Growing up in the 1970's and 80's:
I grew up in the 1970’s and 80’s with parents who were ahead of their time. My mom innately knew that real foods were better for us compared to food products. We mostly ate home cooked meals, sugar cereals were forbidden, soda was a rarity, and all treats were made from scratch by my mom. To be honest, my brother and I struggled with my mom’s food rules when we were young. We wished we lived in a house with candy bars, frozen dinners, Cool Ranch Doritos and sugary drinks readily available to us. In fact we often sought out friendships with those who served such foods. But, let me be honest, having fresh homemade cookies out of the oven for a snack when you arrived home from school was wonderful!
My dad did not cook often for us when we were little, but when we went out for dinner my dad was the first to suggest a new restaurant in Minneapolis. The majority of his choices were not chain restaurants, but small businesses with chefs and real food. My parents were also good at listening to us and giving our guts a voice. I knew that honey, molasses cookies, watermelon and dried fruits did not make my tummy feel good, and my parents did not serve those foods to me. At a young age my gut had a voice; I was learning to self-select foods that made me feel good; and my parents had created a kitchen culture centered around real food. I was a healthy teenager who participated in a variety of sports, worked hard in high school and entered college as a biology student.
Food products vs real food:
I got married in my 20’s, enjoyed my career as a middle school science teacher, and started having kids. At this time concepts like “farm to table”and “eating in season”, and authors like Michael Pollan had yet to gain national press. Instead we lived in a world of incessant food product marketing and fad diets based on defunct medical science. My husband and I attempted to avoid these food trends as we began to create our own kitchen culture. I looked back on my upbringing and inherently knew my parents did it right. We attempted to model our kitchen like my parents’-we ate mostly real food, avoided obvious food products, cooked most meals at home, and made healthy choices when we out for dinner. However, as life’s demands and busy schedules took center stage food marketing ruled our kitchen rather than the lessons we had learned from our parents. Mass manufactured food products gained space in our pantry and our kitchen culture favored convenience over the joy of real cooking.
My gut's voice:
In 2007 (now age 31) my gut voice started yelling at me, flagging me down,trying to get my attention. I was constantly bloated, suffered from bowel irregularities, and generally felt run down. At first I attributed my symptoms to having two little kids and being a busy mom. But 6 months into feeling yucky I decided it was time to listen to my gut, use the inner voice my parents had taught me, and figure out what I was doing wrong.
"I wondered why I felt so unhealthy?"
"What was I eating that made me feel sick?"
I was at a loss. I thought I was eating “safe” foods. My weekly bakery treats came from our local grocery store and were in my mind, totally safe, baked in a grocery store. My gut voice was asking me questions like: “Why wasn’t I baking treats at home like my mom did or visiting one of the many local from scratch bakeries in Minneapolis?”, but I wasn’t listening.
I was trying to follow new food rules, like “eat in season”- fresh watermelon in the summer----but hello, watermelon had been one of those foods I had self selected out of my diet as a kid.
My gut declared war on me when I listened to conventional marketing and purchased “healthy granola” and replaced my old-fashioned oats for breakfast. “Halt, don’t go there yelled my gut, you are going to regret this.” But, did I listen, no! I dove right into that bowl of honey soaked chewy granola with dried fruits and a sprinkling of high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, and sorbitol on top. Wow, was I wrong not to listen to my gut!!! My gut fought back and this time I listened. How had I get caught up in food product marketing? Why wasn’t I living like my parents had taught me; and when had I let highly processed food products replace real food in my kitchen?
I continued to suffer, felt run down, and even my brain felt funny, like I was stuck in a fog. At this point I used better judgement, made an appointment with a gastroenterologist and after a simple breath test found out that I had Fructose Malabsorption. My first thoughts upon hearing the diagnosis were:
”Yes, I have an answer to why I feel so yucky.”
”But wait, how am I going to cook for myself and my family?”
”Where will we go out to eat? How will I know the food is safe?”
New found joy in my kitchen:
Driving home from the appointment I decided then and there to ignore my food fears, dive right back into creating a kitchen culture centered around real food, and chose to listen to my gut’s voice. After all I graduated from college with a science degree, wasn’t a novice to cooking; and I thought “hallelujah” thank goodness for Google---Google will lead me in the right direction. When I got home I Googled Fructose Malabsorption and to my shock hardly found any hits...how is this possible? It’s Google, everything is on Google! I went to Barnes and Noble looking for books about Fructose Malabsorption and could only find two books. My food fears started to creep back into my daily thoughts. Luckily, later that week I had an appointment with a dietitian. She was a great resource. I drove home with a list of safe and unsafe real foods; a list of food products and additives (including high fructose corn syrup) that were high in man-made fructose; and an understanding of how fructose and other sugars traveled around and were digested in my body (check out my post on sugar digestion). I chose to use the limited information I had, coupled it with my science background; and cooked like it was the early 20th century when processed foods were not the staple of our pantries and joy was found at our kitchen tables and eating real food.
Three years into my Fructose Malabsorption diagnosis I was thriving. I wasn’t going to bed each night so bloated that I looked 3 months pregnant, had the same energy level I did as a 20 year old, and looked forward to meal planning for my family. In fact my children, Grace and Jack, and husband, Jeff, enjoyed gathering around our kitchen table sampling new recipes and taking time to connect.
My daughter, Grace, is diagnosed with Fructose Malabsorption:
My daughter, Grace, now 4, was a happy preschooler. She was making friends, planning playdates and attending lots of birthday parties. Grace loved celebrating with her friends, enjoyed eating princess and train themed birthday cakes and looked forward to sampling food products I didn’t serve at our house. Yes, I had finally adopted the same food rules my mom had created when I was Grace’s age. Jeff and I started to notice a trend when Grace returned from her numerous playdates and parties. Grace’s own gut voice was starting to say it’s first words: “my tummy hurts, I have a bad tummy.” We listened to that voice and discovered that Grace, too, had Fructose Malabsorption Disorder. At first, I thought this will be easy; I live with FMD, mostly eat at home and am thriving. I was so wrong! Grace was 4 (not 34 like me), wanted to be social, wanted to eat foods not made in our kitchen, and feel like she wasn’t that different. We decided to honor her requests. We started taking food field trips sampling new bakeries and chef driven local restaurants; encouraged Grace to start baking, and stocked our pantry with Grace safe food products.
In this blog you will find recipes, restaurant suggestions, a list of Grace safe products, fructose resources; and tips on how to live with Fructose Malabsorption, how to travel with Fructose Malabsorption and how to raise a child with Fructose Malabsorption.
Everyone with Fructose Malabsorption tolerates different levels of fructose and has their own unique gut and gut voice. It is best to make a list of what feels good and what doesn’t, listen to your gut voice, and remember it is all about the daily balance.