If you have IBS, the thought of going to a restaurant probably fills you with anxiety. Where should you go? What should you order? Where are the bathrooms? What if I have a flare?
But with careful planning, you can make your restaurant experience pleasant – even with IBS.
This article will help you navigate how to eat low FODMAP at restaurants, avoid other food triggers when eating out, manage non-food triggers, and help shift your mindset to actually enjoy your dining experience.
So read on my gut-sensitive friends… and start planning your next outing.
*This article includes affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Planning Your Low FODMAP Restaurant Experience
When you have IBS, it can be helpful to prepare ahead of time if you are going out to a restaurant. Having a plan can help you avoid triggers, prevent flares, minimize symptoms, and ease your mind.
What does having a plan look like?
Before You Go
Don’t stress! Seriously – that can be a trigger. But I get it, sometimes it’s hard to shut down that stress response.
Ease your mind by doing some research before you go out to eat. There are some things you can do before you get to the restaurant that can make for a more successful dining experience.
Decide Where to Eat
Unfortunately, to my knowledge – there is no such thing as a low FODMAP restaurant. But, you can decide where to eat based on a restaurant’s menu, past experiences, bathroom situation, and possibly the restaurant’s proximity to home.
Of course, deciding where to eat is easiest if you are dining alone. But if you are dining with others and feel comfortable with your dining partners, you can tell them you have IBS and that certain foods are triggers for you. They may be open to a restaurant with more IBS-friendly options.
If your dining partners are work colleagues, new friends, a first date… you might not be ready to tell them all about your bathroom troubles. But you can simply tell them you have some food sensitivities. And ask to help decide where to eat.
A few tips for choosing a restaurant:
- Look for a restaurant that offers gluten-free items. Since gluten-free bread and pasta also tend to be lower in FODMAPs, these restaurants may have more options for you. And they might be more likely to cater to other needs.
- Choose a restaurant that makes most of its food from scratch. The chef is more likely to be able to customize your order.
Check Out the Menu
Nowadays, most restaurants have a website, a Facebook page, and/or a scanned menu on some review website that you can look at to get an idea of what options they have.
A review of menus ahead of time can help with the above decision on where to eat. And of course, it can help you decrease the time it takes at the restaurant to decide what to eat.
Unfortunately, you can’t always tell what exactly is in a dish just from the name, photo, or short description. But it can give you a starting point. From there you can think about what questions you will need to ask your server (more on this to come).
Pick an entrée that might work, with or without modifications. Then pick a backup plan (or two) if they don’t have the entrée you thought you would get. Or if you discover that your chosen meal does in fact contain ingredients that you do not tolerate.
Calling ahead to ask questions about the menu can prevent awkward moments, long ordering times, and, most importantly, flares! Try calling during non-peak hours to ask a server, manager, or chef how they might be able to accommodate your needs.
Did you know that when you Google a restaurant there is often a section that shows the most popular times? Scroll down past the restaurant’s basic information and pictures. Right above the reviews is often a section called “Popular Times”.
That’s right. If you are feeling anxious about eating out, work on your mindset and take a moment to minimize stress. Anxiety will make the dining experience less enjoyable and may actually trigger those symptoms you are trying to avoid. I know this is easier said than done.
That’s why we recommend practicing stress management techniques regularly. These may include techniques like breathwork, yoga, meditation, or gut-directed hypnotherapy.
Practice regularly, even when you are not feeling stressed. This teaches your body how to respond to these techniques in times of need, taking you out of that flight and fight mode and into rest and digest.
Bring Your Own
It doesn’t hurt to bring along a snack that you know you tolerate. That way if you can’t find something suitable on the menu you still have something you can nibble on. Most restaurants are cool with it if explain why – you can even tell a little white lie and say you have multiple food allergies.
At The Restaurant
Review the Menu
Review the menu. Again. Even if you looked at the menu online, there may be some differences in the actual menu offered at the restaurant. So look it over again.
In some instances, this might be the first time you get to see the menu. A few ways to speed up the decision-making process are to glance at the categories.
- Under sandwiches, do they offer gluten-free bread? Or sourdough?
- Are there burgers that might be good without a bun?
- Under entrees, is gluten-free pasta available? Or meat and potato meals?
- Do they offer salads or rice bowls that can be easily modified?
- Do they offer ala carte options for sides?
- Are there any suitable appetizers that could be eaten as an entrée?
Scan the menu for the most suitable options, then be prepared to ask some questions.
See a sandwich that looks good, but the menu doesn’t mention gluten-free bread? Ask!
Not sure what’s in the sauce? Ask!
Wondering if they can hold the onions on the tacos? Ask!
Seriously! Servers are accustomed to answering questions. Go ahead and give them some of the specifics on what you can or can’t eat. A really good server may take the time to go through the menu with you.
In fact, one time while eating at a bar, I asked the server if he knew what was in the salad dressing – he didn’t know. But you know what he did? He set the big ole jar of dressing on the countertop and I was able to review the ingredients myself! Don’t be shy!
Sometimes the server will not know the answer to your question. In these cases, you can ask them to pass your question along to the chef. But if you find that you are having trouble getting your questions answered, you may have to just make your own best-educated guess.
Tips for Ordering Low FODMAP at A Restaurant
- Look for simple meals. Meat and potato options can work well. Ask them if they can prepare the meat without seasonings or with just salt and pepper. Mixed dishes are harder to modify.
- Look for gluten-free or sourdough bread. Many gluten-free breads are low-FODMAP. And so is authentic sourdough (ask them if they make it in-house or get it from a local bakery). Or go low carb and skip the bread. Check out this article for more on low FODMAP bread.
- Request a lettuce wrap instead of a tortilla wrap.
- Choose a lettuce salad. Salads are easier to modify than many dishes. Ask for the toppings you want, and omit the ones you don’t tolerate. Ask for oil and vinegar if a suitable dressing is not available.
- Ask for substitutions. Some restaurants may allow you to swap out that side of asparagus for green beans instead.
- If possible, hold the sauce. Sometimes the ingredients in a dish appear to be low FODMAP but the sauce is questionable. You may be able to hold the sauce or ask for a substitute like a small amount of plain mayonnaise.
- Order breakfast. Eggs, bacon, and potatoes are low FODMAP – assuming there aren’t a lot of added seasonings.
- Cheat a little (gasp!). For many, it’s not the end of the world if you end up eating some FODMAPs at this one meal. Do your best to avoid some of the major sources of FODMAPs like wheat, onions, and garlic. Stick to small portions and make note of what you ate. Then monitor your symptoms – you may learn something from your “cheat”.
Certain enzymes may be helpful for breaking down FODMAPs. They can be especially useful when you have less control over what you are eating.
But don’t just reach for that random product you saw on social media. Many products marketed as “digestive enzymes” do nothing for FODMAPs.
Protease, for example, breaks down proteins. While lipase breaks down fats. FODMAPs are carbohydrates.
The enzymes that may help with FODMAPs are:
- Lactase for lactose (dairy)
- Alpha-galactosidase for galactooligosaccharides (ex: beans, lentils)
- Fructan hydrolase for fructans (ex: onions, garlic, wheat)
- Xylose isomerase for fructose (ex: honey, mango, red peppers)
Unfortunately, there are no enzymes currently available that help with the breakdown of polyols – though at least one company is working on this.
Be sure to check the ingredients on any enzyme product you consider. Some contain high FODMAP sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol).
FODZYME is an enzyme product that is targeted to breakdown lactose, GOS, and fructans. Their convenient single serve packets are perfect for stashing in your purse or pocket, making it easy to take along when you dine out.
I’ll admit, FODZYME is expensive. But if used strategically (like when you eat at a restaurant), it can last a long time. Save 10% by using my affiliate link or use code GUTHEALTHANDNUTRITION.
Potential Non-FODMAP Triggers
FODMAPs are not the only IBS triggers that can show up on the table at a restaurant. Here are some non-FODMAP triggers to be aware of.
Portion sizes at restaurants tend to be large. Huge, even. Don’t be tempted to clean your plate if the portions are more than you are used to eating.
Eating too much can make anyone uncomfortable. If you have IBS, you may be more prone to experience bloating and pain after overeating.
Plus, large meals can stimulate the gastrocolic reflex. This reflex sends a signal to your colon that it’s time to make room for more food. This can result in the need to have a bowel movement. If you have IBS-D, you can see why this might be a problem. Especially if you are away from home!
Fat is a common trigger for IBS. For this reason, it may be wise to skip fried foods when you are eating out. However, not everyone reacts the same so if you know those French fries are not a problem for you (after all they are low FODMAP), go ahead and have some.
The amount of fat that is troublesome will vary from one person to another. You may have symptoms if you eat a whole order of fries, but be fine if you eat just a few. And yet your friend who also has IBS might be able to eat all the fried foods, with no problems.
When it comes to fat, it’s not just fried foods. Keep the fat content in mind for other rich foods, like cream sauces, indulgent desserts, heavy use of butter, or fatty cuts of meat – sorry prime rib lovers.
Yep, you guessed it. Spicy foods can be a trigger too. The capsaicin in hot peppers can trigger symptoms for those with IBS. Different peppers have varying amounts of capsaicin. But generally, the hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin, and the bigger the problem.
Alcohol is a gut irritant and another common trigger for IBS. As with most things IBS, the amount that causes symptoms varies. Some people can’t even have a sip, while others are ok with a couple of drinks.
If you choose to have an alcoholic beverage while dining out, you may want to choose one lower in alcohol and FODMAPSs. Check out this article on Alcohol and IBS to learn more.
Mocktails can be an easier-on-the-gut alternative that makes you feel like you are partaking in an adult beverage. And they are popping up in more restaurants across the country. But be careful of the mixers used. Not all are FODMAP-friendly.
Caffeine can also send you running for the bathroom if you have IBS. Experiment with your limits on caffeine at home to eliminate surprises when you are out.
And if you splurge on a specialty coffee drink, look out for high FODMAP additions like milk, cream, or syrups which may be high in fructose or sugar alcohols. Sometimes – but not always – decaf coffee is easier on the gut.
And remember that coffee is not the only source of caffeine – tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate are other sources to watch out for.
Low FODMAP Restaurant Options
A simple breakfast can be a good option when eating out on a low-FODMAP diet. And some restaurants offer breakfast all day! Breakfast for dinner, anyone?
Eggs, bacon, and ham can be good choices. Though note that there are a few brands of bacon and ham that contain high FODMAP ingredients. Hashbrowns or diced potatoes can be a nice side if there are no high-FODMAP seasonings.
An omelet is easy to customize to include only low-FODMAP ingredients. Ask if they have a side of authentic sourdough or gluten-free toast. Or add a side of low-FODMAP fruit such as orange slices, cantaloupe, pineapple, kiwi, or blueberries.
If gluten-free pancakes are on the menu you’ve got the green light. But be careful what you top it with. Go with real maple syrup if available – the fake stuff may contain high fructose corn syrup. Or smear your pancake with peanut butter. The same goes for gluten-free waffles.
Oatmeal can be another safe option -ask for oatmeal cooked with water instead of milk (or almond milk if available). And make sure any toppings are low FODMAP. Blueberries, a few strawberries, walnuts, real maple syrup, or brown sugar are some good options. Even raisins are acceptable if limited to 1 tablespoon.
A plain hamburger or cheeseburger on a gluten-free bun is a classic option. Or skip the bun and eat it with a fork. You may top your burger with lettuce, tomato slices, pickles, bacon, or even an egg. Limit ketchup to no more than 2 tablespoons.
Ask your server if their burgers have any seasonings, onions, or garlic mixed into the patties. If the restaurant makes hand-made patties they may be able to make you a plain burger.
If the restaurant offers authentic sourdough bread (usually sourced from a local bakery), many sandwiches may be an option. This is also true if gluten-free bread is offered.
Be sure to ask questions about the meat and sauces to make sure they don’t contain high FODMAP ingredients like onions or garlic. A BLT is a classic option that could work with the right bread.
Classic Meat and Potatoes
Most unprocessed meats like steak, chicken, or porkchops are good options. But ask for unmarinated meat. Avoid seasoning that contains garlic or onion. A good bet is to just ask for it to be seasoned with salt and pepper.
Sides like a baked potato, potato wedges, French fries (if you tolerate fat), rice, and low-FODMAP vegetables like carrots, parsnips, or green beans are good choices. But again, ask about any seasonings or sauces. Or opt for a side salad.
Speaking of salads – whether a side salad or a dinner salad, they can be easily modified to your needs. Add some protein like boiled eggs, plain chicken, salmon, shrimp, or tofu. Top with low-FODMAP vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, a few tomato slices, and bell peppers. Watch out for toppings like onions, dried fruits, apples, and croutons.
Ask for oil and vinegar if a low-FODMAP salad dressing is not available. Or bring your own low FODMAP dressing like FODY Foods dressings or these portable 4-ounce bottles from Casa De Sante.
Pasta can be a tricky option when you are eating out. Even if gluten-free pasta is available, the sauces are often loaded with garlic and onions. But sometimes you can get around this by asking for something super simple.
Request gluten-free pasta tossed with olive oil, fresh herbs, and parmesan cheese. Top with a grilled chicken breast, salmon, or shrimp. If they are willing to go the extra mile you could even ask them to toss in some fresh diced tomatoes or spinach.
Believe it or not, pizza can be a decent low-FODMAP option. After all, they are used to customizing their pies.
Many pizza places offer a gluten-free crust (skip the cauliflower crust). If you can find a place that uses fermented sourdough for the crust that is also allowed and absolutely amazing!
And while pizza sauce might not be a great option (hello onions and garlic), you could ask that your pizza just be brushed with olive oil.
Low FODMAP pizza toppings include:
- Cheese: mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan
- Canned button mushrooms – avoid fresh
- Bell peppers
- Jalapeno peppers, if you tolerate spice
- Black and green olives
- Bacon or ham – note that some products do contain FODMAP ingredients
- Ground beef
- Chicken – ask about seasoning
Miss that garlic flavor? If you ordered your pizza to eat at home grab your bottle of garlic-infused olive oil and drizzle a little on top!
Mexican and Tex-Mex
Many dishes contain onions and garlic, but there may be some options that can be made low FODMAP.
Want tacos or quesadillas? Go for corn tortillas and ask if the meat can be seasoned with just salt and pepper (maybe a little paprika or cumin). Skip the onions. Go for toppings like lettuce, diced tomatoes, jalapenos if tolerated, and cilantro.
Do they offer salads? You may be able to modify the toppings to make it low FODMAP. Same goes for nachos.
You may be able to get fajitas cooked to order – ask for unmarinated steak or chicken, no onions. And again, use corn tortillas.
Skip the guacamole, but you can have a few slices of avocado. Want a dollop of sour cream? No problem! Just limit to 2 tablespoons.
Sorry, no refried beans. But you may be able to have a side of rice depending on the seasoning used.
Salsa should be limited to 2 tablespoons. If they make their own pico de gallo, they may be able to just give you some of the ingredients – chopped tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, and lime wedges.
Asian food can be tricky as there are many mixed dishes that are harder to customize, and many contain garlic and onions. Asking questions about how foods are prepared and whether they can be modified is important.
You can reduce your FODMAP intake by opting for rice or rice noodle dishes. Avoid anything with obvious large amounts of onion or garlic.
Spring rolls made with rice paper can be a good choice, but be careful of the dipping sauce. Pad Thai may be an option if garlic can be omitted. Fried rice can work if there are no onions.
Restaurants may be able to cook up some plain meat, fish, or tofu served with rice, broccoli or green beans, and some soy sauce if you cannot find an option that works.
Sushi can be a great option when dining out on a low-FODMAP diet. Nigri is a good option at a sushi restaurant as it is typically a mound of sushi rice and a piece of fish or seafood. Simple and oh-so-good. If you like raw fish, that is.
Sushi rolls are another good choice – just try to limit high-FODMAP ingredients like avocado (ok in small amounts, up to ¼ an avocado). And watch out for sauces or marinades that may contain onion or garlic.
Also, watch out for tempura which means it has been battered and fried and contains wheat. This might not be a problem if just consuming a small amount.
Wasabi paste should be avoided as it contains sorbitol. You may dip your sushi in soy sauce – up to 2 tablespoons is low FODMAP. And go ahead and have a bit of pickled ginger in between.
Like sushi, other forms of seafood can work well on a low-FODMAP diet. Many seafood dishes are pretty basic. Go for simple dishes like salmon, cod, shrimp, or seared scallops with low FODMAP sides.
Skip the fancy sauces and ask for basic seasonings like salt and pepper or a handful of fresh herbs if available. Plain melted butter is a-okay but skip the temptation of garlic butter.
Avoid mixed dishes with complex ingredients. These are harder to customize. And if you are sensitive to fats, stay away from fried shrimp or calamari.
Low FODMAP Fast Food
Fast food and chain restaurants often have detailed menus on their websites. In fact, some restaurants even list the ingredients of every menu item, including condiments. It can be tricky to find but is often under the menu with a link that says “nutrition information”, “ingredients”, or “allergies”.
The most common high-FODMAP ingredients in fast food are wheat, onions, garlic, and high fructose corn syrup. “Natural flavors” may or may not contain FODMAPs – monitor your symptoms if you choose an item with natural flavors in the ingredients.
Not sure if an ingredient is high or low FODMAP? The Monash University Low FODMAP app is my go-to to check the FODMAP content of foods. Though not all foods have been tested, so there are still going to be some unknowns.
Some fast-food options that may be low FODMAP include:
- A plain hamburger or cheeseburger, no bun. You may bring your own gluten-free bun or go low-carb.
- Grilled chicken sandwich, again minus the bun.
- French fries (salted is ok, but avoid seasoned).
- Baked potato with butter and a small portion of sour cream (hello, Wendy’s).
- Sandwiches on gluten-free bread with plain deli meat, low FODMAP veggies like lettuce and tomatoes, mayo or oil and vinegar.
- Salads with plain chicken or deli meat, low FDOMAP toppings. Skip the croutons. Oil and vinegar if available, or bring some low FODMAP dressing with you.
Final Tips for Eating Out with IBS
Eating at a restaurant can be stressful if you have IBS, but with some planning, it can be a manageable and hopefully enjoyable activity.
You might not be able to control every aspect of your dining experience but take charge of whatever you can. This may include deciding on the restaurant, reviewing the menu ahead of time, calling ahead to ask questions, and taking a moment to work on your mindset.
It can be helpful to learn your IBS triggers, whether food related or not. Working with a registered dietitian who is well-versed in everything IBS can help unveil your triggers and increase your confidence in dining out with IBS.
One final tip before you go – dress comfortably. Squeezing into a tight pair of pants to try to conceal the bloat can make your symptoms worse. Opt for loose fitting clothing instead.
Now take what you’ve learned and go have a meal at that restaurant you’ve been dying to try. Start by going solo or with a dining partner you are comfortable with. Relax and enjoy!
Got any additional tips that might help a fellow reader? Drop them in the comments below!
Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.