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LF for Beginners: Reading Food Labels

LF for BeginnersBenny Joy SmithComment

One of the perils of being on the low FODMAP diet is having to constantly read food labels. Argh, it can get so frustrating! What is even more frustrating is having to remember all of the foods that you can't have. Some of the no-no foods are hidden amongst other ingredients and food generalisations which can let you think that what you're eating is okay, but can bring about horrible symptoms later on. It does take time, but eventually you can suss out what is okay and what isn't. To get you started I have compiled a list of 5 things to look out for when studying food labels.


1. Vegetable Powders

This one in particular is super frustrating. Vegetable powders are commonly found in the ingredients list for chips and crackers. 'Vegetable powders' sounds okay, but often includes garlic and onion powders. Because garlic and onion are not considered allergens, the food company is not legally obligated to state them as an ingredient so they often fall under the generalisation of 'vegetable powder'. This is also the case for 'dehydrated vegetables'. I would suggest you avoid all products that contain vegetable powders and dehydrated vegetables, just to be safe.

2. Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are a serious NO on the low FODMAP diet. I have found they cause some bad symptoms in me, and also they are just horrific. I mean seriously, artificial sweetener! What about that sounds healthy? As a general rule, avoid any product that has ingredients ending in 'tol' e.g. mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol. These products include sugar free beverages and most chewing gums.

3. Gluten Free Foods

Gluten free does not mean FODMAP free! It is important to look closely at gluten free food labels, because even though it is more likely to be okay for your system, there are often FODMAPs hidden in them. For example, gluten free cereals often contain dried fruit, commonly apricots and apples, and honey. Although honey is healthy, it is not good for those on a low FODMAP diet because of the high fructose content. Often gluten free food also contains cashew nuts and pistachio nuts, another high FODMAP food. NOTE: Not all foods that aren't gluten free need to be avoided. The gluten in wheat, rye and barley is not the problem for those with IBS, it is the fructans in those foods. So, it is okay to have foods that contain ingredients like wheat glucose syrup, as this is just the glucose from wheat and not the fructose. Also, soy sauce is generally okay in small amounts. I personally have had no issues with soy sauce. 

4. Fruit Juices

Most fruit juices and commercial drinks like smoothies should be avoided. Even juices that look to contain low FODMAP fruits and vegetables often contain an apple or pear base to keep the production cheap. This is also true for beverages like ginger beer/ale, excluding Schweppes Ginger Beer, the only ginger beer I have seen so far that does not contain apple juice. Products like lollies, especially the ones that claim to be natural, often contain fruit juices, specifically apple and pear juice, to sweeten the lollies. This is also common in cereals, jams and some gluten free slices. This is because it is cheaper to substitute some of the more expensive products (e.g. berries) with apple and pear juices. Stupid, I know, but what can you do? 

5. Dairy Products

If you are a lactose malabsorber, it is best to avoid all products that contain a large amount of dairy. There are the obvious products like milk, yogurt, ice cream and cream. But there is also foods like milk chocolate and some gluten free baking (e.g. lemon sour cream cake) that can be problematic. Watch out for milk powder and milk solids in the ingredients lists. Because milk is an allergen, food companies are obligated to state all dairy products in their foods in bold type, so it isn't too difficult to find out whether those foods are okay. Cheese and butter are generally okay in small amounts, because the amount of lactose is lessened due to the fermentation processes. 

I hope this post has helped you begin to understand food labels and how important it is to be vigilant when studying labels. In time, you will be more comfortable with reading labels, but until then don't worry too much, this is a learning experience after all. 

Keep an eye out for next week's Low FODMAP for Beginners post!