What is the FODMAP Diet?
Eating should be a pleasurable activity, but if you suffer from IBS then you’ll know the experience can be anything but. Eating becomes something you dread when the inevitable symptoms begin to bite.
The FODMAP diet is something which can potentially help with these symptoms, and substantially reduce the negative impact IBS has on your life. The diet is also often suggested as beneficial to other people with certain dietary problems and requirements.
It’s important to have a good understanding of the diet. Hopefully this article will address some of the key questions.
IBS is estimated to impact 11% of people globally and is associated with an array of negative symptoms such as:
- Stomach cramps
- Excessive flatulence
Not everyone will experience the same symptoms, or to the same degree. But if you experience these after eating, then it's possible you have IBS. However, this could also just be a food intolerance. So it's very important to get an official medical diagnosis.
Once diagnosed, the FODMAP diet can help by eating foods which are classified as Low FODMAP. 50% to 86% of people reported the diet had a positive impact on their IBS symptoms in this study.
The FODMAP diet is scientifically proven to help with IBS, it's not a fad diet or something backed up by pseudo science or word of mouth. It's accepted in the scientific community. That's why your Doctor may have recommended it to you.
The diet may also help with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) but its impact has not been as widely researched as IBS.
What are FODMAPS?
FODMAPs are a group of 5 short chain carbohydrates which cause a lot of IBS symptoms when consumed. They are poorly absorbed by the body and this creates problems.
The term is actually an acronym which stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Mono-saccharides And Polyols. To most people this will be meaningless and is more of a scientific description than is needed.
What we do need to know is that some very common foods are high in these FODMAPs. For example:
- Lactose such as dairy.
- Fructose which is found in certain fruits and veg.
- Fructans are often found in common grains.
- Polyols are sweeteners which are also found in fruit. They're often added to food to reduce calorie count.
- Galactans are found in legumes and often found in beans.
Because it is hard for the body to absorb these things (especially with IBS) the only other way they can be broken down is with our gut bacteria. But this creates gas and a lot of the negative symptoms.
Which Food Contains FODMAPS?
A lot of foods will contain FODMAPs. That isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s not like a nut allergy where you can’t have any traces at all in your diet (although garlic and onion should be avoided at all costs if possible). However, what we should aim to avoid is high FODMAP foods like the following:
Which Foods are Low FODMAP?
Everything on our site is low FODMAP so you can be confident when ordering from us. Also look out for the following symbols since this means they've been tested by Fodmap Friendly and Monash University. However, just because something doesn't have this symbol doesn't mean it's high in FODMAPs - it just hasn't been tested. But we don't need to test a carrot for example - we know that's fine.
The following items should be all ok - but remember to check the label!
Cranberry, banana, pineapple juice or smoothies
Decaffeinated coffee and tea
Lactose free milk
Starchy foods / grains
Gluten free pasta
Gluten free bread
These are basically lactose free varieties:
Lactose free cheese
Lactose free yoghurt
Lactose free milk
However, you need to be wary of something called FODMAP stacking. This is where you eat something which usually fine, but have a large portion. This can either in terms of serving, or you eat another food which contains the problem ingredient within a 24h period.
So it's important to know that some foods which are usually ok, may have an upper limit of how much you can eat. Other foods you can eat as much as you want.
The Monash University FODMAP App can help you with this. They tell you what is and isn't FODMAP using a traffic lighting system, and also say if a bigger portion means green (ok) changes to yellow (medium) or even red (bad).
Do I Need to be on the Diet Forever?
The idea of the FODMAP diet isn’t to be on it forever. Although it may be required that you do limit certain foods for the short – medium term. After 6-8 weeks strictly following the diet you should begin testing and reintroducing certain foods. This phase involves testing one group, for example fructose or lactose with a very small portion in a meal. You’d then wait and see how you react and if there was no reaction, up the portion size.
From this process you should find the following information about a certain food / food group.
- It’s completely ok.
- It’s ok in small portions.
- It’s not ok.
This reintroduction is a continuous process and just because you’ve had a bad reaction once doesn’t mean you should never go near that group again. The whole process is quite complicated and nothing is black and white. For example, there are certain psychological factors which could contribute to you having bad symptoms. It may actually have nothing to do with the food.
However, if you have a bad reaction to a group then it could be because you’ve used too much of a large portion, haven’t been strict enough with the diet, or are trying too many new foods at once.
That’s why it may be a good idea to consult a dietician or at least read the following book from Lee Martin. Some of the further resources at the bottom of the page also have some great advice.
Gluten Free vs FODMAP
The gluten free diet and FODMAP diet aren’t the same. However, they are similar. The gluten free diet is for coeliacs who can’t eat gluten. This means they can’t eat protein gluten which is found in grains like rye, barley and wheat. However, with the FODMAP diet the problem is the carbohydrates in rye, barley and wheat. The reason gluten free products are so common on the diet is because they contain much less of the things you can’t eat. It's not the gluten itself which is causing you the problem (unless you're a coeliac too).
We are not dieticians and we don't have any medical training. We'd encourage you to seek professional medial advice and at least buy a reputable book.
The Low Dodmap Diet - Dr Sue Shepherd and Dr Peter Gibson