Emma Hatcher: 'You don't realise quite how much some foods can affect you until the symptoms have disappeared'
A low FODMAP diet can bring blessed relief to those blighted by IBS, but knowing where to start can be daunting. Blogger- turned-cookbook author Emma Hatcher tells Gemma Dunn about her mission to make it all a bit more digestible.
The term 'low FODMAP diet' may leave you scratching your head - but not for much longer, if Emma Hatcher has anything to do with it.
FODMAPs - fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols - are types of short-chain carbohydrates that can be tricky to digest and they can wreak havoc for some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common condition associated with digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and cramps.
They can be found in a wide range of foods, including certain fruits, veggies, grains and nuts - onions, garlic and apples are prime examples (though not everybody with IBS is affected by the same foods in the same ways).
But cutting out, or cutting down on key culprits can help - and if anyone can vouch for the effective of a low FODMAP diet it's Hatcher, a long-term sufferer of IBS and a sensitive gut.
"It was a lightbulb moment of, 'Oh my God, this could actually really help'," the 23-year-old recalls of her dietician's suggestion to try the plan, following years of cutting out various foods, to no effect.
"You don't realise quite how much it affects your life until after your symptoms have gone, and you think: 'Wow, I'm not thinking about when I'm next going to need the bathroom, or what I'm going to eat on my work lunchbreak today'.
"It's been a massive life-changer for me, and by the sounds of it, for a lot of other people out there as well."
Discovering that the information available was minimal - she recalls initially being handed "a very uninspiring, four-page leaflet with a big long list of foods to cut out" - the forward-thinking millennial embarked on a one-woman mission to show that the diet needn't be restrictive.
She's since been a pillar of support for countless others in a similar position, via her brilliantly titled lifestyle blog, She Can't Eat What?
Now, Hatcher's sharing her insights in her debut cookbook, The FODMAP Friendly Kitchen.
Initially "slightly scared" by the lack of resources, Hatcher explains the tome - a colourful smorgasbord of recipes, helpful meal plans and tips - was created with the intent of "distilling" the diet into digestible chunks.
"I wanted to make it easy for other people, to provide them with another resource that's not really science-y but simplifies and relays it from a personal experience," she says.
"Food is a massive part of IBS and dealing with symptoms, but at the same time, there's the anxiety and stress side of things," she elaborates. "There's the question of, 'What am I going to do when I go out to a restaurant with my friends and order food?'
"I was really conscious I wanted to answer some of those questions."
As well as avoiding processed foods and sugars, Hatcher devised a menu of simple, healthy and delicious dishes, that all require no unobtainable ingredients.
"I'm not a chef, so if I can make them, anybody can," she insists. "These 100 recipes were designed to be that foundation; they're all completely low FODMAP, people can tailor them depending on their personal tolerances, and they're all really easy."
And with a busy schedule herself - I'm catching up with London-based Hatcher on a lunch break from her day job in communications at the capital's bustling Borough Market - it's evidently a vision that's achievable.
The unashamed foodie is also the first to recognise that overhauling your diet can be daunting - and she's not averse to the odd blunder.
"If you do make a slip up, you might have rubbish symptoms for a day, but tomorrow is a new day," she says. "I was terrified to eat certain things, but you can't be so hard on yourself. Life is hard enough as it is, and at the end of the day, food is delicious and really fun, and should be there to be enjoyed."
A self-confessed chocolate lover, she adds: "It's such a cliche, but it is all about balance and maybe eating healthier on a weeknight and then having that doughnut that you really want on a Friday or a weekend.
"It's not a sugar-free diet, it's not a fat-free diet," she concludes. "You can still eat the foods that you could eat before, you just have to make those simple swaps, which might actually be better for your gut in more ways than one."
Intrigued to give low Fodmap eating a go? Here are three tasty recipes from Hatcher's new book to try at home.
- The FODMAP Friendly Kitchen by Emma Hatcher is published by Yellow Kite in hardback, priced £20. Available now
What you'll need
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 red pepper, diced
2tbsp olive oil
1kg minced beef
2 tins (each 400g) chopped tomatoes
2tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 butternut squash
100g grated mozzarella
In a large saucepan, heat one tablespoon of the oil and saute the parsnip, carrot and pepper until soft. Add the mince and cook until browned.
Pour in the tomatoes and water and stir in the oregano, bay leaves and basil. Simmer for roughly one hour, until the meat is tender and saucy.
Taste and season.
Then preheat the oven to 180C (gas 4). Peel and cut the squash into thin slices, as if lasagne sheets. Bake in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil for 15 minutes. Once tender, you can get to work on layering the lasagne, just quickly fish out your bay leaves from your meat first. In a baking dish, add one layer of the mince mixture, one layer of spinach and one layer of squash, repeating until all of the ingredients are used up. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake in the oven at the same temperature for 30 minutes, or until the top is crispy.
Glazed Blood Orange Doughnuts
MAKES 6 LARGE OR 12 MINI DOUGHNUTS
What you'll need
100g white rice flour
4tbsp tapioca flour
70g brown sugar
1tsp baking powder
1/4tsp xanthan gum
60ml lactose or dairy-free milk of choice
2tsp pure vanilla extract
For the blood orange glaze:
200g icing sugar, sifted
Zest of 1/2 a blood orange
3-4tbsp fresh squeezed blood orange juice, depending on desired consistency
Edible flowers to decorate
Preheat oven to 180C (gas 4) and lightly grease a doughnut pan.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the rice flour, tapioca flour, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt. Set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, oil, eggs and vanilla extract. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir to combine.
Spoon the batter into a piping bag or a large resealable sandwich bag with a hole cut in one of the corners. Pipe the batter evenly into the prepared doughnut pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the top of the doughnuts bounce back when gently pressed. Let the doughnuts sit in the pan for five minutes, before popping them on a wire rack and leaving to cool.
To make the blood orange glaze, add the icing sugar, orange zest and three tablespoons of blood orange juice to a bowl and whisk together.
Adjust the icing thickness by adding additional orange juice, one teaspoon at a time. Dip cooled doughnuts into the glaze and then decorate with the flowers.
Buckwheat Risotto with Macadamia Cream
What you'll need
1 large aubergine, chopped into small chunks
2tbsp garlic-infused oil
255g buckwheat groats (available from good supermarkets)
80ml dry white wine
470ml vegetable stock or hot water
150g spring greens
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 small bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Grated parmesan, to serve (optional)
For the macadamia cream:
40g macadamia nuts, soaked for 5 hours or overnight
35g sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp sea salt
1tbsp lemon juice
To make the macadamia cream, add all of the ingredients apart from the water into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. While the processor is still running, pour in the water bit by bit, until you reach a thick, cream-like consistency. Leave to one side while preparing the rest of the dish.
To make the risotto, heat the garlic-infused oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the aubergine and saute for about 10 minutes or until softened and starting to brown.
Add the buckwheat groats to the pan. Toss and let cook, 'toasting' the buckwheat, for one to two minutes.
Add the wine, stir and let cook until completely absorbed. Ladle in the vegetable stock, a little bit at a time, keeping the mixture at a low simmer. Each time the liquid is absorbed by the buckwheat, add a bit more, until you've used up all the stock and it's been absorbed fully by the buckwheat. Have a quick taste. The buckwheat should be tender at this point, but not mushy. Add in the spring greens and lemon juice and cook for another couple of minutes. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the macadamia cream.
Divide into bowls and serve topped with parsley, lemon zest, and a little parmesan, if you like.