If you struggle with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you’ve probably heard of the low FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo, di-, monosaccharides and polyols (phew, try saying that five times fast!), which are specific groups of foods that are hard to digest and absorb, particularly in people with IBS.
What is the low FODMAPs diet?
Developed in the early 2000’s by a team of researchers led by Australian nutritionist Sue Shepherd, the purpose of the low FODMAP diet is to avoid or cut out foods with short-chain carbohydrates, a compound that makes the food resistant to digestion.
The diet is designed to help people with IBS have better control of their symptoms by limiting irritating foods that trigger changes in the gut’s microbiome. Also known as fermentable carbs, these foods bypass the bloodstream and head straight into the far end of your intestines, where most of the gut bacteria reside. Once there, bacteria eat the carbs for fuel, releasing hydrogen gas as a byproduct, which in turn triggers digestive symptoms such as bloating and cramping in sensitive individuals.
What the science says
While there’s no shortage of fad diets and food trends popping up every couple of months, research suggests that the low FODMAP diet may be the real deal for people with IBS. Studies show that the odds of improving pain, one of the hallmark symptoms of IBS, are 81% greater among people who eat a low FODMAP diet. And recent analyses have concluded that eating low FODMAP foods can reduce other debilitating IBS symptoms, like diarrhea, bloating, and constipation.
The low FODMAP diet is an elimination diet, which means that you have to slowly phase out specific foods within a specified time frame and then introduce them back, one at a time, to see if they cause any symptoms. Since it’s very restrictive, the low FODMAP diet is intended to be a temporary eating plan and not a permanent solution. Although certain foods can worsen symptoms of IBS, eating a variety of foods, including a wide range of fruits and vegetables, is essential for every aspect of human health.
Benefits of the low FODMAP diet
The low FODMAP diet is not for everyone. It isn’t intended for individuals without IBS or chronic digestive symptoms, and shouldn’t be used as a weight-loss method (there isn’t any evidence that people following this diet lose any weight). For folks with debilitating digestive issues, however, the low FODMAP diet can be extremely positive.
Here’re some research-backed benefits of the low FODMAP diet for IBS:
- Reduces cramping
- Lessens heartburn/reflux
- Increases quality of life
- Prevents stomach bloating
- Lowers instances of diarrhea
- Lessens gas
- Reduces constipation
What can and can’t you eat in the FODMAP diet
Irritable bowel syndrome is a complex condition, and everybody experiences it differently. Not every high FODMAP food will negatively affect every person with IBS, and some low FODMAP foods may still cause sensitivity in some people. An important part of the low FODMAP diet is to write down your symptoms (or lack thereof) after each meal to identify your personal tolerance to different foods.
Here’s a list of the most common low and high FODMAP foods and ingredients:
High FODMAP foods (aka foods to avoid)
- Wheat: bread, pasta, pastries, breakfast cereals, cakes
- Garlic and onions (this are some of the most concentrated sources of FODMAPs)
- High fructose corn syrup, honey, and sugar-free sweets containing polyols
- Herbal teas
- Hard cheeses
- Ice cream
- Stock cubes
Low FODMAP foods (aka foods to include)
- Bean sprouts
- Non-dairy milk: almond milk, rice milk
- Bell pepper
- Bok choy
- Certain cheeses: brie, camembert, feta, goat, mozzarella
- Lactose-free yogurt
- Lemon, lime
- Beef, pork, chicken
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, peanuts, pine nuts, macadamia, pumpkin seeds
- Sourdough bread
- Tofu, tempeh
- Clear spirits: gin, vodka
- Broccoli, broccolini
The low FODMAP diet is now one of the first-line therapies for treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) because of its effectiveness in reducing symptoms quickly and without the need for medications. However, it is not a weight loss program and shouldn’t be followed by people without digestive issues. It’s not supposed to be a permanent eating regime, either.
Talk to your doctor if you have IBS and want to learn more about the low FODMAP diet, or if you have undiagnosed stomach issues that don’t resolve with healthy eating and exercise.
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