dad, the head chef - I have therefore grown up around food, and have inherited a true respect and passion for food and cooking. However, that means that I have grown up around gratinated leeks, cream-enriched risotto with garlic and onions, garlic-studded roast lamb, dauphinoise potatoes, mango delice and richer-than-rich (but oh so delicious) rice pudding. The thing about this exquisite style of old English cooking and baking is the FODMAP content, alongside the scary fat content. I’m taking my kitchen experience from there and the FODMAP knowledge I’ve learnt over the past year or so and mushing them together to develop low-FODMAP recipes in my own kitchen.
After suffering for years and not knowing what was causing my symptoms (or even that there was anything out of the ordinary, until I met people at university and beyond who didn’t suffer in the same way), and after about three years of doctors visits and hospital tests (and even a couple of A&E admissions along the way), I finally heard my consultant say : “yes, it does seem to be IBS.” Great! A diagnosis! Now we know what it is and how to handle it. But he also said : “We don’t really know a lot about the digestive system, and we don’t know a lot about IBS - what causes it, why it’s more prevalent amongst women” etc etc etc. Right, so I’m not much the wiser, but I have a start. I was eventually referred to a Gastroenterological Dietitian (who, it turns out, knows everything in the world) for help with the Low-FODMAP diet to help manage and minimise my symptoms. I had discovered the Low-FODMAP diet immediately after my trip to the consultant for my diagnosis, and, due to a strange set of occurrences, I didn’t see the Gastro-Dietitian until 6 months after this, so she was surprised and pleased to hear about quite how strictly I’d managed to adhere to this diet already. She decided it was time for the reintroduction phase.
She wasn’t pleased, however, that I was still quite symptomatic, despite the regime. She referred me for a SEHCAT scan, which diagnosed that I also have Bile Acid Malabsorption (which is even less fun that it sounds), meaning that I also had to count VERY-Low-Fat into my diet, which accounted for the continued symptoms - I was still eating a much higher-fat-diet than BAM allows (I was enjoying thinking I could still eat most cheeses, along with lacto-free milk and cream; no FODMAPs there!).
I occasionally take a mebeverine drug (anti-spasmodic) if I know I’m going out to eat with family etc and I know that my poor gut isn’t going to enjoy it. There isn’t really a whole lot else out there for IBS - I did go through a phase of taking a peppermint oil tablet three times a day before meals, not sure whether or not this helped. Other than that, paracetamol! I have yet to receive my prescription for the Bile Acid Sequestrant for the BAM; once I take that, as long as I stick to the diet, I should be symptom-free, finally! Fingers crossed :)
update: I’ve been taking the Sequestrant for a couple of weeks now and it is truly a wonder-drug, my life has changed and I’m symptom-free for the first time in years and years! The lesson: if you’re not well, talk to your doctor, and keep talking until you get better!
It’s important to note that, even when you’re making something to be a “substitute” for a normal, High-FODMAP food, you’re never going to get something which looks, tastes, smells or (most importantly, in some cases) feels like the original - coconut flour-based cakes are going to be much denser than their wheat counterparts, and garlic oil will probably never quite get there in terms of a true garlic hit. But don’t despair! Once you get used to it it’s actually very easy to adapt, and you won’t crave chunks of garlic in your lamb anymore! There are plenty of alternative flavours you can use so that you won’t really notice the absence of onions and garlic.
There are a number of resources out there that I’ve found to be invaluable on my journey.
The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet by Dr Sue Shepherd and Dr Peter Gibson (Vermillion, 2014) gives a thorough explanation as to what those pesky FODMAPs actually are, and why certain people seem to have trouble with them. It also has a slew of recipes, and even a range of elimination-phase diet plans (one is low-fat, one is dairy-free, there’s even a vegan one, so they really cater for everyone!) to help if you’re stuck for what to eat when your doctor first advises you to try the Low-FODMAP diet. Lots of photos showing how this diet still looks like normal food; makes the whole thing seem less daunting!
I have also bought various books with gluten-free and paleo recipes in an attempt to find my way around using wheat flour, including:
The Paleo Diet by Daniel Green (Kyle Books, 2014) which is a truly wonderful way to get around wheat and so many processed foods of the modern diet - nothing on FODMAP here, though, so you’ll need to tweak! Lovely, inspiring photos, if you’re a visual learner.
Paleo Bread by Aimee Anderson (2013) is a step into the world of baking gluten-free breads and cake-breads. Some caution necessary - it calls for a lot of almond and cashew products which are not FODMAP-Happy, so it’s probably best to avoid these recipes until you get a feel for which other flours (like coconut, potato and tapioca) can be used as alternative alternatives!
Flavour Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan, 2014) is almost the missing link in the paleo and other gluten-free books you might come across. The book is divided into flour sections, so you can learn from this how each flour contributes to its dish, meaning you learn what to substitute for what in which situation. It’s full of desserts, cakes and sweet things, for which it seems to be hardest to find appropriate alternatives; if you’re missing your pastry fix, look no further! Great photos in this one again.
Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg MD and Zoe Francois (Thomas Dunne Books, 2014). A revolutionary way of baking your own breads, flatbreads and pizza bases. All without the gluten, or the kneading! Make up a batch, keep it in the fridge and pull off hunks to cook as and when you feel the need, brilliant! Another way to learn flour-alternatives, with a surprising range of flavours, fillings and toppings. Not Low-FODMAP, so watch out for your raisins and onions etc., but these are often easily substituted or omitted.
In the Mood for Healthy Food by Jo Pratt (Nourish, 2015) is neither a FODMAP- nor fat-conscious book. Instead, it focuses on healthy recipes - this means that you may need to adjust or substitute to avoid certain FODMAPs, but there are dozens of interesting ways of using vegetables and grains in ways which help you to prepare generally healthier meals - one example is a Beef and Quinoa Meatball recipe which involves reducing the red meat content in the meatballs. A lot of ideas in this book for bulking things out with veg, or cooking things as simply and naturally as possible. And because it’s not trying to be clever about substituting FODMAPs or any other ingredients, it’s very easy to follow even if you have limited familiarity with your kitchen - a great starting point. Inspiring photos here as well.
The Monash university website is a great place to start for FODMAP information - especially this video
…following on from that, the Monash University FODMAP App (Android, iPhone) is indispensable. I use it whilst planning menus and recipes at home, when out shopping, and when I’m in a restaurant to make sure that I’m making the FODMAP-safest choices. As my gastroenterological dietitian pointed out to me, it’s fine to have a day every now and then when you throw caution to the wind and eat whatever you fancy when you’re out with friends, as long as you know that you’ll have to wear your baggiest pyjamas and sit near the bathroom all day the day after! In all other cases, this app is truly brilliant and very clear as to what you can eat - it even tells you which FODMAPs a food contains, so you can figure out what traditionally high-FODMAP foods may be ok for you if you’ve already tested that particular FODMAP in another food source and not experienced symptoms.
Food52.com I can’t recommend highly enough for recipes - bucket-loads of inspiration for flavour combinations, and the search function is great so you can find new ways of cooking specific veg, making it easier to mix up the low-FODMAP plan. They also have some gluten-free, veggie and vegan recipes, as well as great articles and lovely photos.
Another great website, possibly a less obvious one, is JamieOliver.com - he believes strongly in getting people used to cooking fresh, healthy food at home, so there is actually a great range of low-FODMAP recipes on his site, whether or not that’s what he intends! There is at least one gluten-free homemade pasta recipe, and lots of vegan and veggie options to check out. Boom.
And any website with any recipe that grabs your attention and inspires you is great - I love watching the SORTEDfood team on YouTube - they are not doing anything outrageously clever with food, which is what makes it so approachable. Because of their relaxed approach, it makes it feel easier to adapt the recipes to suit FODMAP-py requirements at home.