If you're among the many individuals who suffer from IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, then you know how painful, annoying and discouraging it can be. You might find certain foods triggering symptoms like bloating, stomach cramps and abdominal pain that can make your daily life miserable.
But did you know there's a way to identify which food are contributing to those unpleasant digestive symptoms? It’s called FODMAP-based eating – and in this blog post we’ll explore what FODMAPs mean for your Irritable Bowel Syndrome and why knowing more about these carbohydrates could help bring relief to the uncomfortable effects of IBS.
What does FODMAP stands for?
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols. FODMAPs are naturally in foods, that can cause digestive discomfort in some people. During digestion, these fermentable short chain carbohydrates are not absorbed properly in the small intestine, creating excess gas and bloating. The low FODMAP diet is a clinical practice that involves reducing high FODMAP food and, and if symptoms improve, re-introducing them using a specific protocol to identify which ones are problematic for the person. Following a low FODMAP diet can help reduce these symptoms, and have a significant effect on quality of life.
What are the 6 FODMAPs?
The low FODMAP diet is a popular diet that assists people with digestive issues, as it eliminates certain foods to improve symptoms. This diet helps to reduce distress in the GI tract caused by six categories of foods. FODMAP is an easy-to-remember outline of the six different carbohydrate subgroups that trigger symptoms for many people with IBS: GOS, fructans, lactose, fructose, sorbitol, and mannitol.
Oligo-saccharides: GOS & Fructans
Polyols: Sorbitol & Mannitol
These categories of food contain various sugar alcohols and fibers that are difficult for the body to process and wind up producing gas in the intestines. By avoiding these FODMAPs, uncomfortable symptoms can be alleviated while ensuring a healthy diet is still maintained.
How does the low FODMAP diet improves IBS symptoms?
FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates - small in size, made out of 10 sugar molecules or less. They are poorly digested by all individuals, which typically goes unnoticed but causes discomfort by two different mechanisms in those with IBS:
- FODMAPs attract water into the small intestine. This causes the intestines to expand and move, which can result in abdominal pain in those with IBS.
- Bacteria in the large intestine use FODMAPs as an energy source, through a process known as fermentation. This produces gas as a result and makes you bloat.
People with functional gastrointestinal disorders experience exaggerated bloating and abdominal pain, because of overactive nerves that line the intestine . Watch this short video to learn more about the effects of FODMAPs in the gut.
The low FODMAP diet is a type of elimination diet for people with IBS. FODMAPs are poorly absorbed carbohydrates found in many foods. These types of carbohydrates can be hard for the large intestine to digest, and if poorly digested, can produce symptoms of IBS. By following the FODMAP diet, individuals with IBS improve their symptoms.
This is made possible by substituting certain higher FODMAP foods with low FODMAP alternatives to reduce the intake of poorly absorbed carbohydrates within the diet. The result has been seen to improve digestive health and improve one's quality of life when managed correctly.
What foods are considered high FODMAP?
When following the FODMAP diet, certain high-FODMAP foods will need to be avoided. Foods high in FODMAPs are:
- wheat, rye and barley-containing products;
- garlic and onions;
- legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and soybeans;
- some fruits including apples, pears, mangoes, and cherries;
- dairy products like milk and yogurt;
Many foods can trigger or worsen symptoms in those with IBS, including dairy, fat, excess caffeine or alcohol, gluten or spicy food items. This is because these foods can naturally cause indigestion and minor inflammation (for example, spicy food and alcohol) or affect how fast foods move through your gastrointestinal tract (for example, fatty food and caffeine). Also fruit juices, artificial sweeteners, and processed food products can also cause indigestion.
Most herbs and spices can still be consumed on a low FODMAP diet; here are the 70+ best low FODMAP herbs & spices.
What are high FODMAP foods to avoid?
There is robust scientific evidence in support of limiting FODMAP-containing foods in order to reduce IBS symptoms . FODMAPs found naturally in a wide range of healthy, nutrient dense and fiber rich foods including fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, dairy products, and as well as many processed foods. These foods have important health benefits, and a diet low in FODMAPs is not meant to
What happens when you eat FODMAPs?
Eating FODMAP food causes the bacteria in your large intestine to ferment them, producing gas and liquid that leads to bloating, abdominal discomfort, and other symptoms associated with IBS. It also increases osmotic pressure in the small intestine, drawing water into the gut which can cause abdominal distention and pain.
Do all FODMAPs have the same effect on symptoms?
It is important to note that not all FODMAPs have the same effect. For example, lactose (a type of sugar found in dairy products) is more likely to cause symptoms in those with IBS than fructans and galactooligosaccharides (GOS). It is important to speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian to find out which FODMAPs could be causing your symptoms.
Following the low FODMAP diet is an effective way of managing IBS and many people have seen a reduction in their symptoms and more regularity in bowel movements as a result. Working with a registered dietitian is highly recommended as they can guide how to make sure you are getting all the essential nutrients you need.
Additionally, it is important to note that FODMAPs are often beneficial for overall digestive health and should be reintroduced into your diet after following the elimination phase. This is because they provide dietary fiber and prebiotic-like substances which can support healthy gut bacteria populations. All in all, following a well-planned low FODMAP diet, can be a great way of improving symptoms.
Who should follow a FODMAP diet?
The low FODMAP diet is intended for people with IBS and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) to reduce digestive symptoms. The low FODMAP diet should be used in conjunction with the advice of your doctor or a registered dietitian. It is not recommended to follow this type of diet without medical supervision as it can lead to nutrient deficiencies, food allergies, and eating disorder behaviors. Additionally, other digestive disorders such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and other food sensitivities should be ruled out before starting the diet.
It is also important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all FODMAP diet as everyone's tolerances and digestive problems are different; and therefore it may take some trial and error to identify the foods and amounts that are best tolerated. A registered dietitian can help to make sure you’re getting all the essential nutrients you need while avoiding foods triggering your symptoms and improving bowel habits.
The low FODMAP diet and IBS
The FODMAP diet is a one of the short-term elimination diets that can be beneficial for people with IBS or other gastrointestinal symptoms such as SIBO. The FODMAP diet is not a lifestyle diet and should be used in short-term to identify trigger foods so that you can make informed decisions about which foods to include or avoid in your everyday diet. Making sure you are getting adequate fiber and prebiotics is essential for a healthy gut, so working with a registered dietitian to ensure your diet includes these nutrients is important. So it is important to reintroduce them, during the reintroduction phase, into your diet after completing the elimination phase.
With the right guidance and support, following the low FODMAP diet can be an effective way to manage symptoms of IBS and improve your bowel habits. Following this type of diet should always be done under the guidance and supervision of a doctor or registered dietitian to make sure your diet is balanced and meets all your nutritional needs.
Some key takeaways with regards to identifying your food triggers:
- Not all FODMAP subgroups cause symptoms in everyone; the individual tolerance to FODMAPS varies
- There are no reliable blood or breath tests for identifying what foods cause symptoms (with the exception of lactose) - you have to eat them, and test your response
- Remember to always consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making any changes to your diet.
- Digestive flare-ups can always happen, even on and after the low FODMAP diet, you can read more about how to manage IBS flare-ups here.