Preparing all your meals at home would be ideal while following a low FODMAP diet, as you have more control on what and how much you are eating. Still, it’s hard to avoid eating out completely. Whether you have a dinner date at a restaurant, are invited to a wedding, or need to travel, here are a few tips on how to navigate restaurants without getting GI symptoms.
1. Choose your restaurant wisely
This is key when you eat out. You will find blogs on how to choose meals at various ethnic restaurants (Chinese, Indian, Italian) but it will make your life simpler at this point to avoid certain restaurants altogether. For example, Indian dishes almost always include garlic and/or onions and mostly feature high-FODMAP vegetables and legumes. Chinese and Thai restaurant may be better as most of their dishes are rice-based but they rely a lot on garlic and onions when cooking vegetables or meat/poultry. Even if you find a gluten-free pizza place, the tomato sauce is almost always made with garlic and/or onions, and there is usually is way too much cheese. You will be able to eat in a variety of restaurants after you have learned what your trigger foods are but for now, keep it simple.
2. Keep it simple
Restaurants that will more likely have low FODMAP choices are those where you can order a chicken/meat/fish entree with a choice of side dishes. You can look up the menu for options such as rice and potatoes and a low FODMAP vegetable (kale, carrots, bell peppers, etc.). Look up the list of vegetables in the Monash App for more choices and appropriate serving sizes. If you are a vegetarian you can ask for firm tofu as a substitute for animal protein. Or have a protein-rich snack before your leave the house, and eat the starch and vegetables at the restaurant.
3. Beware of hidden FODMAPs
Stay away from menu items that may have hidden FODMAP ingredients: soups, stews and risotto (garlic and onion in the broth); marinated meats/fish or hamburgers (may have garlic or onion powder); sauces and salad dressings; creamed-based soups or pasta sauces.
4. Keep the portions small
Keep in mind that most restaurants serve portions that are larger than those most of us prepare at home, and any large meal may trigger symptoms in people with IBS. Have a low-FODMAP snack before going out so you don't get too hungry and take some of the restaurant food home to keep your meal size moderate.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask
Do your homework before you head out or choose the restaurant and peruse the menu to see whether you have a few low FODMAP choices. Call ahead and ask the staff whether they allow substitutions (they may have ingredients they don’t feature on the menu that you can have in place of high-FODMAP items). Explain you can’t have even a trace of garlic and/or onions. Whereas pretty much everyone today is familiar with the term gluten-free, waiting staff or even chefs may not know what a FODMAP is and you will need to ask precise questions.
6. Avoid potential FODMAP overloading
If you plan to eat out ahead of time, make sure you are as strict as you can with your other meals and snacks. If you eat as low FODMAP as possible during the rest of the day, you will avoid the build-up effect of adding too many FODMAPs in the same day. And, if you end up eating a high-FODMAP ingredient accidentally, the effect will hopefully not be as bad, as your overall FODMAP load will be lower.