Seven tips for catering to the low-FODMAP diet this holiday

Adam Liaw's steak frites can be easily modified to be FODMAP-friendly.
Adam Liaw's steak frites can be easily modified to be FODMAP-friendly. Photo: Stephen Claxton

We all have that friend – the one with "tummy troubles", who seems to eat five foods, squints at the back of food packaging and peppers waiters with questions about every dish. 

With one in seven Australian adults now suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, chances are that friend is following the low-FODMAP diet, a food plan that helps reduce bloating, abdominal pain and other not-so-fun digestive symptoms.

The diet restricts foods high in short-chain carbohydrates called Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols – foods that tend to be poorly absorbed in the small intestine, especially in large quantities. Common culprits include garlic, onion, wheat, rye, milk, chick peas, stone fruit and some vegetables.

While it might sound confusing to the uninitiated, low-FODMAP cooking is simpler than it first appears and there are still plenty of foods to enjoy.

Follow these few simple tips and your lofo friend shouldn't miss out on any of the summer frivolity.

Get appy

If you only do one thing, make sure you download the Monash University Low-FODMAP Diet app. Yes, it's pricey, but it's also your bible for everything lofo, and will make catering for the low-FODMAP diet infinitely easier. You can search for recipes and set the app to display your friend's "safe" foods. You can also look up an up-to-date list of individual ingredients, which are flagged red, orange and yellow according to tolerance level – a godsend when you're out shopping or recipe planning. If you're feeling the pinch and don't want to shell out the $12.99, there are plenty of resources online too but you would do well to start at the Monash low-FODMAP website.

Intolerance, not an allergy

Relax – you don't have to decontaminate every kitchen surface or install vacuum extractors to cater for the lofo diet. Unless your friend also has a food allergy, or a serious autoimmune condition such as coeliac disease, they most likely will be able to tolerate traces of suspect foods high in FODMAPs such as wheat, legumes and milk. That means shared surfaces and utensils are probably fine, and you don't need any special equipment to get started.

Common culprits

Speaking of suspect foods, there are a handful of common high-FODMAP culprits that sneak into many meals. Happily, they are usually easy to remove or substitute without significantly altering the dish, and chances are your tweaked recipe may automatically quality for lofo status. Chief among the offenders are garlic and onion, alongside shallot, spring onion and other members of the allium family, which tend to be high in fructans and often sneak into sauces, seasoning and stock bases. Also watch for wheat (oligosaccharides), dairy (lactose) and apple or pear juice (common natural sweeteners). Certain recipes tend to be easier than others to modify, such as naturally gluten-free dishes (think fish and salad) or dairy-free Asian fare (hello rice noodles).

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Go on … ask

The easiest way to cater for your friend? Ask them what they'd like to eat. Seriously – they probably have a go-to dish they crave or love to cook, and – bam – you've just saved yourself hours of research. Not every person on the lofo diet tolerates the same foods – some can drink dairy till the cows come home, while others can't even down a cup of milk without enduring heavy punishment afterwards. It depends on individual tolerance levels, and whether the person is following the strict elimination phase of the diet or has been able to re-introduce certain food groups later on. The only person who can tell you that is your friend.

Keep it simple

Look, everyone wants to cook amazing food that looks and tastes incredible. But chances are, your friend just wants to get through the holiday without feeling bloated or running to the loo. Don't overthink what you're cooking, or try to fancify the flavours, especially if you're catering for lots of people or if this is your first time cooking for a special diet. Your friend is probably accustomed to plainer dishes, and he or she will most likely be thrilled you've made the effort – even if it's a simple steak and chips. A traditional roast turkey with potatoes and green beans and low-FODMAP Christmas cake makes a simple lofo Christmas feast, for example, or Vietnamese rice-paper rolls are great on a hot summer's day. If all else fails, try a no-brainer combo of protein, rice and lofo veg (carrots, parsnip, potato, green beans, rocket, squash, swede, turnip or small portion broccoli/zucchini) or salad (cucumber, radish, capsicum, kale, spinach, lettuce or tomato). Sprinkle over some shichimi togarashi for spicy Japanese oomph and you're done.

Simple swaps

If you enjoy catering to different dietary needs, you might like to try a few simple swaps. For maximum flavour, the Indian spice asafoetida can be used in place of onion (available from Indian grocers – but beware, a little goes a long way), or you can try garlic-infused oil (available in some supermarkets or easily made at home). Chives or the green parts of a spring onion make good onion substitutes, while ginger, fresh herbs, spices, lemon and lime juice can also be used liberally to add flavour. If lactose is not well tolerated, try rice, almond and macadamia milks instead of cow's milk, or coconut yoghurt or lactose-free yoghurt instead of regular yoghurt. And if you don't have time to make your own stock, Massel 7's stock cubes are free of onion and garlic.

Easy cheats

If this all sounds like too much effort, there's nothing wrong with taking the easy route and ordering in. The list of commercially available FODMAP-friendly ready meals and kits grows longer by the day (Herbie's Spices sells a great red curry powder and shichimi togarashi, for example), or look out for the Monash University Low-FODMAP Certified logo on big-brand products in your local supermarket. Many gluten-free products will also do the trick, though watch for apple juice, dates or high-FODMAP nuts on the ingredient list.

Try these modified recipes

Neil Perry's grilled lemongrass beef rice-paper rolls (omit garlic and hoisin)

Adam Liaw's pan-fried John Dory with smoked paprika butter

Neil Perry's chicken larb with roasted rice (omit eschalots)

Adam Liaw's whole baked salmon stuffed with lemon and herb rice (omit spring onion or use green tops only) 

Adam Liaw's snapper kinilaw (Filipino fish ceviche) (omit onion, and use green tops of spring onion only) 

Adam Liaw's chicken tonnato salad (omit onion, celery)

Jill Dupleix's dry-brined turkey with orange and fennel (without stuffing/gravy; or try making onion/garlic-free stuffing and gravy with gluten-free flour and Massel 7's stock cubes)

Adam Liaw's steak frites with Cafe de Paris butter (omit garlic, curry)

Andrew McConnell's summer salad with crushed radish, grapefruit and mint dressing (omit grapefruit or substitute with orange, take care with honey quantity)

Read more: What is the low-FODMAP diet and how does it help IBS?