What Is The "Low FODMAP Diet" And Who Does It Help?
Before diving deep into IBS and FODMAP diet information; I'd like to preface that I am not a registered dietician. If you are experiencing IBS symptoms, I highly encourage you to work with a registered dietician that caters to IBS. However, all of the information in this post is scientifically proven. I have also worked with a registered dietitian with my own SIBO problems; I have learned the in's and out's of the low FODMAP diet on a personal level. This post will give you information that may help you better understand if this diet may help you relieve IBS symptoms.
What is a FODMAP?
Collectively, FODMAPs are a type of easily fermentable carbohydrate. When we consume these specific carbohydrates, they tend to ferment in our small intestine and serves as the "perfect food" for bacteria. Too much bacteria in our gut causes symptoms like major bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea, and abdominal pain. If you frequently experience these symptoms (frequently, meaning almost daily) you are having signs that your gut is not in homeostasis. You should immediately talk to a gastrointestinal doctor to figure out why you are experiencing these symptoms. The low FODMAP diet simply has you eliminate these easily fermentable carbohydrates from your diet. Therefore, the bacteria in your gut will have nothing to feed on, and the bloating/constipation/gas goes away.
These carbohydrates are called FODMAPs. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides And Polyols. All of those crazy words are a different kind of carbohydrate; we will discuss common foods in each category later on in this post.
Who should follow this diet?
The low-FODMAP diet is scientifically proven to lessen symptoms of IBS. It has helped thousands of people suffering from SIBO, crohn's, ulcerative colitis, IBD, celiac's, and more. IBS is diagnosed by a doctor when the patient has had 6 months or longer of symptoms such as pain, discomfort, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation. Remember, people can experience these symptoms any time, but those who suffer from IBS will experience these symptoms more frequently and to extreme degrees.
Don't let the word "diet" fool you; This is not a diet to control weight or help speed up digestion. These can be side effects depending on the individuals gut health; but this diet is not a means to follow for the goal of weight loss. This is a short term solution helping those who suffer from IBS or related GI problems.
How to begin the Low FODMAP diet
After assessing why you are a good candidate for the low FODMAP diet, you should also have a generally good idea of what foods currently create IBS symptoms (constipation, bloating, gas, pain). This could change after you begin reintroducing higher FODMAP foods. For instance, I had once thought dairy upset my stomach. Until I reintroduced different FODMAPs at different times, I found that it was the food I ate dairy with that was upsetting my stomach (garlic and onion); not the actual dairy.
While following this diet, you will completely eliminate:
fructose (sugar found in many fruits, honey, agave, syrups)
lactose (found in dairy)
polyols (such as sorbitol and mannitol, common sweeteners)
fructans (wheat, onion, garlic)
galactans (legumes, beans, nuts)
Below I will list major FODMAP offenders as well as green light options that are safe. But for the first few months, it is important to stay strict on this diet to have your symptoms completely eradicate.
One food group that is untouchable in this list is protein. Most meats, seafoods and eggs are a safe low FODMAP option. Most individuals plan their meals around their protein source so it is a good idea to develop that habit if you have not already.
You will also want to begin reading food labels. Onion and garlic are two foods that cause significant bloating and gas; they also appear in many packaged goods. It will be very important to find your go-to crackers and sauces with no onion or garlic.
Types of FODMAPs
No one is able to digest fructans and they are normally the most common offender with IBS symptoms.
Red light foods (avoid): onion, artichokes, garlic, shallots, watermelon, white peaches, breakfast cereals, bread, gluten, pistachios, cashews, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, wheat bran, inulin, edamame
Green light foods (proceed): alfalfa, carrots, ginger, green beans, lettuce, kale, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, chia seeds, flax seeds, cornstarch, buckwheat, popcorn
Potatoes, carrots, and kale are all low in Fructans (low FODMAP)
These are found in legumes and nuts. These cannot be digested and absorbed by the body.
Red light foods (avoid): all beans, chick peas and lentils
Green light foods (proceed): SOME people tolerate chick peas. Proceed with caution.
Found in milk and dairy; this FODMAP is typically a problem when over-consumed. Generally, even lactose intolerant individuals still produce a small amount of the lactase enzyme but not enough to cover the dairy of a typical American diet.
Red light foods (avoid): whole, low fat, skim cows milk/sheeps milk/ goat milk, ice creams, yogurts, dairy products, soft cheeses(cream cheese, cottage cheese)
Green light foods (proceed): dairy free milks and yogurts, hard cheeses (brie, cheddar, feta) ... up to 2 oz for cheese. Dairy free yogurts, lactose free ice creams
Lactose free milk is the low FODMAP and should be traded out for traditional cow's milk.
Primary sugar found in fruits. These become a problem for those with IBS when the fructose content exceeds the glucose content. The following fruits are common offenders:
Red light foods (avoid): Apples, pears, cherries, asparagus, sugar snap peas
Green light foods (proceed with caution): berries, 1/2 banana, lemons, limes, and kiwi
Blueberries are low FODMAP; but proceed with caution.. too much fruit can cause these foods to become high in FODMAP. Stick to 1/2 cup or less!
High FODMAP polls are your "sweeteners" found in many packaged foods. Mannitol and sorbitol are two you will find most commonly.
Red light foods (avoid): apples, blackberries, plums, watermelon, cauliflower, mushrooms, gums, "sugar free" snacks, artificial sweeteners, xyilitol, mannitol, sorbitol
Green light foods (proceed with caution): bananas, berries, grapes, kiwis, aspartame, stevia, sugar-sweetened candy
Steps to finding freedom with the low FODMAP diet
It's very limiting to follow the low FODMAP diet for long term. Here are my recommendations to achieve freedom while still decreasing IBS pain, bloating and gas:
1) Follow the low FODMAP diet strictly for a few months. Let your body adjust to consuming less fermentable carbohydrates. This may mean:
- you read food labels and avoid anything that has high FODMAP ingredients
- asking restaurants for special accommodations while preparing your food
- bringing your own food to social gatherings
- utilizing brands like FODY to order things like salsas, BBQ sauces and seasonings to flavor your foods.
2) Seek a registered dietician specializing in gastrointestinal health. These dieticians should help you follow a reintroduction protocol. This will allow you to dial in on what FODMAPs truly disrupt your gut. You might not react to all 5 FODMAPs. This will open up more food options to you while still decreasing IBS symptoms.
3) Always remember you can come back to the low FODMAP diet any time. Sometimes having higher FODMAP foods occasionally will not cause problems; but consumed frequently may cause symptoms to resurface. You now have the tools to get back on track and focus on low FODMAP options.
Good luck on your low FODMAP journey and if this was helpful to you in anyway; please feel free to share this with others who experience IBS symptoms!