Travel Series – Managing Fructose Malabsorption While Staying at Resorts

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As the warm weather and summer holidays are just around the corner, I thought I’d write a post about managing resort-based holidays while following a FODMAP friendly diet.

Last summer, Ev and I, along with a few friends, flew down to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico for the 4th of July long weekend. It was pure bliss, even if we did get a little bored on the second last day (thanks for the rain, weather man!). We spent four days relaxing and exploring downtown Cabo, not having to worry about cash at the resort, as everything was included.

I was initially concerned about what I would eat but, given that corn and avocados (I’m okay with polyols) are staples in every Mexican restaurant I’ve ever been to, I thought it shouldn’t be too bad. Luckily, I was right.

The following will outline how to successfully manage a resort-based holiday with fructose malabsorption.

Step 1: Can the resort cater for your dietary requirements?

From the beginning, when you’re browsing websites, many will state specifically whether they can cater for certain diets and will ask you to list dietary requirements when you book your stay. If they don’t, you can always call or email and double check.

However, as FODMAPs and fructose malabsorption are still such unknowns, you might choose to contact the resort and ask anyway. If the resort cannot cater for you, it’s up to you to decide whether you will go and supply your own foods (if possible) or you will find somewhere else.

Step 2: Make some safe food flash cards

If you don’t speak the language, flash cards listing the ingredients you can and cannot consume in the language spoken at the resort will help prevent a lot of confusion.

In fact, even if you do speak the local language, flash cards might still be a good idea as the idea of fructose malabsorption is still so novel that the apparently random list of ingredients that you cannot consume might overwhelm the staff and create an unwanted fuss.

Make sure the lists are clear and concise as to what you can and absolutely cannot consume – perhaps even just handing them the “Can Eat” list might be easier.

Step 3: Plan ahead

If at all possible, pack an emergency food supply (for transit and when you’re out on the town exploring) and bring a stash of fructose-remedies, just in case. This won’t be possible everywhere you go, due to customs regulations and the like – it’s one extra point to research before you go.

Pack any dietary supplements and take them with you if customs regulations allow it. This may include:

  • A good probiotic.
  • A multivitamin.
  • Digestive enzymes.
  • Apple cider vinegar (apparently FODMAP friendly in 1-2 tbsp. servings).
  • bicarb soda etc.

Good emergency foods include:

  • Non-perishable foods, or at least foods that will keep well for a few days in warm weather in a freezer bag (so no yoghurts or cheeses).
  • Foods that won’t tax your gut too much, especially if you plan on being tempted by local delicacies that you haven’t tried before – give yourself the best chance for success.
  • A variety of foods for different meal times.
  • See Road Tripping with Fructose Malabsorption (step 3) for a complete list of foods that may be suitable.

Handy fructose remedies could be:

  • Paracetamol (acetaminophen in the USA) – ibuprofen is a known gastric irritant, so I personally don’t take it. I’m not recommending that you do take paracetamol but it’s my preferred method of choice for helping to ease intense cramps, which aren’t fun even when you’re not on holiday. At home I might try another method first (such as water or tea) but when I’m away from home I’ll go straight to the Panadol.
  • Dextrose – to help offset any excess fructose that you may have ingested, swallowing dextrose (glucose-glucose) ASAP will help to even out the glucose/fructose ratio and potentially prevent a reaction. This all depends on how much fructose you consumed, how much glucose you followed it with and your gut’s own behaviour.
  • Water and lots of it. Not only is it healthier for your gut and body to remain hydrated but if you have to take a tablet, it’s a lot easier to take it with water than dry. Water is also useful for washing things… and on that note,
  • Wet wipes/baby wipes, in case of an emergency cleaning situation.
  • Any other methods that you can take with you that is feasibly going to be useful in case of a reaction. Something along the lines of Buscopan or Beano might be suitable but I do not recommend relying on a product you haven’t tested before to stop a reaction unless you have no other choice.
    • Buscopan contains sucrose, so is listed as inappropriate for those with “fructose intolerance.” I am assuming that they mean HFI here (as we know sucrose is safe for FM) but use your discretion when deciding whether or not to try it – it might help some with IBS but it might not help at all or even worsen your symptoms.

Step 4: Good buffets (and the staff) are your friend

At the Riu Santa Fe in Cabo, if worst came to worst, I could have lived off potatoes, avocado, eggs and corn chips. The buffet was amazeballs.

Using your flash cards (or a friend who happens to speak the language fluently), double check the ingredients with the staff for anything that could potentially hide some FODMAP bombs and decide what is safe for you. For example, the guacamole: is it just avocado, salt, olive oil and lemon juice or did they throw in some garlic, too?

Stay AWAY from the doughnuts at the breakfast bar, no matter how tempting they look – they’re just not worth it. Instead, I opted for a healthier breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, guacamole, sauteed veggies (if safe), baked potatoes and plantains in maple syrup for the sweet note. Plantains are like a cross between a banana and a potato – I don’t know for sure if they’re low FODMAP but they’re really good! The juice bar luckily had fresh squeezed OJ, so I could drink a bit of one of the pre-poured glasses. All the other juices looked phenomenal, including a really healthy (and delicious, according to Ev) green juice but of course it contained apple.

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Step 5: Relax!

Research (and experience) shows that stress is a major trigger for many with IBS style symptoms. Do yourself a favour and take a break from the stress while you’re on holiday and it could go a long way towards reducing reactions. In fact, many people report that they are able to tolerate foods on vacation that they normally could not eat back home – though I’m not sure whether this is due to lack of stress or the quality of foods they’re eating, or maybe a combination of the two.

All the steps above, especially planning ahead (and not just for the eating side of things), will help you to relax while you’re actually away and make the most of your well-earnt break.

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If you have any new suggestions for managing resort travel with dietary restrictions, please let me know in the comments section below.

Cheers and happy holidaying.

Travel Series – Road Tripping with Fructose Malabsorption

Along the Petaluma-Point Reyes Rd.

Road trips are possibly my favourite way to travel; you get to see so much more of the landscape than if you fly everywhere and I find that cities tend to look the same after a while. To be able to drive down the west coast of the USA and see lush greenery and snow-capped mountains turning first into farm land and then into a more arid landscape complete with mesas is pretty awesome. Also, California is full of eucalyptus trees, which reminds us of home and smell amazing, as well.

In my opinion, road trips are also the easiest type of holiday to take while on a low FODMAP diet, as you can really be in control of your food if you plan ahead and pack an Eski (cooler) with sufficient supplies.

I will outline below how I manage my meals on a road trip:

Step 1: Make an itinerary and food list

I am a list maker, so is my sister. It’s something we’ve always done, as we’re OCD control freaks who can’t bear to be disorganised. Plus, it’s fun. Luckily for me, Ev is the same… although he hates packing his own bag. But he’s not the one with FM, so that’s not such a big deal.

Being a list maker means that I like to plan each leg of the road trip with hours and distances and town names. This is good, as it will help you with step 2. Another way to make step 2 easier (well, the act of eating at the restaurants that you’ve researched) is to call ahead or go armed with a list of foods that you CAN EAT (make sure it’s labelled clearly, so you don’t get a plate of onions sauteed with apples on whole wheat toast) to make both your life and those of the wait staff and cooks much easier.

Step 2: Research local restaurants and eateries

Before you go out to dinner, you would find online menus or call the restaurant you’re thinking about going to and see if they can provide a meal for you; travelling is no different. The key to a relaxed holiday (and gut!) is planning. I know lots of people who like to wing it – I have never been one of them – but a “we’ll find something, don’t worry” attitude is more likely to lead you to either an irritated or hungry gut later on if you are following a FODMAP friendly diet.

Either before you leave home, or each day of your trip (if you have internet connectivity), scout out a few potential cafes and restaurants and note their locations with regards to your itinerary. What town will you be driving through at lunch time? Does the town you plan to spend the night at have a restaurant or supermarket that you can source meals from?

Some tips:

  • To reiterate – PLAN AHEAD.
  • Restaurants that already cater to other dietary requirements (gluten free, vegan, nut free etc) will generally be more likely to be able to create a meal for you.
  • Fast food chains can still provide salads – just request no dressing or croutons etc – and hot chips/fries will do in a pinch, as long as they’re suited to other non-FODMAP issues you might have.
  • Choose simple meals that require minimal alterations to be suitable – it’s both ridiculous and rude to think they’ll be able to make you an onion free lasagne but to whip up a salad sans onion and dressing is much easier and many restaurants make their salads as ordered, anyway.
  • Don’t forget about supermarkets, as you can always find gluten free breads/crackers, cheese and suitable veggies etc to fill your stomach.
  • Busier restaurants will find it harder to tailor a meal to you, so eat at quiet times, even if that does mean sitting down to dinner before 6 pm.
Breakfast - an omelette with potatoes and green capsicum.

Breakfast – an omelette with potatoes and green capsicum.

Dinner - a chicken salad sans croutons and dressing on the side.

Dinner – a chicken salad sans croutons and dressing on the side.

Step 3: Pack emergency foods

If you’re driving down a deserted highway and you can’t find anywhere to eat, things can get ugly; this is true even if you don’t have a food intolerance. I tend to become very irritable when I’m hungry (more like a 6 year old than a 26 year old) and I’m sure I’m not pleasant to be around when I’m like that. In fact, even when we’re not road tripping, Ev will tell me to eat something if I’m beginning to get grumpy.

I think packing an emergency food supply is a good thing to do for road trips, regardless of FM. Things to consider when packing a food kit include:

  • A variety of foods for different meal times – I know I wouldn’t want a tin of tuna for breakfast but would be happy to eat it any time after lunch.
  • Non-perishable foods (or at least foods that will keep for a few days outside the fridge) are best.
  • Easily digestible foods that won’t tax your gut too much.
  • Pack the food in an Eski/cooler/freezer bag/car fridge (whatever you’d like to call it) to prevent any mishaps of food left in a car on a hot day. Besides going hungry if your food has gone off, it’s also a waste of money.

Examples of what I might pack:

  • FODMAP friendly veggies of your choice, such as carrot sticks, celery (if you can tolerate polyols), cucumber etc.
  • FODMAP friendly fruits, to a lesser extent, such as bananas and berries. These will need to be kept in a hard case, as they’ll bruise easily while travelling.
  • Muffins, as sometimes a piece of fruit or a carrot stick just isn’t enough. Some good options include my banana nut or pumpkin and chive muffins.
  • Pre-packaged snacks, such as corn chips, rice cakes or gluten free pretzels.
  • Suitable GF or sourdough bread and sandwich fillings, such as ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato, or even just jam and Vegemite (though never together!).

Step 4: Be prepared for the worst

Even the most diligent planning can’t prevent a slip up here or there. A waiter might not take your request seriously, or simply misunderstand you; or you might sneak a food in and hope that your FM has gone on holiday elsewhere. Go prepared with a kit containing methods you know will help to alleviate your symptoms.

My emergency FM kit would include some or all of the following but yours may be different:

  • Paracetamol (acetaminophen in the USA) – ibuprofen is a known gastric irritant, so I personally don’t take it. I’m not recommending that you do take paracetamol but it’s my preferred method of choice for helping to ease intense cramps, which aren’t fun even when you’re not on holiday. At home I might try another method first (such as water or tea) but when I’m away from home I’ll go straight to the Panadol.
  • Dextrose – to help offset any excess fructose that you may have ingested, swallowing dextrose (glucose-glucose) ASAP will help to even out the glucose/fructose ratio and potentially prevent a reaction. This all depends on how much fructose you consumed, how much glucose you followed it with and your gut’s own behaviour.
  • Any supplements that you take, so for me this would include my probiotic and multivitamin. For you it may include digestive enzymes, ACV, bicarb soda etc.
  • Any other methods that you can take with you that is feasibly going to be useful in case of a reaction. For example, I will often drink tea with ginger, lemon and mint to help settle my gut but am I always going to have access to a kettle? Something along the lines of Buscopan or Beano would be more suitable for a road trip but I do not recommend relying on a product you haven’t tested before to stop a reaction unless you have no other choice. Buscopan (etc) might help some with IBS but it might not help at all or even worsen your symptoms.
  • Water and lots of it. Not only is it healthier for your gut and body to remain hydrated but if you have to take a tablet, it’s a lot easier to take it with water than dry. You could crush up some ginger, mint leaves and lemon slices and leave them sitting in your water bottle (remember to change them daily) to infuse the water and help keep your gut happy. Water is also useful for washing things… and on that note,
  • Wet wipes/baby wipes, in case of an emergency cleaning situation.

This sounds like a lot and if it overwhelms you, I’m sorry. Just please remember that you can still enjoy a road trip while on the low FODMAP diet with some extra planning; just like road tripping with kids or dogs… but we still do that!

If you have any other tips that I have forgotten, please let me know in the comments section below. Happy holidaying!

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