When you first start a low FODMAP diet, the primary concern is to make your meals lower in FODMAPs and to avoid high FODMAP foods whenever possible. That can be a major challenge, although there are ways to make it easier. Then as you get used to navigating the food lists, the next concern for most people is to make the low FODMAP diet feel less restricted so that your meals feel more normal and like you’re not missing out.
When I first started following a low FODMAP diet, those were my initial concerns too. But it didn’t take long for my Registered Nutritionist hat to reappear and for me to start focussing on the healthiness of the foods I was eating.
Because the low FODMAP diet restricts many of the healthiest food choices, it’s critical to prioritise healthier foods whenever possible to ensure you don’t end up with nutritional deficiencies. Not only is this important for overall health and weight management, it’s essential for ongoing gut health. So today I’m going to share with you the key strategies that will help most people to make their low FODMAP diet healthier.
1. Create your meals so that the bulk of the ingredients are vegetables
According the Australian Dietary Guidelines, adults should eat at least 5-6 servings of vegetables every day. This is because higher vegetable intakes decrease the risk of many chronic health conditions, such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
One serving of vegetables equals about 1/2 cup (or 75g) of vegetables, 1 cup of raw leafy green vegetables, or 1/2 medium potato. So to get 5-6 servings, you need to eat 3 cups of vegetables each day.
To put this in practical terms, you could eat 1 and 1/2 cups of vegetables in each of two main meals (e.g. lunch and dinner). Or if you like to eat a savoury breakfast, you could spread your veggies out to have about 1 cup of vegetables in each of three meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner).
The easiest way to increase your vegetable intake is to arrange your dinner plate (or bowl) so that half of it is covered with vegetables. After the veggies are on the plate, then add some protein and grains to the empty spots.
But if you aren’t getting enough vegetables in your main meals, the best strategy is to choose vegetable-based snacks between meals to top up your veggie intake. For instance, you could try this Roasted Eggplant Dip with vegetable sticks. Or maybe eat some cherry tomatoes or baby cucumbers with cheese and crackers.
Of course you will have to make sure that your vegetable choices are low FODMAP, but there’s plenty to choose from. And you can prepare them in many different ways: raw, steamed, boiled, roasted, or fried.
2. Whenever possible, choose wholegrains (or higher fibre options) rather than refined grains
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend mostly choosing wholegrains or high-fibre options because they’re higher in fibre and nutrients. However, many of the readily available high-fibre wholegrains are high FODMAP and must be avoided. Unfortunately, most of the remaining low FODMAP grains are naturally lower in fibre. Also, many low FODMAP (and gluten-free) ‘flours’ are actually starches, which are a very refined portion of the grain product, and some are made from root vegetables such as potato or tapioca.
Choosing wholegrains (or higher fibre options) on a low FODMAP diet means choosing brown rice (instead of white rice), quinoa, millet, buckwheat or rolled oats. Rolled oats of course make an excellent nutritious porridge for breakfast (as do rolled quinoa), while the other grains can be used as side dishes for main meals.
When it comes to products made with gluten-free flours, choosing more nutritious options is a little more difficult since the refined flours and starches tend to improve texture in gluten-free products. This makes it challenging to find gluten-free wholegrain breads or grain-based products. One way around this is to make your own low FODMAP gluten-free flour blend that includes wholemeal flours and so is higher in fibre, protein and nutrients than store bought options.
But, a low FODMAP diet doesn’t need to be gluten-free, unless you also have coeliac disease. This means you can eat spelt breads if they’ve been made using a traditional sourdough process. While many sourdough spelt bread are made with refined spelt flour, you can find loaves that have wholegrains and/or seeds mixed through them, making them higher in fibre than standard loaves.
3. Include small portions of legumes in your meals several times a week
When most people start a low FODMAP diet, one of the first things they do is cut out all legumes and pulses since most are very high in galacto-oligosaccharides. But while some types of legumes do need to be avoided, other types can still be enjoyed in limited portions.
For instance, canned chickpeas that have been thoroughly drained and rinsed are low FODMAP at a portion size of 1/4 cup. Similarly, canned brown lentils that have been thoroughly drained and rinsed are low FODMAP at a portion size of 1/2 cup. While these portion sizes aren’t substantial enough for them to be the star of your meal, they can still be included.
I like to add chickpeas to salads or soups, where there’s still plenty of other ingredients to bulk out the meal. And I add canned lentils to casseroles where they form part of the vegetable content of the meal.
Another great way to eat chickpeas is blended up into a dip. The simplest option is to make a hommus dip, which can easily be made low FODMAP. Find your favourite recipe, but instead of adding garlic cloves, use garlic-infused olive oil (about 1 tsp to replace each garlic clove that the recipe asks for). Serve 2 tbsp of dip with crackers or vegetable sticks, or spread it on a toast or a sandwich. Another option you might like to try is this Carrot, Cumin and Chickpea Dip, a delicious low FODMAP twist on hommus.
4. Choose naturally sweet low FODMAP fruits instead of sweet snacks or treats
Something many people need to do for a healthier diet is cut back on sweet treats. While treats are certainly delicious, they’re not very good for your health and shouldn’t be eaten on a daily basis. However it’s important to acknowledge that our bodies naturally crave sweet foods because they’re a good source of energy, so it’s helpful to replace sweet treats with naturally sweet foods, such as fruit. This can still be done on a low FODMAP diet but it does need to be done with care.
While there are less low FODMAP fruits than high FODMAP fruits, there’s still a reasonable amount of choices that are both delicious and naturally quite sweet. Some good options are banana, orange, mandarin, strawberries, and grapes. These fruits are generally well tolerated at around 100g per serve (and sometimes higher). There are other fruits to choose from too, but some will need to be limited to smaller portion sizes to keep them low FODMAP.
I like to eat fresh fruit as a snack with low FODMAP nuts or seeds, since these add protein and extra fibre to help fill you up more. Another good way to enjoy the sweetness of fruit is with lactose-free yoghurt, which is quite high in protein and deliciously creamy. You can also make a smoothie with your favourite low FODMAP milk. If I want something more substantial, I eat a piece of low FODMAP toast topped with peanut butter and sliced fruit – bananas, strawberries and grapes all work quite well.