Travel Series - Road Tripping with Fructose Malabsorption/IBS

Travel Series - Road Tripping with Fructose Malabsorption/IBS

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, restaurants and supermarkets, 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 from which you can source meals?

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 unseasoned and suited to other non-FODMAP issues you might have (i.e. if you have coeliac disease, they must be made in a dedicated GF fryer).
  • Choose simple meals that require minimal alterations to be suitable – it’s both ridiculous and rude to think a restaurant will be able to make you an onion free lasagne but to whip up a salad with a plain protein sans onion and dressing is much easier - and many restaurants make their salads when 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 – a safe omelette with potatoes and green capsicum.

Lunch - Eggs Benedict on polenta (that little bit of sauce is okay for me but you can order the hollandaise on the side if you haven't tested it yet/aren't sure), with potatoes seasoned with salt and pepper and garnished with the green tips of spring onions.

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

Dessert - a GF chocolate chip cookie (luckily I don't have lactose intolerance).

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 FM-emergency 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 road tripping!