Coconut Milk

I’m always surprised at the amazing things a manufacturer can throw in a simple food product.  When I’m trying to compare oranges to oranges, it seems they are doing their best to throw in some apples.  This week I had coconut milk on my grocery list and thought I’d take the time to compare a few brands.

3 types coconut milkI picked up all three brands at my local Safeway.  The Tosca brand of coconut milk cost $2.99, the Compliments brand cost $1.79, and the Thai Kitchen brand was $3.49, so there was a considerable price difference between the three.

Not surprisingly, the Thai Kitchen brand, though it was the most expensive, was the purest product.  As you can see on the label, just three ingredients.

thai coconut milk ingredientsThe product at the next price level was the Tosca.  Besides good old water, it also contains some of my favorite scrabble words:  Potassium Meta bisulphate and polysorbate 60.

tosca coconut milk ingFinally, at the lowest price, the Complements brand contains carboxmethyl cellulose, along with the polysorbate 60.

compliments Coconut milk ingredientNow, I find that living on a low FODMAP diet is challenging enough – squinting at labels to see if they contain things like honey, onion or apple is quite enough effort thank you.  I don’t really want to become fluent with ingredient names like carboxymethyl or polysorbate.  A food product should be just that.

I will take the time to do a taste test on these three products, though. I’ll just make sure that the two products with ‘mystery ingredients’ will be used on an evening when I know that the following day I can wear my ‘bloat pants’.

I’m sure there are many other brands of coconut milk on the shelves, with many other additives that may or may not be pronounceable.  I’m also sure that the manufacturers will say that these additives are totally safe.  But living with IBS and a few food intolerances has taught me that a body is very sensitive to what we put into it and sometimes it’s difficult to determine what side effect is caused by what item we’ve put into our mouth.

It will probably be a while before manufacturers start to label products as ‘low FODMAP’, so in the meantime, I think I’ll stick to the products that are the purest.  Even though Thai kitchen is the most expensive, it’s probably what I’ll reach for first.

Why not food lables for FODMAPs?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how far I’ve come in the year I’ve been on the FODMAP diet.  This time last year, I was a real mess – I remember clearly thinking ‘just shoot me’, when I thought about living the rest of my life with the pain and diarrhea and exhaustion.  I credit the FODMAP diet with giving me my health and life back – I’ve been able to make great progress in all aspects of my Manifesto!  One thing I haven’t really addressed is point number 5:  I want to be prepared for the future.  Why not look at food labels for FODMAPs?

As I see myself ageing, I see myself having difficulty managing a FODMAP diet.  Already, trying to read itty bitty ingredient lists (hello Campbell’s soup), on the sides of food products can be a challenge, never mind the likely eventuality of ending up in a Seniors Residence, dependant on others to cook for me.  Will they know what food products are FODMAP friendly?  Why not IBS food labels for FODMAPs?

 

FODMAP labeling
FODMAP labeling

I think it’s time I started doing my small bit to try and make some changes.  I see in Australia that some enterprising souls have set up the FODMAP.com website, which encourages food companies to identify their products as being FODMAP friendly.  I contacted them and this is what they tell me:

“Nice to hear from you, we are based in Australia but we have already had Fodmap
Friendly Certification approved in all countries including Canada.
We are currently just launching worldwide so at this stage no specific organisation in
Canada at this stage but hopefully soon the food manufacturers will get on board
and assist all those people who have difficulty in finding food they can eat
throughout the supermarket. This will make their lives so much easier.”

I think I’m going to try and do my bit to see if I can get food processing companies in Canada/North America thinking about utilizing the FODMAP friendly label.

To start, I’ve picked three food products (that I’ve mentioned on one of my previous Top 10 lists), and I’m going to write the companies with the following message:

I am writing to you to express how very much I enjoy your product.

I discovered this product after I began to follow a low FODMAP diet.  FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols (google it for more information) – the idea is that foods that are high in FODMAPs cause great digestive discomfort (gas, bloating, diarrhea) for many people, including people suffering from IBS.

These fermentable sugars are in many, many foods (honey, garlic, apples, among many others), and it is difficult to find prepared foods that are free (or low) in these ingredients.  That’s why I was so please to find your product: it is now on my grocery list nearly every week.

The FODMAP diet is gaining in awareness and is an effective way to battle IBS.  Many people are learning about the diet, but most find it difficult to follow because there are so few food products clearly labelled.  I would ask that you consider labelling your products so that we can more easily locate and purchase foods that we can eat.  Australia has a FODMAP labelling program already in place, and it is approved for use in Canada.  You can check out their website fodmap.com, to learn more about this program.

The three products I’ve chosen to start with are:

  • Earth Balance Vegan cooking and baking sticks (www.earthbalancenatural.com)
  • Betty Crocker gluten free cake mix (www.askus.bettycrocker.ca)
  • Aylmer Accents fire roasted tomatoes (www.aylmertomatoes.ca)
Three products I'm going to contact.
Three products I’m going to contact.

I’d love it if you joined me on this project – either by contacting the above companies too, or by contacting the companies whose products you use on a regular basis.

Let me know what you hear back…

 

My Journey, Part 1

So where did my IBS adventure start?   

 I started developing symptoms about 2 years ago (it seems much, much longer than that).  At first I thought I had a stomach flu that just wouldn’t go away!!  I was truly miserable.  I soiled my pants.  Running to the bathroom became an awful sporting event.  As you probably know from your own experiences, feelings of anger, sadness and desperation all take turns in your head. 

Then it tweaked on me that dairy might be the problem.  I made this discovery while I was on vacation –  I don’t eat very well on vacation: wine instead of milk, a snack of fries instead of yogurt, you get the gist… 

Once I discovered what was giving me trouble, I had to decide what to do next.  I had many, many worries.  What if there is something really wrong with me?  How can yogurt possibly be bad for me?  How can I live the rest of my life without dairy?  Is that even possible? 

My biggest fear was wondering what could be causing this.  Peoples stomachs just don’t suddenly start disliking certain foods, do they? 

I met with my Doctor, and she assured me that yes, stomachs sometimes suddenly do just that.  She thought it would be a good idea for me to have a couple of tests to make sure there wasn’t something structurally wrong with me, and so a stool sample as well as a colonoscopy with biopsies were arranged.   

Let me be the first to tell you, these are very, very fun tests to take.  If you have any sense of pride and modesty, just take a deep breath and learn to love your wild side. 

 On the bright side, everything came back clean.  I was healthy!!  (insert maniacal laughter here). 

So, all that was left for me to do, was to remove dairy completely from my diet.  This was a pretty big change for me,  and besides being irrationally irritated at the thought of life without cheese I also had a worry about long-term consequences.  My mother has osteoporosis, so cutting dairy out of my diet probably wouldn’t be good for me, right?  

I was feeling pretty low at this point.  It seemed that my life was turning into a life of denial.  Not that I was a big glutton before, but it’s always unpleasant to have options taken away from you.  

My next stop was to a Registered Dietitian.  This was a really positive experience, partly because of a lucky coincidence – she was also lactose intolerant.  She was able to give me lots of pointers:  how to ensure I’m getting enough calcium, how dairy can be disguised on a food label  (who knew there were so many code words for ‘milk’?), and even what sorts of dairy alternatives exist in the grocery store.   

 She wanted me to test for my tolerance for dairy – and I discovered in a rather unpleasant way that just a spoonful of yogurt has nasty consequences for me. 

My Dietitian did suggest trying goats milk cheese –  the protein in goats milk is structurally slightly different than in cows milk.  By now I was terrified of anything dairy, and was reluctant to just give it a try.  I quizzed the folks at my local cheese boutique as well as the cheese stall at my local farmers market.  Once convinced that the two dairy products are in fact quite different I summoned up the courage to try chevre (the word for cheese made from goats milk).  I was thrilled to learn that goats milk is an option for me! 

So, from my Physician I learned I was healthy (ha ha) and from my Registered Dietitian, I learned how to ensure I would get my daily calcium needs met… as well as finding out that my life could go on. 

Once I got dairy out of my diet, I was thrilled to discover side benefits – no more running to the toilet, and (bonus round) no more of those weird  headaches I had been getting for years.

 Yay!

 It was a “cure” (I understood that it wasn’t really a cure) like many others – a cure with a price.  I was pretty angry that I had to give up dairy, and all the foods it hid in.  Chocolate bars will be forever off limits to me.   Here’s my embarrassing confession:  every time I’d see that commercial with happy women saying that my bowel problems would go away if I just ate more yogurt I would go and buy some.  Talk about the power of marketing!!  I’d be too scared to eat it, and always end up throwing it away.  What a terrible waste…

 Yup, a cure with a price.    But I’d take it.