What is low FODMAP? And Is it for me?

Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve experienced digestive woes, and maybe you’ve even heard of the low FODMAP diet. This diet is slowly becoming more well-known in the U.S and recently appeared in the Dallas Morning News and other major U.S. publications. Even big food companies like Nestle are joining in on the trend. But what is the diet? Who is it for? What does it involve? And how long does it last?

Keep reading as I answer some important and commonly asked questions about the low FODMAP diet!

Question: What is the low FODMAP diet?

Answer: The low FODMAP diet is an evidence-based diet for people with IBS. The acronym FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides And Polyols, which are different types of carbohydrates. Falling into those five categories are specific carbs: lactose, fructose, fructans, polyols, and galactans. The diet involves eliminating these carbohydrates from the diet for a period of time, followed by a reintroduction, one by one, of each type of FODMAP to determine which one(s) are causing IBS symptoms.

Question: Why do FODMAPs contribute to IBS symptoms for some people?

Answer: These carbohydrates are sometimes difficult for the intestines to absorb, which cause them to enter the large intestine (or colon) undigested. These undigested carbs act as food for the bacteria that live in the colon, and the bacteria produce gas as a result, leading to symptoms like bloating and abdominal pain – yikes! FODMAPs also pull water into the colon, which can lead to diarrhea. The gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and even constipation are symptoms that are all too familiar for IBS-sufferers.

Question: Which foods contain FODMAPs?

Answer: They are in a variety of foods – in fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and sugar alcohols, just to name a few. Below is a sample list (not comprehensive!) of some of the food sources for each type of FODMAP:

Lactose: milk products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream

Fructose: honey, agave syrup, high fructose corn syrup (yep, most non-diet soft drinks), mangos, pears, peaches, apples, dried fruit

Fructans: wheat, barley, broccoli, onions, garlic, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, inulin (a fiber additive)

Polyols: sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol) that are found in sugar free candy and gum, prunes, blackberries, cauliflower, avocado (>⅛ fruit), plums

Galactans: peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, pistachios, soy milk

Since FODMAPs are carbohydrates, all types of protein and fat are FODMAP-free, so you’re good to go with meat, fish, eggs, oils, and butter.

Question: Is this a gluten-free diet?

Answer: Technically no, the low FODMAP diet is not a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. FODMAPs (specifically fructans) are carbohydrates found in wheat, rye, and barley. So by going low FODMAP, you’ll also be going gluten-free by default, which means you’ll get a lot of confused looks from your friends, family, and coworkers! 

Question: Is this a weight-loss diet?

Answer: No, the low FODMAP diet is not designed for weight loss.

Question: Should I start the low FODMAP diet?

Answer: First, consult with your doctor to eliminate other possible medical causes of your digestive distress (since other diseases of the GI tract can have similar symptoms) and get a definitive diagnosis of IBS.

Question: I have IBS – how should I start the low FODMAP diet?

Answer: If you’ve been diagnosed with IBS and have tried other therapies, like increased soluble fiber, exercise, stress management, and reducing or avoiding foods like milk, caffeine, fatty foods, and spicy foods without relief, you can consider the low FODMAP diet. Start by consulting with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN) to help guide you through the elimination and reintroduction phases of the diet.

Question: Do I have to stay on this diet for life?

Answer: No, the elimination portion of the diet lasts from 4 to 6 weeks, and the reintroduction phase lasts about 6 weeks (one week for the reintroduction of each type of FODMAP). Once you have determined which type(s) of FODMAPs give you trouble, eliminate this group (or groups) and return all other non-bothersome FODMAP foods to your diet!

Question: Where can I go to found out more?

Answer: Consult a registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN) or visit the following sites:

http://www.med.monash.edu/cecs/gastro/fodmap/

http://www.aboutibs.org/low-fodmap-diet.html

Information in this post was obtained from Monash University’s website and from the following article:

Mansueto P, Seidita A, D’Alcamo A, Carroccio A. Role of FODMAPs in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Review. Nutr Clin Pract. 2015 (5):665-82. doi: 10.1177/0884533615569886

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