Travel Series - Managing Fructose Malabsorption/IBS while staying at a Resort

Travel Series - Managing Fructose Malabsorption/IBS while staying at a Resort

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: Make use of the staff (and the buffet)

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 amazing. Secrets Puerto Los Cabos was even better - at each restaurant they asked if anyone had any dietary requirements and the food was to die for. 

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. The scrambled eggs and omelette will probably be seasoned and use normal milk (but it doesn't hurt to ask). Instead, I opted for a healthier breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, avocado slices, sauteed veggies (if safe/unseasoned), baked potatoes and plantains in maple syrup for the sweet note. Plantains are like a cross between a banana and a potato and have a low FODMAP serve (check the Monash app)! The juice bar luckily had fresh squeezed OJ, so I could drink a bit of one of the pre-poured glasses (do not over do it, or try it if you haven't since elimination). All the other juices looked phenomenal, including a really healthy (and delicious, according to Ev) green juice but of course it contained apple.

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.

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.