I am a firm believer that no food is per se a “bad” food. And that what we eat every day is more important than what we may indulge in once in a while. After all, we all need an occasional treat. For many people, that means satisfying a sweet tooth. Especially this time of year, with the holidays humming and the weather turning chilly, I find myself wanting to bake some special treat or warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.
It’s probably because it reminds me of when, as a teenager, I was skiing in the Alps during the Christmas break. After hours in the freezing temperatures, my friends and I would warm our hands (and our tummies) around a cup of hot chocolate (see my recipe for Italian Hot Chocolate below).
But how can you satisfy that sweet tooth on a low FODMAP diet, when you are trying to reduce your gut symptoms? Here are a few tips.
3 Tips to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth on a Low FODMAP Diet
1. Choose fruits and sugars with a good balance of fructose and glucose
Firstly, when the fruit or sugar has about equal amounts of glucose and fructose, the fructose is better absorbed and not likely to trigger gut symptoms.
- Sucrose (aka table sugar, also known as beet/brown/cane/castor/confectioner’s/granulated/icing/organic/refined sugar; raw sugar crystals, can juice crystals, cane syrup, evaporated milled cane juice, simple/sugar syrup)
- Palm Sugar
- 100% Maple Syrup
- Corn Syrup (is it mostly glucose)
- Rice malt syrup
- Stevia, powdered or liquid (not a sugar, but a non-nutritive natural sweetener)
- *These are “suitable” in appropriate portions – see the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App.
2. Avoid fruits and sugar with excess fructose
On the other hand, when fructose is present in excess of glucose, it is poorly absorbed and travels to the large intestine, where it is fermented by our gut bacteria. Consequently, the gas production, and the fact that fructose also attracts water, can trigger abdominal cramps, bloating, and loose stools or diarrhea. Unless you have re-challenged fructose and know you can tolerate it well, avoid or limit these fruits and sweeteners:
Note: there are other “high FODMAP” fruits not listed here as they are high in sorbitol (not fructose).
- Coconut sugar
- Golden syrup*
- Sorghum syrup*
Note: Most high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has a similar fructose/glucose ratio to sucrose (about 55% fructose and 45% glucose). However, the fructose amount may vary from 42 to 90%. As it is not possible to know from the label which kind of HFCS it is, it is best to avoid it.
*These are high in Fructans (not fructose), a type of oligosaccharide (the “O” in FODMAP).
Finally, artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, and saccharine) are low in FODMAPs but, as some preliminary studies are showing that they may be harmful to our gut bacteria, many dietitians (myself included) are starting to recommend avoiding them altogether.
3. Avoid large loads of fructose in one sitting
This is where it is easy to get confused by the plethora of “low FODMAP desserts” appearing every day on blogging sites. Certainly, these desserts may be made with gluten-free flour, low-lactose dairy products, and other low-FODMAP ingredients. However, a dessert is only low FODMAP at a portion size that limits the fructose content (most likely from the sugar) to a certain threshold. Therefore, beware of desserts that end up having high amounts of sugar per serving (such as some cakes, brownies, or desserts with frosting or cream fillings).
A good rule of thumb is to limit the amount of sugar to about 2-3 teaspoons (10-15 grams) per sitting. This is not unreasonable given that, FODMAPs aside, the American Heart Association recommends limiting the daily intake of added sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for men.
In conclusion, if you follow a healthy diet without excess added sugars, come the holidays, you may enjoy a dessert without guilt or unwanted gut symptoms. On the other hand, if you really want to indulge for once, keep your overall FODMAP level low for the rest of the day. Your tummy will thank you, and you will be able to really enjoy the time you spend with your friends a family!
Italian Hot Chocolate
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/3 cup water
2/3 cup lactose-free milk (whole or 2%) or almond milk
1 ½ oz (42 g) 72% dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 teaspoons sugar
- In a small saucepan, dissolve the cornstarch in the water; add the milk and bring to a boil
- Lower the heat, and add the chocolate and sugar. Simmer for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the chocolate thickens.
- Pour into two 4-oz cups (preferably heated with hot water). Enjoy!
Yield: 2 servings (1 serving is equivalent to 10 grams of sugar and under the low-FODMAP serving size for dark chocolate).
Note: this is so rich that you can make it into 4 servings and drink it, as it is popular now in Italian cafés, in espresso cups.
Author: Antonella Dewell, Registered Dietitian & Natural Chef