Diet 101: The Low FODMAP Diet

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Photo by: Jan-Otto ©Jan-Otto

Jan-Otto, Jan-Otto

A few months ago, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics held its annual Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo, at which it shared the latest nutrition research and hottest new products with thousands of dietitians. One of the most-popular trends to emerge was the focus on gut health and low-FODMAP food products.

What Is a FODMAP?

Coined by researchers at Monash University in Australia, the term FODMAP refers to different types of carbohydrates in foods. With a “short-chain” chemical structure, these carbohydrates are not absorbed in people with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

FODMAP is an acronym for:

Fermentable, or carbs that are quickly broken down by bacteria to produce gas

Oligosaccharides. Humans do not have enzymes to break down and absorb these types of carbohydrates, leading to fermentation and gas.

Disaccharides, specifically lactose. Many IBS sufferers cannot digest lactose, which causes gastrointestinal discomfort.

Monosaccharides, or fructose, which is not well-absorbed if there is excess glucose present.

And

Polyols, or sugar alcohols. These are not completely digested by humans, and they are sometimes marketed as a laxative.

The Low-FODMAP Diet

Because foods that contain FODMAPs are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, eating them can cause distention, cramps, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss and anemia in a person with IBS. Some sufferers follow a low-FODMAP diet in an attempt to alleviate these symptoms and identify and eliminate trigger foods.

The plan is extremely strategic and begins with a two-to-six-week elimination phase, in which all high-FODMAP foods are removed from the diet. Following this diet is no small task, because FODMAPs are prevalent in many foods, including:

Fruits: apples, apricots, cherries, nectarines, plums, prunes, avocados, watermelon, pears, peaches, mangoes, sugar snap peas, dried fruit, fruit juice, persimmons

Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, beets, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mushrooms, garlic, leeks, onions, shallots

Grains: wheat, rye

Beans and Legumes: peas, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, baked beans

Dairy: ice cream, soft cheeses

Sugar and Sugar Alcohols: agave or honey, high-fructose corn syrup products like ketchup, BBQ sauce and syrup, artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol and xylitol

During the elimination phase, a registered dietitian provides guidance and encourages the use of a food journal to track food intake and correlating symptoms. Based on these results, the dietitian will create an individualized, well-balanced meal plan that allows the reintroduction of certain foods and the eventual easing of IBS symptoms.

Pros

The low-FODMAP diet offers relief from the constant gastrointestinal issues related to IBS. Plus, this diet is not a fad or a trend; it is based in scientific evidence and research. In other words, it has been tested and proven safe and effective. The low-FODMAP diet also offers peace of mind, eases anxiety and expands food choices for IBS sufferers who were once scared to eat many types of foods.

Cons

Obviously, the low-FODMAP diet is extremely restrictive, and it’s not easy for people to remember the long list of foods that contain FODMAPs. Also, with the limited nature of the diet comes the risk of compromising overall nutrition.

For example, limiting fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds can also lead to a less-than-ideal intake of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Avoiding dairy reduces calcium and vitamin D intake, which can affect bone health. Without proper guidance from a registered dietitian, the low-FODMAP diet can definitely cause nutritional deficiencies.

Bottom Line

Anyone considering a low-FODMAP diet should consult a medical professional first. If suitable, a low-FODMAP diet can help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

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Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., is a media dietitian, food and nutrition writer, spokesperson and blogger at Nutrition a la Natalie.

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