I have always wondered why balsamic vinegar gives me a tummy ache? And, why has it taken me 10 years to find the answer?
Balsamic Vinaigrette used to be my go to order out at a restaurant and consequently my go to way of leaving the restaurant feeling yucky. My thought was vinaigrettes are healthier than dressings like ranch or caesar, dressings with more fat and; therefore, a better option. Why then was I feeling bloated and why was my gut yelling at me when I was choosing balsamic vinaigrette?
I had no idea what was in balsamic vinegar and to be honest didn't realize I needed to know. It hadn't occurred to me that my healthy choice was not healthy for me. I didn't know that balsamic vinegar could contain anything other than vinegar. And, I assumed it was a healthy choice because it was low in fat and I was putting in on a salad. I realized I was still stuck in the 1990's way of thinking about food.
It has been really hard for me to rid myself of the food rules I learned in college. Food rules like fat is bad, carbs are good; and all salads are healthy. I assumed any salad I ordered with balsamic vinaigrette was healthy because it was low in fat and was called a salad. I had no idea how much sugar and man-made sweeteners were added to those supposedly healthy salads. And, had no idea that all of this sugar was wreaking havoc on my gut and entire body.
When I was finally diagnosed with Fructose Malabsorption in 2007 many of these food rules were necessarily replaced with new rules about how to live with a food intolerance. Once I started eliminating all processed man-made sweeteners and reducing my daily fructose intake to less than 15 grams I started to feel a lot better and started making better choices. My new salads were not full of craisins and honey glazed almonds. My dietitian had taught me that those foods were super high in added sugars and fructose and obviously a bad choice for me. Instead I learned how to enjoy salads with cucumbers, radishes and a few slices of green pepper.
Why then were my new low fructose salads causing me stomach distress? What was I eating?
Recently I revisited the Food Intolerance Network's list of foods and fructose amounts. As I was reviewing the alphabetical list my jaw dropped on the second letter, B. I couldn't believe it! Balsamic Vinegar has 7.4 grams of fructose. How did I not know this? No wonder my salads felt like they were poisoning me. 7.4 grams of fructose per serving! The way I use salad dressing, more as a side dish vs a salad dressing meant I was potentially eating over 15 grams of fructose just in my salad. My gut was yelling at me because it wasn't happy; it was being invaded and was trying to tell me to stop eating balsamic vinaigrette.
Since my diagnosis 10 plus years ago dietitians, nutritionists and gastroenterologists have learned a lot more about Fructose Malabsorption. We now know what foods are safe and what foods are not safe. We know how to limit our fructose loads and balance our glucose and fructose intake. We also know how excess fructose can cause chronic inflammation and a myriad of symptoms beyond an irritable gut. I know so much about Fructose Malabsorption I feel like I should write a Wikipedia article. With all of this knowledge how did it not occur to me to look into what is in balsamic vinegar? After 10 years of living with this intolerance how was I still making such a big mistake?
Why? Because let's be honest it is so hard and exhausting to put so much effort into eating. Sometimes I just want to go out to eat and order food without questioning the waiter like he is being accused of directly poisoning me. I want to look at a menu and see options, not limitations.
But, that is not my life. If I want to feel healthy I need to make healthy choices. I need to know what is in my food. Balsamic vinegar is not an option for me.
I am not feeling sorry for myself. I feel so much better now that I know what was poisoning me and how to avoid high fructose foods. My gut is happy, I am not living in a constant state of brain fog and my joints do not ache all day long.
Yes, I am still going to make mistakes. However, I am going to learn from these mistakes. I am going to learn what is healthy for me and write my own set of food rules.
For example, did you know apple cider vinegar has 0 grams of fructose? Yes, 0-how awesome is that? 7.4 less grams of fructose than balsamic vinegar awesome. I honestly had no idea that vinegars could or couldn't have fructose and all vinegars are not created equally. Thank you Food Intolerance Network for helping me. Thank you for teaching me what is good for me and what isn't good for me.
Last week I decided to make a caprese salad sans the balsamic vinegar reduction because I added a new food rule to my collection. Rule #34: balsamic vinegar is a definite no for me.
Instead of a balsamic vinegar reduction I made a simple vinaigrette with apple cider vinegar. I substituted the tomatoes for strawberries to make it more appealing to my kids and added cucumbers. By adding cucumbers I didn't feel the need to serve another vegetable at dinner. Food rule #7: always serve vegetables at dinner.
We loved the salad. And, I loved that I was eating something healthy for me.
Apple Cider Vinaigrette (serving size, 8):
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/8 teaspoon oregano
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
Caprese Salad (serving size, 1):
- 10 cucumber slices, chopped into small bite size pieces
- 3 strawberries, sliced
- 4 large basil leaves, sliced
- 15 mini mozzarella pearls
- I like to use Maille Dijon Mustard. It is a simple recipe, but adds the right amount of pungent flavor to any dish.
- I used 2 teaspoons of the vinaigrette on each salad and saved the rest for salads later in the week.
- 3 strawberries have less than .75 grams of fructose. That's a healthy choice for me, and my kids prefer this salad if it is made with strawberries vs tomatoes. A little sweet goes a long way when it comes to kids.