Traveling Around Italy On A Low FODMAP Diet
I had just been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and was advised to follow a low FODMAP diet, when I went to visit my family in Italy. That trip had been planned for months, and I was so looking forward to it, but as soon as I arrived, I became really worried about trying to follow the elimination phase of the diet by myself, without the knowledgeable guidance of my dietician; in a country where most food is high FODMAP.
Italy – High FODMAP Food Capital!
We all know what people eat in Italy, a lot of pasta and pizza, tons of garlic and onion pretty much everywhere, except in breakfast food, which mainly consists of pastries and biscuits all made with wheat flour, of course. Italian food is delicious, but unfortunately a lot of the popular dishes are not really suitable, when following a strict low FODMAP elimination diet.
Just before leaving Australia, I had mentioned to my Italian family that unfortunately I was not going to be able to eat their normal diet, because of my IBS. Not surprisingly they didn’t really know a lot about this condition and even less about the special diet.
Once I got there, they tried really hard to modify some of their recipes and make them more suitable for my dietary needs. I have a wonderful family and I am very grateful for their understanding and all the effort to accommodate my food intolerance. The main adjustment was using gluten-free pasta instead of wheat pasta and avoiding garlic and onions in the sauces. Salads and vegetables were usually fine, because I could pick the ones that were appropriate. The many delicious hard cheeses were also fine, as they contain very low amount of lactose. Desserts were unfortunately not really IBS friendly, but did look delicious for those who could eat them. My lovely brother in law made a batch of low FODMAP biscotti just for me and I savor them to the last crumb.
It’s interesting that when I would describe my symptoms to family and friends, a lot of them said that they too had similar pains, but did not know it was IBS, most of them just lived with it, considering it part of life. Obviously, their pain may have not have been as debilitating as mine, otherwise I am sure they would have investigated further their condition.
Eating the food prepared by my Italian family was usually pretty safe, they would always ask me what I could or couldn’t eat and I cannot recall having any IBS-D related episodes, when eating at their houses. In fact, within a few days from starting the elimination phase, I noticed my symptoms improving incredibly. I could not comprehend like certain food and especially a lot of healthy food, I was eating on a daily basis, could have caused me all those suffering and that by simply eliminating them, my symptoms quickly subsided.
Eating out on a low FODMAP diet
Eating out was more problematic. I was spending time researching restaurants and their menus, but the majority did not cater for anything suitable for me.
Eventually I was able to find a Pizzeria that made delicious gluten-free pizzas and pasta dishes and I was able to ask for suitable sauces and toppings and even lactose free mozzarella (although on the Monash University app ½ cup of standard mozzarella has been tested low FODMAP, even if it’s not lactose free).
You can imagine how happy I was, to have finally found a place, where I could order some truly mouth-watering Italian food; and that became my go-to restaurant for the rest of my stay.
Be prepared with low FODMAP snacks when you travel
My family and I, spent a bit of time traveling around Italy, mainly by train. Not knowing where I was going to find appropriate food, I took the habit of preparing safe snacks in advance, to consume during the journey. I would take things like low FODMAP sandwiches, rice salads, rice crackers, vegetable sticks and dips, and even some fruits and nuts I could tolerate. I would pack the food in insulated containers with a couple of ice packs. By avoiding food that was sold in train stations and on the train, I was able to continue the elimination phase even on the go.
I am thankful that I no longer need to be as strict with FODMAPs, as I was during the elimination phase. Fortunately, with time I was able to re-introduce some of my favorite food, in moderation, which now helps me to have a more varied and balanced diet and makes it easier when eating out. Re-introducing high FODMAP food, with the help of a specialized dietician, should be the goal for everyone on the low FODMAP diet, as this diet is not supposed to be for life.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to IBS?