Food is a common trigger of digestive symptoms. Interestingly, restricting certain foods can significantly improve these symptoms in sensitive people. In particular, a diet low in fermentable carbs known as FODMAPS is clinically recommended for the management of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Here is more on a low-FODMAP diet, how it works and who should try it.
What Are FODMAPs?
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.
The acronym stands for:
- Fermentable – meaning they are broken down by bacteria in the large bowel
- Oligosaccharides – “oligo” means “few” and “saccharide” means sugar. These molecules are made up of individual sugars joined together in a chain
- Disaccharides – “di” means two. This is a double sugar molecule
- Monosaccharides – “mono” means single. This is a single sugar molecule
- And Polyols – these are sugar alcohols
What is a low FODMAP diet?
A low FODMAP diet cuts out many common products that contain certain foods. The main principle behind the diet is to give the gut a chance to heal, especially if you have GI problems like IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome). People with GI disorders may use this diet as part of their treatment. This diet may sometimes be difficult to follow, and it is advisable to contact your health care professional or a dietician to make sure that you are on the right track and getting enough dietary nutrients that you can consume.
Who Should Follow a Low-FODMAP Diet
A low-FODMAP diet is certainly not for everyone. Unless you have been diagnosed with IBS, research suggests the diet could do more harm than good. This is because most FODMAPs are prebiotics, meaning they support the growth of good gut bacteria.
Also, most of the research has been in adults. Therefore, there is limited support for the diet in children with IBS. If you have IBS, consider this diet if you:
- Have ongoing gut symptoms.
- Haven't responded to stress management strategies.
- Haven't responded to first-line dietary advice, including restricting alcohol, spicy food and other common trigger foods
How do I implement the diet?
IBS symptoms occur when there is an increased consumption of one or more of the types of FODMAPs that you are intolerant to. For example, if you have apple, avocado and apricots all in 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.
Benefits of a Low-FODMAP Diet
A low-FODMAP diet restricts high-FODMAP foods. The benefits of a low-FODMAP diet have been tested in thousands of people with IBS across more than 30 studies. Here are some of the most important benefits.
Reduced Digestive Symptoms
IBS digestive symptoms can vary widely, including stomach pain, bloating, reflux, flatulence and bowel urgency. Stomach pain is a hallmark of the condition, and bloating has been found to affect more than 80% of people with IBS. Obviously, these symptoms can be debilitating. One large study even reported that people with IBS said they would give up an average of 25% of their remaining lives to be symptom-free.
Increased Quality of Life
People with IBS often report a reduced quality of life, and severe digestive symptoms have been associated with this. Luckily, several studies have found the low-FODMAP diet improves overall quality of life. There is also some evidence showing that a low-FODMAP diet may increase energy levels in people with IBS, but placebo-controlled studies are needed to support this particular finding.
The low-FODMAP diet can dramatically improve digestive symptoms. What's more, the diet involves a three-stage process that can take up to six months. And unless you need it, the diet may do more harm than good, since FODMAPs are prebiotics that support the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Nonetheless, this diet could be truly life-changing for those struggling with IBS.