22 April 2012

My Angry Stomach: an update

Cooking in Tonga with a sensitive stomach is sometimes an exercise in creativity. Fresh food is seasonal, starches other than root crops and bread are unusual, and good quality meat of any kind is particularly hard to get. Since I developed stomach problems last year and discovered it was IBS, I've honed my list of "safe," "somewhat safe," and "not safe" foods. I was surprised at how many people have IBS, and while what I've learned doesn't work for some, it's at least a good place to start.

A digestive system with IBS cannot process "short chain fermentable carbohydrates," which happen to be in a surprising number of foods. Wheat (not gluten) is a big source of these. Milk (lactose is a short chain fermentable carb) is another. But then there are also foods like tomatoes, cabbage, papaya, coconut milk, honey, and certain kinds of beans that have a high content of these indigestible carbs. The only food group that is completely safe is meats; red meat, chicken, fish, sea food, and eggs are fine in any quantity.
The good news is that a stomach with IBS is like a glass of water: it can actually have a certain amount of these short chain fermentable carbohydrates until it says ENOUGH! and rebels against me. The glass slowly empties over time, which means that if I have a slice of bread in the morning, a small portion of cabbage with lunch, and tomato sauce with dinner, I'm useless by the evening because it all adds up over the day. 
This also quite wonderfully means that I never have to ask for special meals when eating at someone else's house or eating out; I hate putting people through that trouble, and I can enjoy whatever the meal is as long as I've eaten "safe" foods for the rest of the day. I can fill up the glass all at once, so to speak. IBS is also significantly triggered by stress, so exercise and trying my best (but sometimes failing) to keep a relatively relaxed schedule helps too.
The biggest change was what to eat in the mornings- almost every breakfast food has either wheat or milk in it! Yoghurt (with its live cultures) is very good for IBS, so we make that regularly, and I just discovered how to make oat milk at home, which tastes a little like soy milk. For special breakfasts, Mark makes some amazing wheat-free pancakes. 
Just because we're proud of it, here's our version of wheat-free (never thought I'd be one to follow that fashionable craze), dairy-free pancakes that are good enough to have even if you can eat those things:

1 egg
1 Tb virgin coconut oil (the Tonga National Youth Congress has just started making it!) or olive oil
1 C water, more or less
Mix above ingredients together, add:
1 C oats
2/3 C rice flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Cook like normal pancakes. Since we have no maple syrup, we eat them with Mark's delicious guava paste and yoghurt. Several times a week. 
With a little creativity, I've been able to eat very well over the past year, and enjoy Tonga's variety of delicious fruits and veggies.

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