Despite the funny name, a low-FODMAP diet is a giant leap in dietary intervention for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). True, it involves some challenging dietary restrictions, but if you were suffering from IBS and had the opportunity to reduce its symptoms, I’m guessing you wouldn’t hesitate to give this diet a try.
What is a FODMAP?
FODMAPs are a class of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars). The name comes from
Fermentable – when gut bacteria ferment undigested carbohydrates to produce gases
Oligosaccharides – present in foods such as wheat, rye, onions, garlic and legumes/ pulses
Disaccharides – present in foods like milk, soft cheeses and yogurts
Monosaccharides – present in honey, apples, high fructose corn syrups etc.
And Polyols – also called sugar alcohols, present in some fruits and vegetables and which are used as sugar replacements such as malitol, sorbitol etc.
These fermentable carbohydrates are not properly absorbed in the gut and can thus trigger IBS symptoms. These types of fermentable carbohydrates are restricted in a low-FODMAP diet. Because fermentable carbohydrates are only partly absorbed, the remainder are fermented (or digested) by the gut bacteria.
When microbiome (the microbes in the gut) digest the FODMAPs, gases are given off, which can then cause you to have the most common symptoms of IBS – gas, bloating, and discomfort. FODMAPs in the gut will also draw in water, which can further exacerbate the symptoms causing pain, cramping, and diarrhea.
Collectively, the symptoms of gas, bloating, intermittent diarrhea, cramping, and pain are common symptoms of IBS. Monash University, Australia describes IBS as “characterized by chronic, relapsing symptoms including lower abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, wind, distension and altered bowel habit (ranging from diarrhoea to constipation) but with no abnormal pathology. One in seven adults suffer from IBS”. IBS is a “functional” Gastrointestinal disorder, meaning that it is not caused by an infection and unfortunately there is no established and effective treatment that works for most sufferers.
The low-FODMAP diet was developed by researchers at Monash University in Australia who were looking for a dietary solution to IBS. They started with some facts surrounding IBS that individuals suffering from it commonly restricted foods they believed to be contributing to symptoms, such as dairy, beans, cruciferous vegetables, fruits and juices, and gluten.
The researchers also considered that polyols (also called sugar alcohols), such as maltitol, sorbitol, mannitol, isomalt and erythritol, as replacements for sugar sometimes caused IBS symptoms in people with IBS. Finally, the researchers understood that individuals with lactose (milk sugar) or fructose (fruit sugar) intolerance also experienced similar problems.
Following a comprehensive review, the Australian research team determined that fermentable carbohydrates were the common thread, and that their effect was cumulative.
In other words, higher levels of FODMAPs in the diet were found to have a cumulative effect that caused or aggravated IBS symptoms. Based on this theory, the researchers undertook a study and subsequently found that about 75% of individuals who had IBS and followed a low-FODMAP diet found significant relief of their IBS symptoms.
Despite being very effective, a low-FODMAP diet is not easy to follow because it restricts so many common (and healthy) foods. For instance, a low-FODMAP diet excludes vegetables and fruits like onions, garlic, avocados, asparagus, watermelon and bananas, and foods containing milk, yogurt, wheat, honey, and fruit juice.
The low-FODMAP diet is different from other diets in that most individuals find they have a threshold, meaning that they can tolerate a certain amount of FODMAPs but exceeding that threshold level causes problems. So if you want to follow a low-FODMAP diet, you will normally not need to entirely restrict your intake of the offending foods.
Looking for delicious recipes for a low-FODMAP diet? Click here for meal plan and recipes, prep guide AND grocery list (which seriously makes your life muuuchhh simpler). Enjoy!