There are certain foods that our bodies struggle to digest. While some people can consume these items with minimal to no digestive symptoms, others may experience severe bloating, stomach pain, or constipation. Specifically, people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other gut health problems often have to deal with these negative symptoms.
Doctors often recommend a low FODMAP diet plan to help people manage gut health issues. As a three-step program, eliminating and reintroducing FODMAPs can help you find the root of the problem and take control of your diet. Even if you don't have irritable bowel syndrome, you might consider consuming low FODMAP foods for other health reasons.
What does FODMAP mean?
Let's get into the basics. FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable O-ligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. These are the scientific terms for sugar alcohols and short-chain carbohydrates. During the digestion process, these foods ferment and draw water into the large intestine. Then, they produce gases, causing the intestine to expand.
Some food items have several types of FODMAPS, while others only contain one. In more detail, the sources of the FODMAPS groups break down into:
People with IBS do not have aversions to every type of FODMAP. For that reason, the reintroduction phase in low FODMAP diets is necessary to see which foods are causing problems.
Perks of a Low FODMAP diet
There are several benefits to a low FODMAP diet. The main one, of course, is reduced digestive symptoms. Following a low FODMAP diet can reduce IBS symptoms such as:
According to a 2016 review, low FODMAP diets have more than a 75% chance of improving bloating and an 81% chance of improving stomach pain. (1) Other studies show that the low FODMAP diet can help with bowel movements and gas. These benefits are especially useful for people with IBS who deal with debilitating stomach pain and other symptoms.
Because of these digestive symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome can result in a lower quality of life. However, with a low FODMAP diet, people with IBS can live with fewer gut symptoms.
Should You Follow a Low FODMAP diet?
Not everyone needs a low FODMAP diet. In fact, many high FODMAP foods have positive properties that our gut needs and work to support good bacteria growth. So, don't start cutting out high FODMAP food unless you've consulted a doctor.
If you do have IBS or other digestive issues such as SIBO, this diet may work for you. Consider a low FODMAP program if you have tried other options to reduce your symptoms, such as avoiding spicy food, caffeine, and alcohol to no avail. You may also want to try this diet if you have ongoing gut issues that negatively affect your life.
Steps of Low FODMAP Dieting
The main aspect that a lot of people forget about a low FODMAP diet is that there are three stages to the process. Unlike other diet plans, you don't have to avoid high FODMAP food forever. The process is a little complex, so it's best to begin with the help of a doctor or dietitian. You also want to start this diet when you have some time on your hands and can focus on the process.
The purpose of the different stages is to isolate problem foods so that you can recognize which FODMAPs bother your gut. The stages are as follows:
First, you'll need to avoid all high FODMAP foods. Consult the list below for some examples. The first stage lasts three to eight weeks, depending on the results you experience. The idea of the restriction/ elimination phase step is to reduce or eliminate symptoms. Once you experience symptom relief, you can move on to the next step.
Reintroduction works best when you work with a licensed dietitian to keep track of your trigger foods. The purpose of this stage is to identify your "threshold level," or the amount of FODMAPs your body can tolerate and which FODMAPs your body can tolerate.
So, you'll begin to reintroduce different FODMAPs into your diet slowly. Several apps and programs can guide you through the process as well, such as the Monash University FODMAP Diet App. (2) As you continue to restrict FODMAPs, you'll test different foods one by one and keep track of your reaction.
Finally, you can use the information you learned in stage two to create your own low FODMAP diet plan. Based on the amount and type of FODMAPs you can tolerate, you can follow a diet that works best for you. FODMAPs have some positive qualities that contribute to a balanced diet. Therefore, you want to keep reintroducing different foods and not completely restrict all FODMAPs.
Each part of the low FODMAP diet is important to reach a good quality of life.
List of Low FODMAP Foods
Here is a non-comprehensive low FODMAP food list. Remember to work with a professional to avoid all the correct items. Some low FODMAP options include:
High FODMAP Foods to Avoid
According to Monash University experts, "FODMAPs are found in a wide variety of foods, including fruit and vegetables, grains and cereals, nuts, legumes, lentils, dairy foods, and manufactured foods." Here are some foods high in FODMAPs broken down by their food groups:
You should also avoid sugars such as high fructose corn syrup, honey, and agave.
A low FODMAP food list includes items such as meat, seafood, lactose-free dairy products, fruits such as strawberries, oranges, and grapes, and vegetables such as potato, tomato, eggplant, and carrots. You can also consume dairy alternatives, most nuts, and grains such as rice, quinoa, and corn flakes.
Some foods high in FODMAPS include nuts such as cashews and pistachios, wheat, rye, fruits such as apples, cherries, mango, and watermelon, and vegetables such as cauliflower, onion, mushrooms, garlic, and snap peas. You should also avoid dairy products containing lactose.
FODMAPs are sugars and short-chain carbs that the body struggles to digest. If you suffer from digestive and gut health issues such as IBS or SIBO, you may want to seek information about a low FODMAP diet. If not, the average person does not need to be concerned with whether their food products are high in FODMAPs.
According to the Monash University low and high FODMAP food lists, eggs are a low FODMAP protein source. Most meats, aside from processed meats, are low FODMAP foods. Other low FODMAP options include nuts, many fruits, and dairy alternatives.
Food For Thought
The low FODMAP diet can help reduce symptoms of IBS. However, it doesn't work for everyone. (3) The good news is, your diet specialist can guide you to all of the options at your disposal. In general, you should prepare for your low FODMAP diet by collecting all the information you can about high FODMAP foods. Then, you can make a detailed grocery list and prepare appropriate meals.
This diet involves three stages, and the process can take months. However, it can be well worth it if it helps you manage symptoms of IBS.
1) Marsh, A., Eslick, E. M., & Eslick, G. D. (2016). Does a diet low in FODMAPs reduce symptoms associated with functional gastrointestinal disorders? A comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis. European journal of nutrition, 55(3), 897–906. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-015-0922-1
3) Mullin, G. E., Shepherd, S. J., Chander Roland, B., Ireton-Jones, C., & Matarese, L. E. (2014). Irritable bowel syndrome: contemporary nutrition management strategies. JPEN. Journal of parenteral and enteral nutrition, 38(7), 781–799. https://doi.org/10.1177/0148607114545329