A FODMAP Diet May Be the Tool You’re Looking for to Help Manage IBS
If you’ve had a run-in with digestive or gastrointestinal issues before, then you already know how many things can play a role in poor gut health. Many factors ranging from stress, your outside surroundings, to the food you put in your body can be common triggers of negative digestive symptoms. When it comes to sensitive stomachs, the FODMAP diet might be a perfect balance.
- FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are short-chain carbs that the small intestine absorbs poorly, causing digestive issues.
- Some core foods and food groups that are high in FODMAP include wheat-based foods, legumes, and dairy.
- FODMAPs are prebiotics that support the growth of good, beneficial bacteria in your gut, so a FODMAP diet is not recommended for those that have not been diagnosed with IBS or SIBO.
One of the main routes for treatment involves a strict diet change, as getting a regular intake or restricting certain foods can dramatically improve poor digestive symptoms in those with food sensitivities or allergies.
In particular, a diet low in fermentable carbs, also known as a FODMAP diet, is typically recommended for the management of small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). With so many people suffering from gastrointestinal issues (1 out of 10 people in the U.S. suffer from IBS alone), it makes sense why many of them have turned to a FODMAP diet as a solution (1). So, what exactly is a FODMAP diet and what are the benefits?
What is a FODMAP Diet?
When people say “FODMAP diet,” they usually mean a diet low in FODMAP, or the certain sugars (carbs) that may cause gastrointestinal issues. Since it’s a restrictive diet, it’s usually used over a short period of time as your doctor observes what foods work and don’t work for your body.
To break it down, FODMAP stands for the scientific terms that are used to classify various groups of carbs known as: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (1). In particular, the carbohydrates that are present include lactose in disaccharides, fructose in monosaccharides, and sorbitol and mannitol in polyols (1).
These groups of carbs are known for triggering poor digestive symptoms like cramping, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, and stomach pain. In terms of a FODMAP diet, these carbs can be found in a wide range of foods, including:
- Oligosaccharides: Wheat, rye, legumes, garlic, onions, and various fruits and vegetables.
- Disaccharides: Milk, yogurt and soft cheeses.
- Monosaccharides: Various fruits including mangoes, and sweeteners such as honey and agave nectar.
- Polyols: Certain fruits and vegetables including blackberries and lychee.
How does a FODMAP diet work?
As mentioned before, the FODMAP diet is a restrictive diet that involves the elimination of certain foods. The treatment roadmap is as follows:
1.Typically, a doctor will first have you start off by eliminating high FODMAP foods from your diet over a span of two to six weeks as your IBS and SIBO symptoms decrease (2).
2. Then, you will slowly start to reintroduce these high FODMAP foods into your diet to see which foods are specifically causing the digestive problems. At this point, you should have a grasp of which types of FODMAPs your body can tolerate and how much of those FODMAPS you can tolerate – also known as your threshold level.
3. Once these foods are identified, you can avoid or limit them to stop problematic symptoms while enjoying other foods stress-free. So, at the end of all of the hard work, you’ll end up with a personalized FODMAP diet according to your individual tolerances. It’s super important to progress to this final stage in order to increase diet variety and flexibility, which are linked with improved long-term compliance, quality of life, and improved gut health (3).
What is safe to eat?
As you move through treatment, you should receive a full list of safe foods and FODMAP foods to avoid from your doctor. Of course, different foods can trigger different symptoms; not everybody is the same. However, there are some core foods that are high in FODMAP that are commonly noted to avoid as you treat your IBS and SIBO symptoms. These foods include:
- Dairy (Milk, yogurt and ice cream)
- Wheat-based products (Cereal, bread and crackers)
- Legumes (Beans and lentils)
- Certain fruits and vegetables (Onions, garlic, pears, and more) (4)
Instead, meals based around low FODMAP foods are encouraged. Luckily, a lot of great foods are naturally low in FODMAPs. This calls for meals made of up protein like eggs and meat, non-dairy products, whole grains like brown rice and oats, and safe fruits and veggies such as bananas, oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, carrots, and spinach. Other safe foods include nuts and seeds (5).
As you shop for foods low in FODMAPs, it’s equally as important to check the ingredients list on packaged or processed foods for added FODMAPs. Brands may add FODMAPs to their foods as prebiotics, as a fat substitute or as a lower-calorie substitute for sugar.
Benefits and Risks
The benefits of a low FODMAP diet have been shown to help a vast majority of those suffering from IBS and SIBO symptoms by reducing stomach pain, bloating, reflux, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. In fact, results from four studies concluded that if you follow a low-FODMAP diet, your odds of improving stomach pain and bloating are 81% and 75% greater, respectively (3).
For those with IBS and SIBO, a FODMAP diet could be a saving grace when they have not responded well to other treatments or management strategies to reduce their symptoms (6).
However, a FODMAP diet is not for everyone as it is such a restrictive diet. Due to the restriction, it is safest to follow a FODMAP diet under the care of a doctor who has diagnosed you with IBS or SIBO to ensure you’re maintaining a healthy weight. Plus, most FODMAPs are prebiotics (not to be confused with probiotics) meaning they support the growth of good gut bacteria. You don’t want to reduce good gut bacteria if your body doesn’t call for it.
Written by Selena Ponton