Eating Low FODMAP at a Restaurant
If you've started on a low FODMAP diet, you may be worrying that you can no longer go out to eat. But fear not! With some planning, you can absolutely dine out successfully on a low FODMAP diet!
Your need for planning is going to be a little different if you're in the beginning stages of the diet vs. in the middle of reintroductions vs. on the modified version of the diet. For example, if you're just starting on the diet you likely don't know exactly what your triggers are yet. So when you go out to eat, you'll want to do your best to avoid most high FODMAP foods. If you're past the reintroduction phase, then of course you can just avoid those foods you discovered were triggers for you. If you're in the midst of the reintroduction phase, then I suggest putting it on pause for a few days so the restaurant meal doesn't possibly interfere with your results.
One strategy when going out to eat for dinner is to eat lighter and low FODMAP early in the day, so that you have more room in your "FODMAP bucket" or threshold, later on in the day. Since the effect of FODMAPs is cumulative, that means you might be able to get away with a small amount of higher FODMAP foods later in the day.
In my dining out experiences, restaurants that are a little more upscale vs. fast food, may be more accommodating to the needs of diners with special dietary needs because they want them to be happy, write good reviews, and come back. But I have also found plenty of chain restaurants where my clients have been able to successfully eat low FODMAP, as you will see on the list below. I have experienced that restaurants with gluten free menus and offerings may be more aware and willing to work with food intolerances. I'm a big fan of reading restaurant menus online before I go to ease my anxiety. Even if it's not published on their website, often you can find them in Yelp reviews.
It's also a great idea to call and talk to the chef during non-peak hours (such as between 2-4 pm) to make sure he/she can make something suitable for you. You don't need to get into the gory details of your digestive problems and why you need to be on this diet. But you can say something like "I have some food intolerances that make me ill, so I would like to see if you'd be able to prepare something that is safe for me to eat." You can explain that you don't have food allergies, so cross contamination is not your concern, but that there are certain foods you need to avoid, in particular garlic, onion, mushrooms, asparagus, etc. Be sure to tell the chef some foods you can eat also! It could be good to bring a written list of the major foods you need to avoid as well as ones you can have.
Look, I get it can be embarrassing when you're at the table with six other people and everyone is listening to you order with all of your specifications. No one wants to be "that guy." I've been "that guy" on so many occasions and though it's not super comfortable, I really don't care because it's not worth dying the next day just to preserve my pride (not literally dying but you know what I mean). So I say, stand up for your needs and don't be afraid to do so. The more of us who speak up about food intolerances, the more awareness there will be, and the less weird it will be for all of us!
At any restaurant, you should be able to order grilled or baked meat, chicken or fish with salt, pepper, oil, and herbs, a baked potato with broccoli and cheese, unseasoned salted french fries, grilled, steamed, or roasted veggies with herbs, salt, pepper, butter, or a salad with oil, vinegar, and lemon as a dressing. In general, avoid pre-made sauces, marinades and salad dressings. Stick with simple. Some of the most delicious meals I've ever had were the simplest!
I've heard from various FODMAPPers about certain restaurants that accommodated their low FODMAP diets and these are listed below. There are also some suggestions for specific foods that were recommended there. Please note these are not specific to celiac disease, as gluten cross contamination is a whole other story and requires much more diligence. If you are limiting wheat for FODMAP purposes, you shouldn't have to worry about cross contamination. Please be aware that restaurants do change their menu offerings periodically without notice, so it's always up to you to verify ingredients!
Five Guys: Burger with lettuce wrap instead of bun with unseasoned, salted fries
PF Changs: They do have a gluten free menu here if you need to be completely gluten free! I've found PF Changs in general to be very good about food intolerances and allergies and they usually send a manager out to chat with me to verify my needs. Choose dishes without high FODMAP vegetables and request they make your dish with no garlic or onion. I've enjoyed tofu fried rice here.
Mongolian Grill: You pick all the protein, vegetables, rice and seasonings you want individually and then give it to the chef to stir fry! *Side note, soy sauce is considered low FODMAP in a portion size of 2 tablespoons. The Mongolian Grill locations I've been to didn't have tamari (gluten free soy sauce), so you might bring your own travel packet if you need to use gluten free.
Red Robin's: Burger or grilled chicken, ask for no garlic or onion added, get a gluten free bun (they use Udi's at most of their locations but always verify) or lettuce wrap, and salted fries with no seasoning.
Mod Pizza: Choose a gluten free pizza (not the cauliflower crust) with an olive oil base. Add cheese, safe veggies of your choice (the red peppers are marinated in garlic fyi!), chicken or beef. Mod is awesome cause they actually list their ingredients on their website!
Red Lobster: seafood or steak, grilled low FODMAP veggies, baked potato on the side.
Most Thai Restaurants: Pad See Ew, ask for no onion or garlic, can add carrots for more veggies, watch for FODMAP limit on broccoli. Or you can try Pad Thai. Just ask for no onions, add your choice of protein and peanut sauce.
I hope this post will give you some ideas on how to order low FODMAP at a restaurant. Again, I must reiterate to please verify all ingredients with the restaurant directly.
If you have a favorite restaurant where you have successfully been able to eat low FODMAP, please let me know in the comments!