Preparing all your meals at home would be ideal while following a low FODMAP diet. This way, you have more control over what and how much you are eating. On the other hand, it’s hard to avoid eating out completely. And you shouldn’t give up your social life just because you are eating low FODMAP. Whether you have a dinner date at a restaurant, are invited to a wedding, or need to travel, there are things you can do to enjoy eating out without getting GI symptoms.
6 Tips for Eating Out on a Low FODMAP Diet
1. Choose your restaurant wisely
This is key when you are eating out. You will find blogs on how to choose meals at various ethnic restaurants (Chinese, Indian, Italian). But it will make your life simpler 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 restaurants have the advantage of offering many rice-based dishes. However, 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 usually is way too much cheese. For now, it’s ideal to 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. For example, side dishes such as rice or potatoes and a low FODMAP vegetable (kale, carrots, green beans, bell peppers, etc.). Look up the list of vegetables in the Monash FODMAP App for the most up-to-date 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. Some examples are soups, stews, and risotto, where garlic and onion are used in the broth. Or marinated meats/fish or hamburgers (they may have garlic or onion powder). Sauces and salad dressings may have, in addition to garlic or onions, sweeteners like honey or agave. Also, creamed-based soups or pasta sauces are best avoided: they may have too much lactose and also too much fat, which is a non-FODMAP trigger for many people with IBS.
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. To make sure you don’t eat too much at the restaurant, have a low-FODMAP snack before going out so you don’t get too hungry. You can also take home part of your meal to keep your meal size moderate.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Do your homework before you head out. Choose the restaurant and peruse the menu online to see whether there are 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, the waiting staff or chefs may not know what FODMAPs are. Therefore, 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. When 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 on the same day. As a result, if you end up accidentally eating a high-FODMAP ingredient, the effect will not be as bad.
Most of all, don’t obsess about it! If the restaurant does not have the options you were looking for, or your friends insist on a place that is not as accommodating, the most important thing is that you relax and enjoy the meal. Indeed, it’s OK to occasionally eat a high-FODMAP meal. If you approach it with anxiety and tell yourself “This is going to make me feel awful tomorrow”, it probably will.
On the other hand, if you tell yourself “I am going to enjoy this meal and trust my body to do the best it can with it”, you are more likely to not experience symptoms. The mind is powerful! And if you do get an IBS flare, you know the next day you get to take extra care of yourself and can feel better.
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Published July 10, 2018. Updated, July 3rd, 2022.