Despite my earlier post detailing the finest pizzas and gelato and cheesecakes in Florence, I must confess those magnificent meals were not indicative of my daily diet. They were naughty, delicious pit stops on a food journey through Italy that was primarily – gasp! – lactose, wheat, gluten and fructose free, and where possible, low in FODMAPs.
Oh no no no, it’s not for any special reason, I just like to make life hard for myself! No: since the start of the year I’ve been sorting out some longstanding gut issues, (I thank Gut, the brilliant book by Giulia Enders for finally urging me to do so; also recommend Brain Maker by David Perlmutter, he of Grain Brain fame) and my gut guy (technical title) recommended I go on the low FODMAP diet to fix them.
At first I was miserable, and confused, hungry and extremely hangry, and then, after time, I figured out what I could eat, and what upset my tum, and how to cook without onion and garlic, and now it’s just a way of life. (Except that it isn’t, because it’s not a forever-diet, it’s a highly restrictive, temporary diet while your gut heals and then you begin re-introducing the problem foods back in. But you know what I mean.)
I feel much better for it, and so armed with a slew of supplements (oregano oil, Bactrex, digestive enzymes… sing if you know the words) I headed to the land of wheat, cheese and fruit.
But here’s what I discovered. You can still eat well and not feel like you are missing out in Italy, even if you have malabsorption issues, or intolerances, are vegan, or have full-blown allergies. The Italians are incredibly progressive in this area, in fact; no one blinks when you make a special request. Except for that one time I asked for Nutella on my omelette.
I’m not sick, it’s a dietary preference, and I am the furthest thing from an expert on this, but here’s what I learned:
Gluten free will set you free.
I was stunned, in a really cute, greedy, oh-man-I-can-still-eat-spaghetti-every-night, way, at how many restaurants offered gluten free pizza and pasta options. That’s because despite being a nation whose two main food groups are pizza and pasta, the Italians understand that not every body (literally) can process gluten, so they offer (really, really good, non stodgy) GF alternatives. (Side note: Low FODMAP doesn’t mean GF, but it’s fairly common to skip the gluten as well as the Oligosaccharide-containing wheat/barley etc in the low FODMAP plan.) Celiacs even receive gluten-free food vouchers of up to 150 euro per month! Incredible. I was easily able to find gluten free snacks, crackers and cereals to snack on everywhere, even in tiny minimarkets, and it wasn’t relegated to a special section: it was just there, with all the other stuff, almost as if it was… real food. And while pizza and pasta dominate menus, there are plenty of GF options like bresaola, caprese, parmesan pasta, (aged cheese and buffalo are low FODMAP/low in lactose), seafood, chicken, fish, etc etc