Do you often experience digestive stress after eating certain foods? Can the discomfort be so severe that it affects your day-to-day activities? The link between foods and digestive disorders is well recognised, and there is a good chance that FODMAPs – small carbohydrates in certain foods – are the culprit. Fodmap diet does remarkable things for people with chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, like recurrent bloating, gas, cramps, diarrhea or constipation. There’s also many new case studies suggesting it can help with several other chronic health conditions too. A low FODMAP diet, or FODMAP elimination diet, refers to a temporary eating pattern that has a very low amount of food compounds called FODMAPs. If you’re keen to learn more, and maybe even try a low FODMAP diet for yourself, this 3,000 word beginner’s guide is a great place to start.
Who is a low FODMAP diet for?
Its primary use is to relieve digestion-related symptoms, but is emerging as a useful treatment tool for several other conditions too. It can be useful for those with:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)- more on that below
- Other forms of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorder (FGID)
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Certain auto-immune conditions/diseases like (potentially) rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis or eczema
- Fibromyalgia or other health issues you’ve noticed are triggered by certain foods
- Frequent migraines that appear to be triggered after certain meals
The best candidates for trialling a low FODMAP diet also tend to answer yes to these questions. And note that it’s not to be confused with a low Histamine Diet or a low Salicylate diet.
Common FODMAPS and what to look for on the label
Common FODMAPs in your food include:
- Fructose: A sugar found in most fruits and vegetables.
- Lactose: A sugar found in dairy foods like milk.
- Fructans: Very similar to fructose, found in many vegetables and grains
- Galactans: Found primarily in legumes.
- Polyols: Sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol and mannitol. You find them mainly in artificial sweeteners and chewing gum.
Best practice is to read the ingredients label for other added FODMAP ingredients such as inulin (chicory root), natural flavors, high fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, etc.
How it works
For 3-8 weeks (depends on how you respond) you strictly limit or exclude all FODMAPs from your diet. This is known as the elimination phas. A period shorter than 3 weeks can occasionally be used if you’ve undergone hydrogen breath testing to identify which specific FODMAPs are the most problematic. But otherwise it’s likely you will require at least 3 weeks for the body to adjust and ‘reset’.
After this time you then begin the reintroduction plan or rechallenge phase– reintroducing each FODMAP type one at a time to see what triggers symptoms. For example, you may first reintroduce fructose (a type of sugar) for one week. If you have no symptoms, you may then reintroduce lactose too, and so on. Once the trigger FODMAPs have been identified, you will know what you can and cannot eat. So it’s basically a specialised form of elimination or exclusion diet.
Before we go any further, it’s important to clarify that following a low FODMAP diet is very restrictive and cuts out numerous common foods and food groups.
That means you need to reintroduce foods at some stage, so it cannot be a permanent solution. The idea is that restricting all FODMAPs at once should have a far greater and more consistent effect than simply restricting one FODMAP in isolation. With all FODMAPs out of your diet, it gives your gut bacteria a chance to correct any imbalances, and your gut some time to heal.
In any case, you need more than a list of high- and low-FODMAP foods to get the most out of your FODMAP-elimination diet. You need a plan. Contact an experienced dietitian nutritionist and get started!