CINCINNATI -- Although typical energy bars might not make someone happy, if that person happens to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, eating one without repercussions might indeed make them jump for joy.
Rachel Pauls, a local physician, knows those repercussions all too well. She was diagnosed with IBS about five years ago and has recently released a line of energy bars, called Happy Bars, that she created with ingredients from her own kitchen as a snack or meal replacement for others who struggle with the disorder.
After her initial diagnosis, Pauls began assessing her own diet and how it related to the discomforts of IBS, which typically include bloating, constipation, diarrhea and gas. She was able to pinpoint some foods that triggered her unhappy stomach.
These foods, which researchers call FODMAPs (fermentable, oligo-, di- and mono-saccharides and polyols), are typically small-chain carbohydrates that are not absorbed correctly in the small intestines. Foods as common as garlic, apples, chewing gum and cashews can all cause chaos in the digestive track.
As Pauls researched FODMAPs more and more, she realized they were all the same foods she had trouble with.
"A lightbulb went off in my head," she said. "I was so happy and began revamping my entire pantry."
Paul’s husband of 17 years, Cory Pollock, said that when she was battling the symptoms, it affected all aspects of her life.
"Her enjoyment of life was impaired," Pollock said. "But by making minimal changes in her diet, it has led to such a change in her life. She is completely healthy now."
As Pauls began eliminating trigger foods, what she missed was the quick convenience of off-the-shelf energy bars.
So she invented her own -- and when his wife dove into the process of creating Happy Bars, it didn't surprise Pollock one bit.
"She was waiting for something to happen," he said. "And when it was clear that no company was working on these bars, she got busy in the kitchen and got it done."
Happy Bars, available online, come in four different flavors: chocolate chip, orange chocolate ecstasy, peanut chocolate euphoria and peanut maple pleasure. The flavorful bars, which are gluten-free and don't contain any preservatives, are made with minimal ingredients and provide 8 to 10 grams of protein at just over 200 calories per bar.
Most importantly, they each contain less than 0.5 grams of FODMAPs per serving.
"These bars are not only delicious, they have a nice texture and a sweet, but not too-sweet, flavor," said Kate Scarlata, a registered dietitian and nutritionist and FODMAP expert in the Boston area. "I find that when my patients understand what to eat and can easily access it, they will feel good and stick to their diet. Foods like this can be life-changing to people who suffer from gastrointestinal stress."
Pauls said she used her baking skills to create the bars and her researching skills to make sure they were low in FODMAPs. Before her bars hit the market, she took it one step further and actually partnered with a lab where the bars were analyzed and certified to be low-FODMAP.
Her hope is that someday FODMAP information is added to food labels, just as those labels identify the calories, fat and protein levels in packaged foods.
Pollock compares FODMAPs to the breakthrough in gluten-free foods in the last few years.
He said that just 15 to 20 years ago, no one knew about celiac disease, and now grocery stories have whole sections dedicated to gluten-free products.
"This could be the answer to a lot of people’s health problems," he said.
Pauls predicts that in the future, people who live with gastrointestinal diseases won't have to suffer the distress and discomfort that many of them do today.
"I think people do read labels and want to know what they are eating," she said. "As people learn more, they can make changes to their diet."