It’s highly likely that if you have issues with your gut (or even if you don’t), you have likely heard of the low FODMAP diet. But what is it exactly? How does it work? Here is everything you need to know about the FODMAP diet.
It was first researched by the team at Monash University in Australia, with the finding that reducing intake of high FODMAP foods can help manage symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including bloating, wind, altered bowel motions and abdominal discomfort.
So, what are FODMAPs?
FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. These are all different types of carbohydrates. When these carbohydrates are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, increased water can be drawn into the gut. This can cause diarrhoea for some people. For others, the carbohydrates travel to the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria, producing gas. This gas can lead to additional symptoms of IBS including bloating, constipation, flatulence, pain and nausea.
Where do I find FODMAPs?
Some common high FODMAP foods include: asparagus, onion, garlic, celery, sweet corn, legumes, apples, pears, mango, watermelon, yoghurt, cow’s milk, ice cream, wheat-based breads, cereal, pasta, cashews and pistachios.
How do I implement the diet?
IBS symptoms occur when there is an increased consumption of one or more of the types of FODMAPs you are intolerant to. For example, if you have apple, avocado and apricots all in the one-day, this could be too much for you to tolerate. However, if you only have avocado the quantity may be fine for you to eat without getting any symptoms. This can make it a tricky task to work out what is causing your discomfort! When eliminating high FODMAP foods, it is important to be mindful of certain nutrients the diet may now be lacking. Lowered intake of fibre, iron and calcium are all commonly found, so it is important to ensure adequate intakes are achieved for each of these. For these reasons, it is best to get assistance from a dietitian who is experienced with the process.
The step by step process involves eliminating high FODMAP foods, then working through a series of food challenges to help you determine what is triggering your symptoms.
Why can’t I just stay low FODMAP forever?
Once you’ve determined which FODMAPs are causing you problems, it is then time to reintroduce to groups of FODMAPs you were fine with, and also test tolerance levels of those you didn’t tolerate so well. Research shows that staying low FODMAP can have detrimental effects on your long-term gut health, changing the mix of healthy bacteria in your gut. Avoiding all high FODMAP foods is also difficult socially as well, as eating out or at friend’s houses becomes tough. Plus, most people don’t need to avoid all types of FODMAPs, and even with those you are sensitive to, including small amounts of these foods will be tolerated well. With FODMAPs, it all comes down to quantity.
Can anything else contribute to IBS symptoms?
Stress and lack of sleep can also exacerbate symptoms. Managing these can be key to keeping symptoms under control in many instances. Also, some low FODMAP foods can still contribute to IBS. Fatty foods, caffeine, alcohol, too much fibre (or too little fibre) and medications and may also influence your symptoms.
Chloe McLeod is a dietician and the Director of The FODMAP Challenge.