Hi everyone! Readers who are based outside the US will have to forgive me this week, as this post is all about US Low FODMAP Food Distribution, the USA's first dedicated low FODMAP food distributor.
Randi Stecki, the founder of US Low FODMAP Food Distribution, was kind enough to send me a few certified low FODMAP products, so I could try them and introduce her fledgling company to my US-based readers (read more them after the interview).
An Interview with the Founder
Randi is a graduate from Loyola Marymount University, and is a self confessed healthy (for the most part) food lover from New Jersey, who now lives in Los Angeles. She enjoys visiting farmers markets, hiking and cooking.
- What was your low FODMAP journey?
From the day I was born, I always suffered from stomach problems. I was always going to my doctor and complaining about my stomach aches, constant bloating, and extreme constipation. Every time I went to the doctor, I got more and more frustrated. They would put me on several medicines from tums, to Miralax, to fiber supplements, and tell me to eat more vegetables and fibrous foods. When nothing would work, I would go back and they would tell me to do the opposite: eat less fibrous foods and stop taking all of that medicine! No one ever knew what the problem was and I pretty much just accepted the fact that I would live with a stomach that would never feel well. At 19 years old, I finally felt so frustrated I decided to go to a different doctor who tested me for many different gastrointestinal problems. At this point, I was doubled over in pain at least once a week because my stomach was so bloated and I looked 9 months pregnant the majority of the time. I went to the doctor for many breath tests: lactose intolerance, fructose malabsorption, and SIBO. After each test, I got the same result. POSITIVE. While lactose intolerance was pretty simple to treat, the other two diagnoses were much more difficult. The doctor handed me a piece of paper explaining the low FODMAP diet and sent me on my way. Talk about being overwhelmed... At 19 years old and leaving for college in a few weeks, I had no idea what I could eat and what I couldn't. I tried going to a nutritionist who could help me figure the transition out, but even they didn't understand or heard of the diet to help me properly. I had to take things in my own hands to research and read more about it. I studied the diet and started my journey. My diet changed rapidly as I followed a really strict diet low in FODMAPS. Once I came back for my second year of college in Los Angeles, I found a great nutritionist who was able to assist me more carefully. I began journaling everything I ate and tracking the symptoms I experienced. I learned the biggest trigger foods like eggplant, garlic, onions, and sweet potatoes that make my stomach cramp up immediately. My symptoms definitely improved after that. While I still struggle from stomach problems, I am no longer doubled over in pain and I know how to prevent most of my symptoms I grew up experiencing.
- What inspired you to found US Low FODMAP Food Distribution?
After realizing how difficult it is to follow the low FODMAP diet, I thought of the idea of starting my own company to help ease the pain. It isn't easy to avoid ingredients like garlic, onion, honey, wheat, etc. which are found in common food staples like ketchup, chicken broth, granola bars, breads, and common seasonings. In order to eat a somewhat interesting diet, you need to cook EVERYTHING from scratch, and while cooking everything from scratch is awesome, it is definitely not time efficient or easy for someone living a really busy and active lifestyle. In addition, I was spending hours in grocery stores reading ingredient labels to find brands that wouldn't cause days of IBS symptoms. After researching so many articles and websites, I saw how Australia was developing a few great products that were certified as Low FODMAP. Immediately, I tried to find them, but they were not being offered in the USA. That's why I thought of the idea of creating a distribution company who supplies all low FODMAP products from around the world. I came across so many individuals struggling from the same things I was, and I knew something had to be built to make this challenging lifestyle change easier. As an entrepreneurship major, I had a lot of help from my professors and my mentor, Ron Rishagen, who helped me follow my dream to bring convenience to the low FODMAP community.
- Who can buy from your Friendly Foods store?
While following the Low FODMAP elimination diet isn't for everyone (be sure to consult a doctor before going on the low FODMAP elimination diet to rule out any other digestive problems that may be occurring), anyone can buy from the Friendly Foods store! Whether you have IBS or other chronic digestive problems, the Friendly Foods store offers a lot of tasty products that will be gentle on your digestive system. Yes, they are all low FODMAP products, but they are not ONLY made for people who eat low in FODMAPs.
- Where do you ship?
We ship anywhere within the USA, including Alaska and Hawaii.
- What is your personal favourite product?
My favorite products are the FODMAPPED Pumpkin Soup and the TrueSelf Banana Cinnamon Bars. Both are so tasty! I love the Pumpkin soup for a cozy dinner and the Banana Cinnamon Bars for a quick pick me up before the gym or at work!
- What are your plans for the future?
In the future, I plan to make U.S. Low FODMAP a nationwide distributor who supplies great tasting, low FODMAP food products to grocery stores. My dream is to walk into a grocery store where there is a low FODMAP aisle right next to the gluten free aisle. I also plan to continue expanding the amount of products I offer to provide more variety to the palate of the low FODMAP community. Lastly, I envision U.S. Low FODMAP helping to spread the education of the Low FODMAP diet and lifestyle to help people recognize the difference this change can make in someone's life.
- What is your best advice for those just starting out on the low FODMAP elimination diet?
Don't give up! I know how frustrating this diet can be. After struggling for so long, it should be a relief to finally get a treatment that can help make you feel better. Stay positive. You may not feel a big difference right away because of the amount of damage and bacteria that have developed in your gut, but remember that it will get better. Time, dedication, and careful journaling will be your stomach's best friend. I also really recommend reading blogs, joining Facebook support groups, and researching material that can help you understand how the diet will help you and the reasons why FODMAPs can cause havoc on your GI system.
What Sort of Products does US Low FODMAP Stock?
So far, US Low FODMAP Food Distribution stocks products from the Australian brand, FODMAPPED and the US brand, TrueSelf Foods. Both brands are certified to be low FODMAP in the listed serving size by Dr. Sue Shepherd's FODMAP Friendly Food certification program, so you can be confident that they will not give your digestion any grief for FODMAP reasons. They are both also certified gluten free.
TrueSelf Foods Low FODMAP Snack Bars
These delicious bars were developed by a gastroenterologist who specialises in irritable bowel syndrome. They come in four flavours (banana cinnamon, blueberry, lemon poppy seed and pumpkin spice) and, as you can see, are the perfect size for my small handbag. They also hold up to travel well and don't squash easily.
While my favourite flavour was the lemon poppy seed bar (it just beat the banana cinnamon bar for the honour), the three flavours that I tried were all delicious. What I especially liked is that they weren't a dessert-level sweet - they are very subtle in their sweetness - so don't go in expecting your typical muesli bar, as you'll be disappointed.
The bars taste like their flavours, rather than sugar (if that makes sense), so the lemon poppy seed is very refreshing, the banana and cinnamon tastes like a low sugar banana bread and the pumpkin spice actually reminded me of an Indian sweet (the name of which escaped me) that a friend would bring back for us whenever he visited his home.
These bars are perfect for those without a sweet tooth - and for those, like me, who have learnt to like reduced/unsweetened foods. I will definitely buy more of these for myself, as I have also heard good things about the blueberry bar.
FODMAPPED Simmer Sauces
The FODMAPPED brand of low FODMAP foods was developed by Dr. Sue Shepherd, an Australian dietitian who was one of the low FODMAP diet pioneers. They have been available in Australia for a few years, now and have recently made their way to the US.
Randi sent me the butter chicken and green curry simmer sauces to try out. FODMAPPED also have other simmer sauces, pasta sauces, soups and broths, to name a few of their products.
The green curry simmer sauce was definitely my favourite of the two, the butter chicken was too mild for my taste (though I understand why, as many people might not be used to "spiced" - as opposed to spicy, which this is not - food, especially with IBS).
I closely followed the green curry simmer sauce instructions, which serves two (though I changed out the protein from beef to a combination of prawns and firm tofu) and added the lime, which was pictured on the front but not listed on the back for some reason, and really enjoyed this meal. My husband, the non-FODMAPPER, added Sriracha sauce (high FODMAP!) to his for more of a kick - if you are on either the elimination or food trial stages then do not do this but it could be something that a non-FODMAPPER who is sharing your meal could do to their plate. Make sure not to overcook your veggies and this makes a very refreshing and healthy dinner.
I ended up using the butter chicken simmer sauce, which also serves two, as a base for a four serve meal and added low FODMAP portions for a further two people of sliced green leek tips (2 cups), diced tomatoes (1 cup), red capsicum (1 cup diced), butter (2 tbsp.) and spices to taste (salt, pepper, asafoetida, ground cumin, safe curry powder, turmeric, paprika and coriander seed etc.) to freshen up the flavouring - saute them all together until very soft, then blend with the sauce packet before using as otherwise instructed on the packet with double the chicken, carrot and potato - and it turned into a vibrantly coloured and flavourful, though mild, curry that I enjoyed.