You’ll probably agree that one of the primary reasons people choose to follow a diet is to lose weight. Though often there’s also a secondary goal – to transition to a healthier lifestyle and make long-lasting changes that improve health and longevity.
Some diets are not necessarily designed for weight loss, but are used to alleviate symptoms of digestive disorders, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), for example.
Low FODMAP is one of those diets, and is recommended to people who are suffering from functional gut disorders with symptoms like abdominal distension, bloating, excess wind, and/or constipation and diarrhea.
So, what exactly is Low FODMAP diet, how does it work, is it effective, and could it be beneficial for you? We’ve taken an insider look to explain everything you need to know about this diet plan.
What is The Low FODMAP Diet?
The Low FODMAP diet was developed by Monash University researchers. It aims to limit foods that are known to trigger the gut, and cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
According to the researchers at Monash, a massive 15% of the world’s population are affected by IBS, and food is often a common trigger for various digestive issues; Restricting specific types of foods could significantly reduce the unpleasant symptoms of IBS.
The foods most known to cause digestive issues are high in “fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols”, which is essentially just a group of sugars that’s referred to as “FODMAP”. These foods draw water into your digestive tract and can create symptoms like gas, bloating, and stomach pain.
FODMAPs are found naturally in many foods, with some foods containing more than one kind. They are also used as food additives in certain processed foods.
Below are the main sources of FODMAPs:
- Disaccharides: Milk, yogurt, and soft cheeses.
- Oligosaccharides: Wheat, legumes, rye, legumes/ pulses, onions, and garlic.
- Monosaccharides: Various fruits, including apples, grapes – and sweeteners like honey, cane sugar, and agave nectar.
- Polyols: Wide range of fruits and vegetables including blackberries, apricots, and avocados, as well as some sweeteners in processed foods, such as toffees, hard candies, jams, and preserves.
How Does The Low FODMAP Diet Work?
The idea behind the Low FODMAP diet is that cutting out or reducing your intake of high-FODMAP foods will decrease intestinal distension and digestive upset.
It is important to note that the program is intensive, and fairly restrictive – and should only be followed under the supervision of a registered dietitian specializing in the diet.
The diet involves three stages: restriction, reintroduction, and personalization.
Stage 1: Restriction
During the first stage of the diet, you eliminate foods that are high in FODMAPs (such as wheat, onion, garlic, certain fruits and vegetables, sweeteners, legumes, pulses, and other).
This stage lasts about 2 to 6 weeks – because some FODMAPs promote gut health and will need to be reintroduced back into the diet.
Some people may notice an improvement in their health as early as in the first week – but for some, it takes the full six weeks. The idea is that you move on to the second stage once your symptoms have resolved.
Stage 2: Reintroduction
The second stage of the Low FODMAP diet aims to identify:
- Which types of FODMAPs your body is sensitive to, and which types it can tolerate;
- The amount of FODMAPs your body can tolerate, also known as your “threshold level.”
With the help of a qualified dietician, you will systematically reintroduce FODMAP foods into your diet, and observe the changes in your gut health. You will be testing specific foods one by one, for three days each.
It is important to continue with the Low FODMAP diet during this stage and restrict your consumption of high-FODMAP foods, even if you have identified that your body can tolerate some of them well.
Stage 3: Personalization
During the final stage of the Low FODMAP diet (also known as the modified Low-FODMAP diet) you will still limit your intake of some FODMAPs, but the amount and type of FODMAPs will be tailored to what you can personally tolerate. This will have been identified in the reintroduction stage.
Knowing which products your body reacts sensitively to will allow you to make specific changes in your diet if need be. For example, you may want to avoid certain high FODMAP foods in large amounts, because you know your body reacts with IBS symptoms.
What Can You Eat On the Low FODMAP Diet?
Even though FODMAPs are present in a variety of foods, there are also plenty of foods that are Low in FODMAPs. Products low in FODMAPS include:
- Grains: Brown rice, oats, quinoa, polenta, millet, and quinoa.
- Protein: Chicken, beef, lamb, pork, fish, eggs, prawns, tuna and tofu.
- Fruit: Avocado, blueberries, banana, cantaloupe, coconut, clementine, dragon fruit, grapes, kiwifruit, lemon, orange, and lime.
- Vegetables: Bell peppers, bean sprouts, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, choy sum, eggplant, kale, tomatoes, cucumber, spinach, celery, and zucchini.
- Nuts/ seeds: Brazil nuts, almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts; sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
- Cheese: Brie, cheddar, camembert, feta, mozzarella, and goat cheese.
- Milk: Lactose-free, coconut, rice and almond milk.
- Oils and Condiments: Coconut oil, canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, wasabi, soy and fish sauce.
- Spices: Cumin, curry powder, black pepper, cardamom, chili powder, cinnamon, Chinese five spice, mustard seeds, paprika, etc.
You should also make sure to check ingredient lists of any processed foods to make sure no FODMAPs have been added. Companies may use them for many reasons, such as fat substitutes, prebiotics, or lower-calorie sugar substitutes.
See a full list of products high in FODMAPs here.
Do You Need To Exercise on the Low FODMAP Diet?
The Low FODMAP diet is only an eating pattern, meaning it doesn’t specifically incorporate exercise into the diet.
However, doing regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle which helps prevent many mental and physical illnesses, increases your energy levels and can help lose weight – therefore you should consider getting at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise daily.
What Support Does The Low FODMAP Diet Offer?
Monash University offers plenty of support and resources to those looking to start the Low FODMAP diet.
That includes the Low FODMAP Diet app which provides access to recommendations about foods you should eat – as well as those to avoid. It also contains over 80 low FODMAP recipes, and a digital version of the Low FODMAP Diet Guide (which you can also get delivered as a booklet).
How Much Does The Low FODMAP Diet Cost?
One of the downsides is that the diet can be quite costly. That is because you are recommended to hire a qualified dietician to make sure you are following it in a healthy, effective, and safe way.
A registered dietician is likely to charge anywhere between $150 and $350 per hour, and you will most likely need to meet them a few times.
Does The Low FODMAP Diet Work?
Research has shown that the Low FODMAP diet can help manage unpleasant abdominal symptoms in people with IBS.
Some studies showed that, for those suffering from IBS, the chances of reducing stomach pains and bloating are 81% and 75% greater, respectively.
In addition to that, there is even some research that shows following the Low FODMAP diet can improve the quality of life of those suffering from IBS.
The Pros and Cons of the Low FODMAP Diet
- The diet can help alleviate uncomfortable digestive problems. Some research suggests that the diet can help manage patients with functional gut symptoms.
- It can significantly improve the quality of life of those with IBS. Several studies show that the Low FODMAP diet can improve their overall quality of life in those experiencing unpleasant symptoms of IBS.
- There is some speculation it may also help other conditions. Some research could suggest it may help those suffering from diverticulitis and exercise-induced digestive problems. However, more research is needed to establish its effectiveness in treating these illnesses.
- The diet can also be followed by vegetarians. Those who don’t eat meat can also benefit from the Low FODMAP diet. However, it could be more challenging, because legumes which are high in FODMAPs, are a key protein source for vegetarians. That said, there are plenty of other protein-rich options that are suitable for vegetarians, such as tempeh, tofu, eggs, and nuts and seeds.
- The diet is quite restrictive. Many products are high in FODMAPs, which means that the diet is quite restrictive.
- It can be expensive. Working with a dietician means that you will need to pay for their time, and it could add up to quite a big expense.
- It can be quite challenging to follow. Since many foods are high in FODMAPs, eliminating them from your diet could be quite challenging.
- It is less convenient than some of the other diets. When compared to diet plans that deliver nutritious, pre-packaged meals directly to your door, the Low FODMAP diet could be seen as less convenient.
- It won’t help you lose weight. The Low FODMAP diet isn’t aimed at reducing weight, which may be seen as a con by those looking to shed unwanted pounds as well as boost their gut health.
Is The Low FODMAP Diet For You?
One of the most important things to take away is that Low FODMAP diet is for those who are suffering from IBS. Therefore, before you begin the diet, it is important to make sure you actually have the condition.
The diet is quite restrictive – and our bodies actually need FODMAPs to support the growth of good health bacteria. Therefore, deciding to follow this restrictive diet without an IBS diagnosis isn’t something you should do.
Diagnosing IBS with a positive diagnostic test isn’t possible, therefore, if you suspect that you have IBS, your doctor will first need to rule out other potential illnesses, like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and colon cancer.
Once these illnesses have been ruled out, your doctor will be able to confirm that you have IBS using the following diagnostic criteria:
- A recurring stomach pain at least 1 day per week in the last 3 months;
- The pain to be associated with two or more of the following: related to defecation, associated with a change in frequency of stool, or associated with a change in the appearance of stool.
And – even if you have been diagnosed with IBS, following the Low FODMAP diet may not be the first potential treatment to opt for. Because the diet is intensive and quite restrictive, your doctor may first recommend other treatments, such as stress management strategies, or avoiding certain foods that are likely to trigger IBS symptoms (like caffeine, or alcohol).
How Do I Start the Low FODMAP Diet?
If you have been diagnosed with IBS, speak to your doctor about the FODMAP diet. They will be able to provide advice on whether it’s something you should try as a way to alleviate your symptoms.
The first steps to starting the diet would be to find a qualified dietician in your area using the resources on the Monash University page. You should then download the Low FODMAP Diet app, as well as the guide mentioned above.
The Low FODMAP diet is an effective way to help those suffering from IBS and experiencing symptoms like gas, bloating, and stomach pains. Research has shown that it can provide relief to those suffering from IBS, as well as significantly improve their overall life quality.
The diet is a temporary way to heal your gut, and once completed, most people will be able to return to their previous diet and only cut out a few high FODMAP foods.
The diet should be followed under the supervision of a qualified dietician, who can provide the needed help and guidance. One of the downsides is that hiring a dietician can be costlier than some of the other diets.
If you have been diagnosed with IBS, and haven’t responded to stress management strategies or first-line dietary advice, the Low FODMAP diet could be something you consider as a treatment.