About 10 years ago I took garlic out of my diet for what I thought was forever. I used to think that garlic was my worst enemy.
Long before I had the motivation and determination to permanently remove other inflammatory foods from my diet such as gluten, sugar and dairy, garlic got all the blame. It was a far easier target.
Now, I can’t believe I did that to myself and I wonder how I ever enjoyed food without it. I can tell you now, I ate many a bland meal. And it wasn’t an easy task. It’s is in everything, right? Asking people to leave it out, on my behalf seemed sacrilege. I’m sure I wasn’t a popular dinner guest.
I should point out, it wasn’t just garlic that copped the chop from my grocery list, onion was eliminated too. And, anything onion-esque, like spring onion, salad onion, purple and white. They all caused me grief. I blew up like a balloon until I felt my insides would tear. Cooked was bad enough, raw was impossible.
FODMAPS brought a world of understanding to my crazy garlic aversion. I felt like finally I had medical science to explain the symptoms. Most comforting was knowing I wasn’t alone in my suffering! Clearly, other people were enduring similar symptoms.
I learned that garlic and onion contain fructans, that’s ‘O’ from the acronym FODMAPS, which stands for oligossaccharides. It’s a bit of a mouthful, (and you needn’t remember it) but it’s helpful to understand what they do and why they can upset digestion and cause pain.
“Garlic contains fructo-oligosaccharides, which are commonly referred to as fructans. Fructans are short-chain carbohydrates and are found in foods like onions, garlic, wheat, rye, barley and artichokes. Humans do not have enzymes to break down fructans, which means they are malabsorbed in the small intestine and then fermented by the gut bacteria, leading to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.” Read more here.
Garlic and onion are big trouble makers with FODMAP malabsorption, but even so, in hindsight, eliminating garlic and onion from my diet wasn’t such a good thing. You see, the FODMAP diet is a temporary diet. I needn’t have left them out for anything like 10 years.
I eat it now. Yay!
The fact that I can now tolerate garlic and onion is testament to my gut healing. These days, I make a point of cooking with one or both every day. Why? Because garlic and onion are far too beneficial to miss out on.
Garlic and onion are prebiotics that are essential for gut health. Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible fibre that cleverly passes through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract undigested. When they reach the colon intact they become food for good gut microbes.
“As prebiotic’s make their way through the stomach without being broken down, they bring about positive changes in the digestive tract and organs – becoming a nutrient source, or ‘fuel’, for the beneficial bacteria that live within your gut”. source
FODMAPS gives them a bad name
Prebiotics are best known as a type of fibre called “oligosaccharides.” Yep, that’s the same term as in the FODMAP acronym (were you paying attention?) and is considered trouble for those with IBS. So, on one hand they can cause digestive pain and on the other, they are essential to gut health. Confusing hey!
Conclusion – to eat or not to eat?
It’s true that eating garlic and onion can cause painful IBS symptoms and it’s recommended to remove them both (and other high FODMAP foods) to get on top of IBS symptoms. But it doesn’t have to be for long! You can slowly reintroduce them as your gut lining heals.
Tips to slowly reintroduce garlic and onion
It is important to note that fructans are water soluble, not oil soluble. Cooking garlic and onion in oil will result in less ingestible fructans than cooking in water. This is good to know when you begin reintroducing garlic and onion after the initial elimination. This article explains how to reintroduce them after elimination.
Now I know why it took me many years of gut healing before I was able to include onion and garlic in broth and slow cooked meals.
Garlic infused oil
If you truly can’t do without that garlic flavour for long, try using garlic infused oil. The garlic flavour transfers into oil but conveniently the fructans stay locked away in the garlic cloves. You can find a simple recipe for garlic infused oil here.
Don’t rush – don’t cook everything in oil and assume you’re safe!
Unfortunately when you cook garlic and onion with other ingredients (think stir-fried veggies) in oil, fructans can leech. Fructans dissolve in any moisture that may develop during cooking. Read more about that here.
Pulling out the garlic and onion?
While not eating actual garlic or onion pieces will reduce your overall FODMAP load, just having them there in the dish in the first place may be enough to cause a reaction in some.
Listening to your body and knowing your tolerance.
Despite lots of healing, I still have to monitor my intake. Every now and then I accidentally eat more than my gut can tolerate and it throws me off for a day or two. It’s usually if I have eaten the raw kind. Fortunately, recovery is not far away these days.
I’d love to hear about your garlic tolerance. Did you also quit garlic?