I will be doing a series of FAQ articles as I am asked various different questions. But let’s start with two that worry many of us.
What about chocolate? Is it low or high FODMAP?
Unfortunately, the FODMAP research centre at Monash University, the foremost research centre of FODMAPs in the world, has just tested cocoa. We can have 3 heaped teaspoons of cocoa before it becomes high Fodmap, which is not a lot if we are contemplating a chocolate brownie. After scraping myself off the ground and I could think rationally, I realised that I have always known this. I used to never buy chocolate for myself but if someone bought me a box, I would eat it all in one sitting or until I felt sick. And then I would feel like a dog for hours. I have since learned that we often crave the foods that we are intolerant or allergic to and I certainly could never stop eating chocolates once they were put in front of me, even though I knew they would make me feel sick. That was a kind of addiction, I guess. All or nothing. I remember one year our boss bought us a basket each of Easter eggs, of all different sizes and types. The other workers took their baskets home. I had none left to take home.
We been told that we can eat 4-5 squares of very dark chocolate only though I would keep it under that. Chocolate has the added problem of containing sugar and also fat. And fat is an irritant for those with IBS, and sugar in anything but small quantities is not good for those with fructose intolerance. Because of my diagnosis, and the resultant improvement in my digestive health and therefore in my life as a whole, I have developed incredibly strong willpower where the foods that hurt me are concerned. I occasionally still slip up but I do it knowing that I will suffer and I have no one to blame but myself.
What part does stress play in all this?
Stress is a huge influence on how your digestive system works. I am not a medical expert so I can’t explain all the ins and outs of why this is but I know from experience that I can be doing everything right but I still get some issues on particular days. We have all felt ‘butterflies’ in the stomach – well, that is caused by stress and anxiety. And those ‘butterflies’ are causing problems, especially for those with irritable bowel syndrome. Stress is a normal part of life and is a part of the “fight or flight” instinct to various potentially dangerous situations. Without that sort of stress, we wouldn’t make the sensible choice to live and not die as well as we do now. But most of the stress we feel in modern life is, to a large degree, self-induced. We take on more projects than we can realistically manage. We say yes when we should say no to demands on our time. And then we can’t get it all done and we beat ourselves up about that, and so add more stress. You know that slightly out of control, on the verge of panic, feeling you get several times a day. That is stress and it is not good for our mental or physical health. It keeps us in a constant state of alert, which is fine for short spurts but detrimental for any length of time. It keeps adrenaline running around our bodies constantly and that will eventually cause major health problems. For those of us with FODMAP intolerance, this stress creates the additional problem of causing our digestive system to behave as if we have eaten a bowl of onions (fructans) or honey (fructose)
How do we deal with this? My specialist says meditation, massages, yoga. And she is right – these are things we should all be doing, if we had the time. But we don’t have the time because we are so stressed out doing all the stuff we think we should be doing. So, I think we start by cleaning shop and clearing away all the junk that stops us from focusing on what is important. A great way to think about it is – will it matter in ten years’ time? Will it matter when you are on your death bed? Will you wish you had kept a cleaner house? Will that trivial matter that has you so uptight be something you remember tomorrow let alone on your death bed? Or will you wish you had spent more time actually with your kids, not just around them? Will you wish you had given up that dead end job with the unpleasant boss before it beat you into the ground and you lost all your self-confidence? Will you wish you had taken that chance and changed your life instead of hoping something good would happen despite your passiveness? Or will you slide towards death all used up with awesomeness, having given your all to the people that mattered while kicking aside the petty trivia of everyday life which gets you nowhere? I believe if you know what is important and focus on that, the rest falls away and so does the stress. Easier said than done? Maybe, but it’s worth a try.
This is the Monash University research website, where they have announced their findings. It says that 3 teaspoons of cocoa is fine, which to me means that if you go above that you are into risky territory and many chocolate baked goods would probably contain more than that per piece. So, again it is about portion control.