Digestive problems including IBS are common, but a low FODMAP diet may be helpful for some sufferers. Research suggests there is a strong connection between symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation and FODMAPS.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Mono-Saccharides and Polyols. Basically, this means short-chain carbohydrates which are found in certain foods. Wheat and beans are examples. Some people just can’t digest them, so gut bacteria use them as fuel, leading to all kinds of unpleasant symptoms.
A lot of people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are sensitive to FODMAPS. Some common FODMAPS include fructose, lactose, as well as sugar alcohols like sorbitol. Researchers in Australia were the first to demonstrate that a low-FODMAP diet could improve symptoms of IBS.
What is a FODMAP diet? Well, it is a diet that either avoids high-FODMAP foods or low-FODMAP foods. A low-FODMAP diet includes some medium-FODMAP foods and depends heavily on low-FODMAP foods.
Good low-FODMAP foods include Alfalfa sprouts, green beans, lettuce, eggplant, ginger, potatoes, oranges, grapes, blueberries, as well as chicken, fish, and tofu.
If you have IBS, high-FODMAP foods like onions, cabbage, snow peas, mushrooms, stone fruits, pizza, pasta, nuts, and alcohol should be avoided.
Can Everyone Follow a Low-FODMAP Diet?
Most FODMAPs support the growth of good gut bacteria so going on a low-FODMAP diet is not the best idea for everyone. If you suffer from IBS though, it might lessen your symptoms. If digestion is an issue, there is some evidence that this diet may be of benefit. For instance, if you suffer from diverticulitis or exercise-induced digestive problems, the low-FODMAP diet might help.
Since careful thought has to be put into a FODMAP diet, it is essential to start at a time when you are not under a lot of stress. It is also important to consult with a dietician to ensure that you are getting sufficient nutrients.
Benefits of a Low FODMAP Diet
Some research indicates that a low-FODMAP diet improves digestion in up to 70 percent of people who live with IBS.
Let’s look at the FODMAP diet benefits:
- Improved digestive symptoms: Stomach pain, bloating, and bowel urgency are common symptoms of IBS. Both stomach pain and bloating are known to decrease with a low-FODMAP diet. Four different studies have determined that following this diet improves the odds of reducing stomach pain by 81 percent. There are also studies that show low-FODMAPs can help people manage diarrhea and constipation.
- Increased quality of life: IBS is associated with a low quality of life; however, several studies have suggested the low-FODMAP diet can improve quality of life. Some IBS sufferers have reported feeling more energetic on this diet.
Tips to Consider before Starting a Low FODMAP Diet
Before starting a low-FODMAP diet, there are three factors to take into consideration. The last thing you want is to make your symptoms worse so read the following points carefully:
- Be sure you have IBS: Since there is no special test to confirm you have irritable bowel syndrome, make sure that you see a doctor who can rule out other conditions first. It is possible you don’t have IBS. A doctor will check for celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, as well as colon cancer. If these are all ruled out, the doctor will assess you using standard IBS criteria. This includes recurrent stomach pain (at least one day per week for three months), stool symptoms (frequency of stool, as well as change in appearance), and persistent symptoms (at least the last 6 months).
- Try other diets: The low-FODMAP diet is considered “intense” so many doctors will suggest it as a second-line dietary approach. Discuss first-line diets with your physician and if they are not effective, ask about FODMAPs.
- Plan ahead: The low-FODMAP diet can be challenging to follow but planning ahead can really be helpful. Review a low-FODMAP food list. Start removing high-FODMAP foods from your kitchen and create a detailed shopping list, so you know which foods to buy, as well as which foods to avoid. It is also a good idea to read menus in advance so that you know what to order when you dine out.
- Consult with a qualified dietician: A dietician can help make sure you are consuming a wide variety of foods that will help you maintain your daily nutritional requirements. Dieticians are trained in determining which foods are problematic for people, and they are also great moral support.
Steps to Follow for a Low FODMAP Diet
A FODMAP diet can be effective if done properly. The low-FODMAP diet involves three steps that you should follow. We refer to them as FODMAP stages.
Stage 1: Restriction: In the first stage, you avoid all high-FODMAP foods. This stage should only last between three and eight weeks, so don’t worry too much if there are a lot of foods that you like in the high-FODMAP category. Once you have some relief of symptoms, you can move to the next stage.
Stage 2: Reintroduction: At this point, you slowly reintroduce high-FODMAP foods. This will help you identify which FODMAPs you can tolerate, as well as the amount of FODMAPs you can handle. You must try specific foods one-by-one for three days each. Keep in mind you are still on a low-FODMAP diet during this stage. So even if you can tolerate a specific high-FODMAP food, you need to restrict it until you get to stage 3.
Stage 3: Personalization or Maintenance: This final stage is referred to as “modified low-FODMAP diet” because you are still restricting some FODMAPs but the type and amount are geared toward your personal tolerance, which you identified in stage 2.
Research indicates that improvement in digestive symptoms can go on long after the process of reducing FODMAPs, as long as people avoid the FODMAPs that trigger their symptoms. Guidance from a qualified dietician will give you a better chance of being successful with identifying foods that aggravate symptoms and eliminating them from your diet. Additionally, Monash University in Australia has developed an app to help people who suffer from digestive disorders like IBS, follow a FODMAPs diet.
Foods That Are High in FODMAPs
The idea of a restrictive, complicated diet can turn people off, even if they are suffering and are eager for a solution. It is helpful to have an idea of what a FODMAP diet foods list looks like.
Here are some high-FODMAP foods:
- Green peas
- Dried fruit
- Cow’s milk and soy milk
- Ice cream and yogurt
- Soft cheese
- Most legumes
- Poultry – marinated meats
- Wheat, rye, barley, bread
- Snack products
- Breakfast cereals
- Corn syrup, honey, and sugar-free confectionary
- Cashews and pistachios
Foods That Are Low in FODMAPs
Here are some examples of low-FODMAP foods:
- Green beans
- Bok choy
- Bell pepper
- Coconut milk, almond milk, and rice milk
- Feta cheese and hard cheese
- Plain cooked poultry, beef, pork, lamb
- Quinoa and brown rice
- Wheat, rye and barley-based bread
- Dark chocolate
- Maple syrup, table sugar, and brown sugar
- Peanuts, walnuts, pine nuts, almonds (limit of 10)
- Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds
Studies indicate that eating more high-FODMAP foods at the same time will add up and likely lead to symptoms that you might not otherwise experience if you consumed the food in isolation. While the above lists are meant to be helpful, there are risks associated with developing your own diet.
Many people are tempted to pick and choose items based on their personal preferences, which could result in continued symptoms so sticking with the rules of a low-FODMAP diet. Having a dietician and doctor assist you in your efforts can be crucial to your success.