Do you suffer from regular bloating, gas, abdominal pain, nausea and/or abnormal bowel patterns and been told in the past there wasn’t much you could do about it? Well behold – we might have the answer for you! Up to 70% of people with IBS will experience symptom relief when following the low-FODMAP diet (don’t worry, we’ll explain what this all means). It’s a scientifically proven diet to help people with IBS, so if this is you – read on!
What actually are FODMAPS?
FODMAPS refer to a group of carbohydrates found naturally in many healthy foods. While most people don’t react to these foods, some people are unable to digest them properly and hence they remain undigested through the small intestine and travel all the way through to the large intestine. The gut bacteria in the large intestines then ferment these foods and in the process produce gas, which can cause discomfort.
FODMAPS stands for:
- Oligosaccharides (e.g. fructans = artichokes, garlic, onion, leek, shallots, wheat, rye, barley)
- Dissaccharides (e.g. lactose = milk, icecream, yoghurt, ricotta, cottage cheese)
- Monosaccharides (e.g. high fructose = apples, mango, watermelon, honey)
- Polyols (e.g. artificial sweeteners = mannitol, xylitol, maltitol)
How might you react to FODMAPS if you have IBS?
As we mentioned, FODMAPS are usually not absorbed in the small intestine and therefore pass through to the large intestine undigested. In the large intestine two things can happen that may cause discomfort:
- The bacteria that break down FODMAPS in the large intestine actually produce gas as a by product in the process. This may cause you to pass wind regularly when eating certain foods (e.g. legumes).
- FODMAP foods tend to attract water into the large intestine, which can cause diarrhea or constipation, bloating and/or distention.
Low FODMAP diet: what is it and what are the benefits?
As the name suggests, a low FODMAPS diet is one where foods high in FODMAPS are reduced in the diet and replaced with other healthy foods. It has been scientifically proven to help treat IBS symptoms.
The diet consists of two phases to assess whether it helps in managing your gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Phase 1: Exclusion Phase. This is where all high FODMAP foods are eliminated from your diet for 4-6 weeks. It is important to write down symptoms during this period to see if you experience any improvements.
- Phase 2: Reintroduction. This is when the high FODMAP groups are gradually reintroduced one at a time to determine your level of tolerance and if symptoms reappear. The goal here is to identify which of the FODMAP groups are causing your symptoms (e.g. fructans and lactose).
- Final phase: This is when you can start eating FODMAPS that don’t trigger your symptoms and avoid the ones that do. You may find that even with the foods that do cause symptoms, you are able to enjoy a small amount, so it’s about testing your tolerance levels.
It is important to remember that the diet does not exclude all FODMAPS, it is just low in FODMAPS. It’s also not a lifetime diet. The two phases allow you to identify problem foods and eliminate these from your diet. The end goal is to only avoid the foods that cause significant symptoms. Most people will not react to all types FODMAPS – only certain ones (e.g. some people may react to dairy foods but tolerate wheat).
For a list of high and low FODMAP foods, click here.
Should everyone avoid FODMAPS?
Absolutely not. FODMAPS are perfectly nutritious foods for people who do not react to them. There is only a small minority of individuals who react adversely to them and may benefit from reducing them in their diet. While low FODMAPS is starting to gain momentum and become a little trendy, it is certainly not a weight-loss diet.
If you’re someone who has IBS, or experience gut problems, it might be worthwhile swapping out some high FODMAP foods with lower FODMAP foods to see if it makes a difference.
If you have any questions on FODMAPS, please comment below – our dietitians would love to help!