When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of candy, flowers, and romantic dinners. However, for those who suffer from food sensitivities, intolerances, or allergies, special occasions are sometimes tainted with anxiety. The nightmare of preset, inflexible restaurant menus and prepackaged gourmet foods without a label can become more than a little complicated, especially for those who are in new relationships in which they haven’t shared the details about their food issues yet. Simple things like fresh hand-wrapped candy will seem less like a treat and more like picking through poison for those who are gluten intolerant or sensitive to FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols).
The number one rule when buying for those who are gluten intolerant is, without question, ensuring 100% avoidance of any gluten-containing foods or beverages. So what do you tell your patients who want to buy their sweetie some treats for Valentine’s Day without ruining the romance? The following will help them flatter that special someone safely:
- Avoid mixed candies, as it can be difficult to figure out what’s in each piece even with ingredient information.
- Unless they’re marked gluten-free, it’s important to avoid wafers, cookies, chocolates that include grains (eg, chocolate crackles), chocolate covered pretzels, and matzo, all of which are places where wheat can be lurking.
- When buying candies, make sure the packaging is labeled gluten-free. There are many companies that offer gluten-free sweet treats online, but they’re not always nicely packaged for the holiday. Repackage in a visually appealing way, such as in a pretty crystal dish or basket using red plastic wrap and pretty red bow.
- Avoid problem ingredients commonly found in sweets, including wheat, oats (unless listed as gluten-free), barley, malt (unless specified as from something other than barley), and “natural flavorings,” the source of which usually isn’t specified. Luckily, rye isn’t usually found in candy.
- Consider contacting manufacturers of chocolate-covered liquors. Caramel usually doesn’t contain gluten, and when it does, it’s often below the 20-ppm threshold for gluten-free products.
- In the case of chocolate-covered fruits, ensure the chocolate coating is gluten-free.
Many fresh candy shops sometimes claim their treats are gluten-free, but be sure to ask about any cross-contamination issues. Keeping treats as simple as possible like homemade fudge or marshmallows with just a few ingredients can make it easier to select safe choices. Still, always check ingredients because even the seemingly safest product could contain traces of gluten.
FODMAP sensitivity doesn’t require 100% avoidance as gluten intolerance does, and not everyone is sensitive to all the categories of FODMAPs. However, given that clients may not know which FODMAPs their partners must to avoid, it’s best to mitigate the risks of a reaction as much as possible. Teaching patients tricks for avoiding the following higher-FODMAP ingredients may lead to safer choices.
- High-FODMAP ingredients that often are found in candies include honey, wheat, milk, dried fruit, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, molasses, brown sugar, and fruit juice concentrate. Better ingredient choices lower in FODMAPs include dark chocolate, corn syrup, maple syrup, dextrose, and white sugar (sucrose).
- When it comes to nuts and seeds, lower-FODMAP choices include peanuts, Brazil nuts, mixed nuts, sunflower seeds, chestnuts, pecans, pine nuts, chia seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and walnuts. Higher FODMAP nuts include almonds, cashews, pistachios, and hazelnuts.
- Fruits to avoid include apples, apricots, currants, dates, bananas, blackberries, boysenberries, cherries, figs, grapefruit, goji berries, guava, lychee, mango, nectarines, peaches, pears, persimmon, dried pineapple, plums, pomegranates, prunes, raisins, tamarillo, and watermelon.
Downloading the Low FODMAP App from Monash University can make cross-checking questionable ingredients easier. The app is updated as researchers test more ingredients.
Finally, another option is to enjoy a safely planned romantic dinner at home that includes flowers and cologne or jewelry as gifts, any of which are likely welcome and pose much less risk.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
— Marlisa Brown, MS, RD, CDE, CDN, is an award-winning dietitian, chef, and public speaker. She’s president of Total Wellness, a private nutrition consulting company specializing in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, gluten-free diets, culinary programs, corporate wellness, and medical nutrition therapies, in Bayshore, New York, and is author of Gluten-Free Hassle-Free and Easy Gluten-Free. Marlisa blogs at http://marlisaspeaks.com/marlisas-blog/ and www.GlutenFreeEZ.com.