Some Quick Information About This Diet
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 improve one’s overall health and wellness.
The Low FODMAP Diet is an therapeutic eating plan that is recommended to people who are suffering from functional gut disorders with symptoms like abdominal distension, bloating, excess wind, and/or constipation and diarrhea.
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.
What Are FODMAPs?
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 It 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.
The diet itself involves three stages: restriction, reintroduction, and personalization.
Stage 1: Restriction
During the first stage of the low FODMAP 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.
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 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: Diet Personalization
During the final stage 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 foods your body reacts sensitively to will allow you to make specific changes 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.
Who Should Follow It?
This is a diet for those suffering from from IBS. It will serve no benefit to anybody who is not suffering from gut disorders.
Speak To A Healthcare Professional Before Starting A FODMAP Restricted Diet
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.
Even if you have been diagnosed with IBS, following this 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).
Will Removing FODMAPs Actually Work To Cure IBS?
Research has shown that the diet plan 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 that the diet can improve the quality of life of those suffering from IBS.
What Low FODMAP Foods Can You Eat?
Even though FODMAPs are present in a variety of foods, there are also plenty of foods that are Low in FODMAPs:
- Grains: Brown rice, oats, 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.
See a full list of high FODMAP foods here.
The Pros and Cons
FODMAP Restricted Diet Pros:
- It can help alleviate uncomfortable digestive problems.
- It can significantly improve the quality of life of those with IBS.
- There is some speculation it may also help other digestive conditions.
- It can also be followed by vegetarians.
FODMAP Restricted Diet Cons:
- The diet is quite restrictive.
- It can be expensive.
- It can be quite challenging to follow.
- It is less convenient than some of the other diets.
- It won’t help you lose weight.
How To Start
If you have been diagnosed with IBS, speak to your doctor about the FODMAP restricted diet. They will be able to provide advice on whether it’s something you should try as a way to alleviate your symptoms.
Additionally, Monash University offers plenty of support and resources to those looking to start the 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).
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 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, this diet could be something you consider as a treatment.