Here at FODMAP Everyday® we strive to show you how much you can enjoy on the low FODMAP diet, so when we met Amy Laura who specializes in the cuisine of the southwest U.S.,we knew we had to introduce her to our low FODMAP community.
The 276 page cookbook is for those dealing with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) featuring Monash University certified low FODMAP 80+ robust, American Southwest recipes designed to calm the symptoms of IBS digestive distress and pain, as well as symptoms associated with; Celiac Disease, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, SIBO and other digestive disorders.
About 1 in 7 people are affected by IBS, and 75% find relief of symptoms through the low FODMAP diet, so we know this book is going to be embraced by many. (Full disclosure: I edited the book and consulted on recipes).
In addition, the recipes are gluten-free and dairy-free, as that is how Amy cooks for herself as an IBS sufferer. Let’s jump in, meet Amy and learn about her approach to chile-forward American Southwest cuisine.
Dédé Wilson: Amy, it has been such a joy working with you on this book. I have been bursting with excitement and knew we had to wait for the official pub-date to do this interview. You and I have shared our IBS woes – in fact we had some remarkably similar experiences early on – and then the low FODMAP diet changed our lives. Let’s start there. It is always helpful to our community members to hear of other’s IBS stories – and be sure to include how you came to the low FODMAP diet.
Amy Laura: First of all I want to thank you for arranging this Q&A, Dédé, because I, too, feel very strongly that when we have a chronic illness and find answers for relief, it’s important to share our stories. It was through reading the stories of IBS sufferers that led me to the low FODMAP Diet and Monash FODMAP Team that saved my life.
Our stories are SO similar! Like you, I’ve cooked and worked in restaurants and have read cookbooks all my life. When I read your story on FODMAP Everyday®, I was nodding my head, “I know how that feels. I did that, too.” Over and over. We hid our conditions and pushed through for decades in search for answers. You and I hit bottom and suffered a collapse in 2015 that led us to the low FODMAP food plan. Within 3 days of eating low FODMAP Elimination Phase portions of foods, I felt relief for the first time in thirty years. And today, we’re both thriving and worked on a cookbook together!
About my search to be properly diagnosed with a proven treatment plan – this was a lengthy thirty-year journey. My symptoms began when I shared lunch with a classmate who went home that day and collapsed from meningitis. She was in critical condition and thankfully, completely recovered. As a precaution, I was quarantined and given heavy medications. I never contracted meningitis. And then shortly after, my symptoms began with random GI flare-ups of diarrhea, bloating, severe abdominal pain, brain fog, fatigue, and later came fluky bouts of anxiety. I kept wondering “what is giving me food poisoning almost every day?” Later, I learned that a few members of my family have sensitive digestion so I was genetically predisposed, and the heavy meds triggered my IBS. I also had extensive dental work done that required antibiotics that for some, like me, are an IBS instigator.
Very little was known about IBS when my symptoms began in the 1980s. I went through; GI tests, colonoscopies, blood and stool tests, allergy panels, parasite tests, an upper GI, x-rays, food eliminations such as wheat, dairy and sugar, eating only bland foods, juice fasting, and health food delivery programs. I was vegan and then vegetarian for many years, eliminated caffeine and alcohol, worked with holistic practices, drank tinctures, worked with LA crystal therapists in my “I’ll try anything phase,” met with counselors, and over the years my symptom flare-ups and pain became increasingly worse. Through all of this trial and error, it would be many years until I learned that high FODMAP levels found naturally in certain foods were the culprits.
During these attempts to find a proven treatment plan and to be properly diagnosed, did anything give you any type of relief?
Actually, yes. When I eliminated wheat and gluten I felt my symptoms calm a bit. A fleeting glimpse of what it would be like to live with normal digestion. And since the fructans in wheat can be one of the greatest FODMAP offenders, this makes sense. But it was short-lived because I was still eating high FODMAP foods, and the upsets returned.
This was me, too. Ate gluten-free and dairy-free for 25 years with only moderate symptom alleviation. How did this affect your home and social life?
Like many IBS sufferers, I have missed out on family events, or due to abdominal pain was not able to be present and enjoy the moment. All of the excuses I made to leave or cancel plans at the last minute, I think made me seem flakey or rude. Also, I would become bloated where I looked like I’d eaten 25 pounds of tofu. I wore clothes that were 2 to 4 sizes larger to hide my tummy. To this day, I don’t like to feel my clothes touch my skin, from all of those years of bloating. I would wear pajamas all day everyday if I could.
That is a holdover for me as well. Wearing my elastic pants right now…
One of the greatest regrets I want to mention happened around the 20ish year mark of my IBS onset. I made a big mistake while I was mentally and physically exhausted. Just completely deflated. I have read that many people with IBS have said that they would give up a few years of their life to live symptom free from here on out. And I related to this. So, in this dismal spiral of hopelessness, I gave up on my mantra that “you are never defeated until you give up,” and discontinued my search for answers. For almost ten years.
During this time, huge strides were being made in gastrointestinal research, FODMAPs and the gut-brain axis relation to IBS. Had I stuck with my mantra, I would have found relief years earlier.
Then one night while I was getting ready to meet friends for dinner, I doubled over in pain that was so severe, I landed on the floor and could not move. This episode was different, very sharp, and kept coming in waves. I called my doctor and made an appointment, canceled my plans, and went online to search my symptoms again. The same strange acronym kept popping up. FODMAP. A food program for IBS relief? Food as medicine? The next day, I found lists of low FODMAP foods, drove to the store and bought one week’s supply of ingredients to test on myself.
Within three days of eating LoFO, I felt relief from pain and symptoms for the first time in three decades. No abdominal cramping, no bloating, no up-sets. Significant relief! Two months later, I had gained a huge boost of energy, and my digestion was so improved that I felt a newfound sense of normalcy. In knowing how to manage my illness, I was empowered. The spiral was over, and this saved my life because I had hope for my future again.
You and I love to cook, and we do always counsel folks new to the diet that it is much easier to manage the diet if you cook for yourself. We have so much better control over ingredients if we do. Your book is for those who love spending time in the kitchen, and there are also some very easy recipes as well. Tell us about the cookbook. How did you choose which recipes to include?
I do love to cook, and have taken cooking classes since I was a kid. Since starting the diet, I make my own meals now more than ever, which is great because I make it like I like it and I know exactly what’s in the dish.
The cookbook came together from foods I missed eating and the challenge to recreate them. Some recipes are more involved, such as Crispy Baked Chicken Chiles Rellenos. And others, like Masa Beef Chili, Chicken Tortilla Soup and Todos Mis Mananas Para Ti Cake (a romantic, spicy Mexican chocolate olive oil cake with vegan frosting) are simple to create. And no one has ever guessed they’re low FODMAP.
Something I want to reiterate is that, while the low FODMAP Diet is not gluten or dairy-free, I chose to create a gluten-free, dairy-free collection of recipes because I have sensitivities to those foods. This is the way I cook. In the Tips section at the bottom of most recipes I’ve added options for lactose-free or conventional dairy products, if tolerated. But the main body of the recipes are sans gluten and dairy.
You may want to read: The Low FODMAP Diet Is Not A Gluten Free Diet
Thank you for doing that! It makes the book more user-friendly for more people. Talk a little bit about where you live. You live, work and breathe in a chile culture; they are an important part of your life!
I live on a ranch in southern Colorado with my husband, Jim, a group of big-hearted people who make this a place that brings out the best in you, our two little dachshunds, and 26 dogs who belong to the ranch.
Through the Santa Fe School of Cooking and the Feasting Place of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, Jim and I have taken classes to learn traditional preparations of foods, how to bake bread in an adobe horno oven, and how to roast chiles to remove their tough skins. How incredibly special to learn techniques handed down from generation to generation! I’ve also taken online classes with Chef Lois Ellen Frank who is a food historian and author of Foods of the Southwest Indian Nation: Tradition and Contemporary Native American Recipes that won a 2002 James Beard Award.
Green chiles and poblanos are the two chiles we most often eat. I mean, you can probably guess by now that eating chiles is as familiar to us as breathing. I make savory dishes and also like to find ways to make green chile desserts and sweets, like jams and toppings for cornmeal dusted meringues. We have access to chiles year-round.
In fact, you were instrumental in sending some chile products to Monash University headquarters for them to lab test.
There are only two apps I’ve purchased on my phone – a music app and the Monash FODMAP smartphone app that contains an extensive database of FODMAP tested foods. I referred to it all through my recipe testing and development, and could not have converted my recipes without it.
When I looked up certain chiles and chile powders, I realized that they hadn’t yet been tested. So I contacted the Monash Team, got their okay to ship a box filled with red chile powders, Mexican chocolate tablets, canned green chiles, corn chips and a few other goodies I always cook with. Once they were tested I was able to complete my cookbook with traditional, proper ingredients. I also sent fresh green chiles to their lab in the U.S., and when they tested to be low FODMAP, this chilehead was ecstatic!
Really, it was thrilling in this small way to be a part of their FODMAP research.
You, like me, discovered Monash University early on in our FODMAP exploration and it was a game changer. How did you decide to have all of your recipes certified by Monash?
Well, I have a pretty good grasp on converting recipes, however, I’m not a Monash trained and certified RDN. I went online and looked up their certification program for recipes and also lots of products and brands. That’s when I thought, “Have the book certified, each and every recipe to be sure they’re within the low FODMAP protocol.” And who better to collaborate with than the very people who developed the food regimen that saved me? Basically, for the past few years I’ve been working with my heroes. And all certification fees go right back into FODMAP research and development.
You have launched your website, FODifyit.com along with the book. Who do you see as your community? For your book and website?
To be perfectly upfront, I was a little worried at the start of the diet about what I might have to give up. What about spicy fajitas, pulled pork BBQ sandwiches, green chile burgers, enchiladas and flans? But then as I began to convert recipes I very quickly found that robust, flavorful southwestern food can be low FODMAP and deliver the flavors I crave. If you feel that a world without chiles, enchiladas, taco platters and chilaquiles would be like a sky without stars, then this cookbook is for you. One recipe I’m particularly happy with is No Beans Refried “Beans.” I’ve been making these faux beans for years and they’re so yummy. You’ll never be refried bean deprived again.
Folks, let me tell you…Amy is right! Flip to that recipe first!
Jim will tell you, I would crave a dish that I’d had on the Santa Fe Plaza, look up the ingredients, compare it to my own notes and tell him I was going to FODify It. That Burger Patty Taco I had in Tucson – FODify It. Those chile chocolate brownies we had in Taos – FODify It. It became a buzzword in our house and we named our site after it.
We’d love to hear your plans for the site and how you will be developing new FODMAP content and recipes.
We will continue converting southwestern recipes on the website, and begin working with SW chefs who have signature dishes we can convert to LoFO. We’re building an online shop that is filled with low FODMAP SW products we use, know and believe in. Like favorite pure red chile powders, canned green chile brands, tortillas and southwest pantry staples. If we don’t use it, we don’t list it. We have items to order from the shop where we incur a small commission on each sale, along with many foods that you can find at your local market or carniceria that we want you to know about.
Monash certified brands are noted as such. And then there are the foods that were recommended to us by authentic southwestern chefs. I also owe a huge thanks to the owners and patrons of my local markets and carnicerias. I’ve been known to hold up two types of gluten-free tortillas at the checkout line and ask everyone, “Which would you choose, if this were a taste test? Which is best?” And they all point to the same one. Never fails. Straight from the all-knowing abuelas!
We want to build on becoming a reliable, well-informed low FODMAP resource for American Southwest foods, kitchen equipment, chile facts and findings. And we’re excited to see how this all evolves.
How did you arrive at the title Calm Tummy Happy Heart?
I want the home cook and people who are investigating this food regimen to feel confident in making dishes for a calm tummy. And I hope this empowerment lifts their hearts with relief and happiness.
Also, to anyone who has been reading my story and relating, I want you to know that I’m sorry. Because I know the pain and distress you’ve been going through. I hope you will try the low FODMAP Diet. I hope you find answers to manage your condition. And if for some reason your body doesn’t feel relief, please don’t give up on your search for answers.