So now that you’ve wrapped your head around the complexities of gluten free catering (or, indeed, shuddered and been grateful you don’t have to worry about it), let’s look at catering for those who suffer from fructose malabsorption (sometimes known as fructose intolerance). Coeliac and fructose intolerance are both frequent causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and have similar symptoms – abdominal pain (ranging from mild to severe), diarrhoea, bloating, gas, even throwing up. It can leave you exhausted both from the symptoms and because you’re not absorbing your food properly. It’s much nicer to avoid all of that, if at all possible!
The good news about fructose is that, unlike gluten, cross contamination isn’t usually an issue. So you don’t have to be 100% scrupulous about making sure the wrong foods don’t come into contact with the fructose friendly ones. The bad news is that fructose is, as yet, relatively poorly studied, so the information about fructose load in various foods is a little sketchy. We follow the rule “if in doubt, leave it out”, or if we’re feeling brave and healthy, we will occasionally try a food to see what happens.
My daughter and I are very sensitive to fructose, so this guide is good for those whose tolerance for fructose is very low. Many people with fructose malabsorption will be able to be a little more relaxed about some things.
The first thing you need to wrap your head around is that there is fructose, and there are fructans. Fructans are chains of fructose molecules stuck together, and there is little you can do about them other than avoid them. Foods that are unsafe due to fructans include onions of all kinds (including shallots and spring onions), garlic (although many fructose sensitive people can tolerate a little garlic), wheat, rye, some legumes, artichokes, asparagus, and inulin and fructooligosaccharides (which you will see as ingredients on many processed foods).
Unlike fructans, fructose can, to some extent, be balanced with glucose to make it easier to digest. This is why some fruits are better than others for sufferers, because some fruits have a 50-50 ratio of fructose to glucose.
“Safe” fruits include bananas, citrus, cantalope, pineapple, berries, and tomatoes. These are all ok for us to eat, but only in small quantities. The literature says that grapes are ok, too, but we have found only very small numbers of grapes to be bearable, and I suspect that the ratio varies for different varieties – which makes it very hard to know what is safe!
Unsafe fruits have more fructose than glucose, and include apples, pears, watermelon, mango, honeydew melon, nashi pears and all dried fruits. We can get away with small amounts of these things if we have some glucose at the same time, to balance the fructose.
Safe vegies include cauliflower, spinach, carrots, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, mushrooms, cucumber, sweet corn and peas.
Unsafe vegies include broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, beetroot, chickpeas and artichokes.
Safe grains include rice, buckwheat and quinoa.
As you can see, even if you add the lists together, there are a lot of fruits and vegies not covered. We simply don’t know whether they are safe or not.
Also on the “definitely unsafe” list are coconut cream and coconut milk (although the flesh/fibre is ok, as is coconut oil), honey, fruit juices, sweet wines, foods sweetened with fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar and, of course, fructose and high fructose corn syrup. Once again, all of these can be balanced with glucose, but only in small quantities.
Table sugar, or sucrose, is actually 50-50 glucose and fructose, so it is one of the things we can have, but only in limited quantities. That means we can use sugar or golden syrup in place of honey in many recipes, and fortunately maple syrup is fine, too.
So how do we actually eat on a day to day basis? There is an awful lot of label reading. Because of the need to avoid wheat, there is a high proportion of gluten free foods in our diet, like gluten free breads, biscuits, cereals, and pasta. Not all gluten free foods are safe though, those that include chickpea or besan flour, pea flour, dried fruit, inulin, fructoologosacharides (FOS) or are sweetened with honey or fruit juice concentrate aren’t good.
Even though tomato is ok, we can’t have a lot of it, so I tend not to make tomato based sauces anymore. We use pumpkin a lot, to make meat sauces more sauce-like. We can’t use commercial stocks as they invariably contain onion or onion powder. That is also a problem with many sauces, although there are a few that are safe – notably tamari (gluten free soy sauce) and Chang-brand gluten free oyster sauce. Mayonnaise is often ok (again, subject to careful label reading).
As for herbs and spices, you really need to start being creative to get over the huge reliance western cooking places on onion and garlic. We use a lot of fresh garden herbs like basil, parsley and mint, and quite a lot of ginger, cumin, turmeric and good old salt and pepper. We can also use chili and some curry powders (although the girls aren’t wild about spicy food – notwithstanding the fact that they are both enthusiastic autocondimenters when faced with a pepper grinder!).
So there you have it. Tricky, but not impossible. Of course, combining gluten free, fructose friendly, and my daughter’s reflux triggers gets closer to impossible, but that’s another blog or 20.
Many people who suffer food intolerances are more than happy to bring their own food, so that they can still join in and be social, without inflicting complicated cooking requirements on their friends. We are used to it, and for many of us it worries our hosts much more than it worries us. I often go to restaurants, eat before I go, and just have a coffee, if there is nothing I can eat. Let’s face it, it gives me a better chance of monopolizing the conversation!
If you’re planning to cater for someone with these food problems, it’s always worth talking to them first. Everyone has slightly different tolerances and sensitivities, and the super-sensitive may always choose to bring their own to be on the safe side.
Good luck, and happy cooking!
You might also be interested in my gluten free post