Two amateur cooks explore the world of cooking for a Crohn's and Colitis diet


We are proud to present Part II of our IBD restaurant guide series!  (To view Part I, click here!)  The average American eats out several times a week, and those with IBD often have a more difficult time choosing IBD-safe foods at restaurants or even finding a restaurant that meets their dietary needs.  In creating the guide, we wanted to provide the “average” IBDer with some practical knowledge of each cuisine, and to give tips on how to navigate a menu and order food when dining and exploring various cuisines.  We hope the guide will become a tool for those with IBD to allow them to make smarter choices.  We also hope to expand it to include additional information (by no means is this guide an exhaustive review of each cuisine!), and in the future we still plan to add more! Feel free to add your own thoughts about the guide, which cuisine you prefer, IBD-friendly restaurants that you recommend, or even certain dishes that you always order because they are “safe” for you.

Download a printable PDF of the entire IBD Guide To Eating Out by clicking here.

Just as a reminder, the guide includes a range of grades ranging from A+ to an F for each of the cuisines.  We based our grading system on the following 5 factors:

1) The food itself
2) The variety of food offered that is generally IBD-friendly
3) The willingness of the chefs to modify dishes to meet certain needs
4) The knowledge of the serving staff
5) The nutritional benefits of the cuisine

We did not use a sophisticated scoring system with percentages, standard deviations, or anything remotely resembling a math equation.  We just used our plain-old noggins to reflect on how each of the five factors contributes to an IBDer’s overall experience at each particular cuisine.

***As we always emphasize, IBD is very individualized; what works for some does not work for others. You might want to try to keep a food journal and see if certain foods affect your symptoms to better judge which restaurants and cuisines work for you.***

***Disclaimer:  Many of these cuisines have been Americanized, and the description I provide for each cuisine is the Americanized version.  Also, the tips contained in this blogpost are for someone who follows a diet similar to Marnina’s – they cannot be generalized to the entire IBD population.  Make sure to follow a diet that works for you.***

VIETNAMESE

Enjoying some vegetarian pho at a local Vietnamese restaurant!

Grade: A-

Vietnamese cuisine is colloquially known as the ‘light cuisine’ of Asia.  The cuisine’s primary staples include rice, noodles, seafood, meat, fruits and vegetables, and fish sauce.  In addition, the Vietnamese use a diverse range of herbs to flavor their dishes, including lemongrass, mint, coriander, ginger, and Thai basil leaves. There is a heavy emphasis placed on fresh vegetables and herbs, and these ingredients are seen in most dishes. Their primary dishes are soups, stir-fries, and seasoned grilled foods served on, or with, rice or noodles.  For the most part, rice and noodles serve as the base of most dishes, and some combination of vegetables, meat, seafood, or tofu is added.

Depending on the type of dish one orders, the vegetables will most likely be raw, boiled, or stir-fried.  If you avoid raw vegetables, stay away from the rice paper rolls (a common appetizer) because they are filled with raw vegetables.  You can instead order the crispy spring rolls because they have cooked vegetables, but be careful because they are fried.

Pho is a very popular soup served in traditional Vietnamese restaurants.  It is a noodle soup with a rich, clear broth made from a long boiling of meat and spices.  Pho is typically served with some combination of spring onions, meat, noodles, and some other vegetables and herbs.  This soup is a perfect comfort food for those with IBD because it is highly modifiable and can be chock full of IBD-friendly ingredients, such as rice noodles and tofu.

Vietnamese cuisine is very IBD-friendly.  The heavy use of white rice and noodles (easy-to-digest carbohydrates), the minimal use of added fats, and the generous use of herbs just seems to soothe the GI tract (especially ginger!).   In addition, the healthy cooking techniques and the abundance of easily digestible cooked vegetables make this cuisine a great option for someone with IBD.

Tips:

  • Order Pho!  All of the ingredients are well-cooked.  Just remember to ask the waiter to omit any type of vegetable that you cannot eat
  • Order a nutritionally balanced plate of noodles or rice, with a protein source and some mixed vegetables
  • Pho generally comes with LOTS of bean sprouts. Don’t forget to ask for them to be omitted if you cannot eat raw vegetables!
  • Be aware of language barriers when trying to ask questions about certain dishes. It may be easier to say that you are allergic to a certain food, just to make it easier on the restaurant staff.
  • Ask questions!

KOREAN

Traditional Korean Yu Bu Cho Bap

Grade: B+

As Marnina and I learned during our venture into Korean cuisine, rice and/or noodles, vegetables, and meat make up the traditional Korean meal.  Commonly used ingredients include sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, and pepper.  Meats or tofu are sometimes added to these dishes.   The basic seasonings make for a relatively salty and spicy meal.

The main dishes are made from grains such as bap (a bowl of rice), juk (porridge), and guksu (noodles). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_cuisine#Dishes).  Soups and stews, kimchi, noodles, and banchan (side dishes), are seen throughout Korean cuisine.  Broth is a vital element in Asian cuisine, and Koreans often use long-simmered beef broth in their soups.  Kimchi is commonly used, which is fermented and pickled cabbage.  Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of banchans that accompany steam-cooked short-grain rice.  From our casual observation, Korean dishes are prepared using numerous different cooking techniques; it is possible to find anything from steamed to grilled to fried that can meet the needs of an IBD patient.

Tips:

  • For those on a low fiber, low roughage diet, limit yourself to either a bowl of rice or noodles with well-cooked tolerated veggies and some lean source of protein
  • Avoid cabbage if cruciferous veggies bother you (cabbage is still loaded with fiber even after being cooked)
  • Opt for steamed, baked, or stewed dishes
  • Be aware of language barriers when trying to ask questions about certain dishes. It may be easier to say that you are allergic to a certain food, just to make it easier on the restaurant staff.
  • Ask questions!

MIDDLE EASTERN

Schwarma is one of our favorite foods!!

Score: B++

Middle Eastern cuisine is a broad term that encompasses a range of cooking styles from a number of different countries – Syrian, Moroccan, Greek, Israeli and the list goes on and on.  The staples are fresh fruits and vegetables, certain grains and red meats, and beans.  Lots of fresh herbs and spices are used to enhance the tastes of the main ingredients.  Common herbs and spices include mint, lemon, garlic, and rosemary.  Middle Eastern cuisine is simply prepared with flavors blending together to form a complex taste.

The grains are mainly rice, kasha, bulgur, and couscous. Bread is a universal staple in the region and it is eaten in one form or another, the most common being pita (our personal favorite!).

Common dishes include plain rice served under grilled meat or with meat/vegetable stews, kibbeh (an Arab dish made of bulgur, minced onions, and ground red meat), schwarma (lamb that has been cooked on a vertical spit and is often eaten with pita bread and other toppings), and kebabs (cubed and grilled meat on skewers, of which there are a wide variety with many regional specialties and styles). For salads, parsley and mint are commonly used as flavorings, and they do well in the ubiquitous Israeli tomato and cucumber salad.  Other commonly used ingredients include olives, honey, sesame seeds, dates, and chickpeas.

Commonly used vegetables include onions, tomato, eggplant, okra, spinach, cabbage, and carrots. Tomato is the most ubiquitous ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine. It is used fresh in a variety of salads, cooked in almost every stew and broth, and grilled with kebab.  Beans are crucial to the diet of the region too, and they are the primary ingredient in falafel, which are beans pureed with spices and herbs, and then fried.  Hummus is a staple food too, and it is made from chickpeas and tahini (sesame paste).

Meze is common throughout the Middle East. It consists of a number of small dishes: cheese, nuts, various salads and dips, such as tabbouleh (bulgur, chopped parsley, tomato, and olive oil) hummus, pickles, and also more substantial items, such as grilled meats and kibbeh.

Tips:

  • A Middle Eastern diet tends to be high in protein (chicken, fish, beef) which is incredibly beneficial to someone with IBD. Take advantage of the protein!
  • Avoid bulgur, lentils and kasha if fiber bothers you, and opt for rice and/or couscous as the base grain for your dish
  • Enjoy the wonderfully flavored red meat in schwarma, kibbeh, and/or kebab, but do not overdo it!  Red meat’s high fat content makes it hard to digest, and can lead to indigestion and stomach pain. Sometimes, you can find chicken or turkey schwarma (which should sit better), so be sure to ask for clarification in a restaurant
  • Middle Eastern food tends to be “healthy.” It generally utilizes large amounts of raw vegetables, sesame seeds, dates and chickpeas. All of these foods would be considered “healthy” for a normal individual. As you may or may not know, living with IBD often means avoiding a lot of what is typically healthy. Just be wary of these raw ingredients when eating Middle Eastern food
  • Enjoy falafel in small quantities – the high fiber content in chickpeas and the oil used to fry the falafel can be a dangerous combination!
  • Middle Eastern food tends to include lots of different types of salads. Make sure to tell the server exactly which salads you want and that you CANNOT eat specific ones
  • Desserts often have crushed nuts (eg. Baklava) – avoid these desserts if you cannot tolerate nuts
  • Ask questions!
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