Diet 101: Low-FODMAP Diet

Here's what to know about the new diet.

Photo by: Juhari Muhade/Getty Images

Juhari Muhade/Getty Images

I’ve had a sensitive gut for as long as I can remember and I’m not the only one. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may affect up to 23% of the population worldwide, according to research. For a long time dietary guidance for those of us with IBS was pretty ineffective, but the Low-FODMAP Diet is changing things in a big way. So what exactly is it, and should you try it? Read on to find out.

What Is a Low-FODMAP Diet?

A Low-FODMAP Diet is a type of elimination diet developed by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia designed to help people suffering from IBS and gut sensitivity. Promising research has shown that about 70% of people with IBS who follow the diet see a significant improvement in their symptoms.

What Does FODMAP Actually Stand For?

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. I know it’s a lot to take in, but really these words are just scientific names used to describe the different sugars that some people may have trouble absorbing. Fermentable is the word used to describe the process where bacteria in your gut consume these sugars (FODMAPs) to produce gas and other nasty symptoms.

What Are FODMAPs?

Put simply, FODMAPs are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that some folks may have trouble absorbing properly in the gut, which can trigger symptoms such as stomach pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation in those of us with IBS. Sexy, right?

What Foods Are FODMAPs Found In?

FODMAPs are found in a range of foods including apples, cherries, mushrooms, onions, garlic, beans, milk and yogurt, as well as foods made from wheat, such as bread, pasta and biscuits. FODMAPs aren’t found in proteins or fats so foods like chicken, fish, eggs and oil are all allowed on a low-FODMAP diet plan.

OK, So How Does the Diet Work?

There are three stages to a Low-FODMAP Diet.

• Stage 1 ELIMINATION: You’ll need to avoid high-FODMAP foods for 4 to 8 weeks and replace them with low-FODMAP alternatives.

• Stage 2 REINTRODUCTION: If your symptoms have improved in the elimination phase, you’ll start reintroducing FODMAPs one at a time. It’s likely that you won’t be sensitive to all FODMAP groups, and this is where you’ll work out which ones are problematic for you. (I’m OK with some dairy, for example, but my gut really doesn’t like onions.)

• Stage 3 PERSONALIZATION: In this stage you return to as normal a diet as possible, avoiding just those FODMAPs that trigger your symptoms.

What you have to remember is that this diet is not about being incredibly restrictive longterm. As dietician Laura Tilt explains, the ultimate goal is to eat and live as freely as possible with the least restrictions you can get away with the more FODMAPs you can return to your diet without triggering symptoms, the healthier your gut is likely to be. Hurrah!

Is The Diet Suitable for Me?

It’s incredibly important not to self-diagnose your suitability for the diet, says dietician and FODMAP expert Kate Scarlata. Your doctor needs to rule out any chance that your symptoms are being caused by other serious medical conditions like celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s disease. Your physician should also refer you to a FODMAP-trained dietitian who can help guide you through the process.

Finally, there’s no need to see the diet as boring or restrictive. It can be a great opportunity to experiment in the kitchen, all the time making you and your gut feel better. If you are working with a dietitian they’ll usually provide you with a list of high- and low-FODMAP foods, however the Monash FODMAP App, the largest FODMAP food database available, is a brilliant first stop.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Emma Hatcher is a trained cook, food blogger and author. After years of suffering with IBS, she came across the low FODMAP diet and has never looked back. Her hugely popular blog, She Can’t Eat What?!, shares delicious free-from recipes, celebrating ingredients and good food whilst offering tips and tricks for looking after your gut in today’s stress-filled, modern lifestyle. Emma’s debut cookbook, The FODMAP Friendly Kitchen, was published in January 2017.

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