We have become increasingly aware of the connection between the foods we eat and the way we feel. Gut health is essential for a healthy body and mind. When your stomach doesn’t feel right, it is difficult to think about anything else. There are many factors that influence digestive health and a lot of information to consume, so to speak (see Terra articles Home to improve your gut microbiome, Whats your diet type, Eat these superfoods for longer life). A diet that has been getting a lot of attention lately is the low FODMAPS diet. Here’s what you need to know about this elimination diet with a strange name.
What does FODMAPS stand for?
FODMAPS is an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These are carbohydrates that, for some people, are difficult to digest or fully absorb in the small intestine. That leaves the job of continued digestion by fermentation in the large intestine and colon, which can result in significant stomach distress, from bloating to cramps.
What foods contain these fermentable carbohydrates?
FODMAPS are contained in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, cereals, nuts, legumes, dairy products and manufactured foods. A few examples are below:
|High FODMAP Content||Low FODMAP Content|
|Vegetables||Artichoke, asparagus, cauliflower, garlic, green peas, mushrooms, onion, sugar snap peas||Aubergine/eggplant, beans (green), bok choy, green capsicum (bell pepper), carrot, cucumber, lettuce, potato, zucchini|
|Fruits||Apples, apple juice, cherries, dried fruit, mango, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, watermelon||Cantaloupe, kiwi fruit (green), mandarin, orange, pineapple, berries|
|Dairy & alternatives||Cow’s milk, custard, evaporated milk, ice cream, soy milk (made from whole soybeans), sweetened condensed milk, yogurt||Almond milk, brie/camembert cheese, feta cheese, hard cheeses, lactose-free milk, soy milk (made from soy protein)|
|Protein sources||Most legumes/pulses, some marinated meats/poultry/seafood, some processed meats||Eggs, firm tofu, plain cooked meats/poultry/seafood, tempeh|
|Breads, pasta & cereals||Wheat/rye/barley based breads and pastas, breakfast cereals, biscuits and snack products||Corn flakes, oats, quinoa flakes, quinoa/rice/corn pasta, rice cakes (plain), sourdough spelt bread, wheat/rye/barley free breads|
|Sugars, sweeteners & confectionery||High fructose corn syrup, honey, sugar free confectionery||Dark chocolate, maple syrup, rice malt syrup, table sugar|
|Nuts & seeds||Cashews, pistachios||Macadamias, peanuts, pumpkin seeds/pepitas, walnuts|
For a more complete list of foods consult Monash University’s (a leader in research in this area) app Monash FODMAP App.
What are the specific components in these foods that cause problems?
In fruits, they’re higher amounts of sorbitol and fructose. Vegetables have fructans and mannitol. Grains and cereals fructans and GOS (galacto-oligosaccharides). Legumes have GOS. In dairy foods, it’s lactose. Meats, poultry and fish are FODMAP-free, unless they are processed with high-fructose ingredients like onion and garlic. Nuts and seeds have GOS and fructans. Sugars and sweeteners have fructose and sugar polyols (sorbitol, xylitol, etc. frequently used in artificial sweeteners).
What problems do they cause?
For some people, FODMAPS increases the amount of gas that sits in the digestive system. For others, though, the symptoms can include pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. Related conditions include: dyspepsia (chronic stomach pain), inflammatory bowel disease, inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) and excessive levels of bacteria in the small intestine.
How does a low FODMAPS diet work?
A low FODMAPS diet is a form of elimination diet. The idea is to eliminate as many high FODMAPS foods from your diet as possible for a period of at least two weeks. Next, you evaluate if any of the negative symptoms you have been experiencing decreased. If the answer is no, FODMAPS are not the answer to the digestive issue.
If you are feeling better, the next step is to reintroduce some of the high FODMAPS foods that you miss the most back into your diet, one by one, increasing the amount gradually. The goal is to identify which of these foods (and how much of them) cause significant negative symptoms. The last phase is personalization, where you add back any high FODMAPS foods that do not cause significant symptoms to be able to create a long term diet plan that’s sustainable for you.
What do you need to be careful about on a low-FODMAPS diet?
First, the elimination phase is for a short period only and should not be adapted rigidly without careful evaluation of your body’s reaction. Consulting with a physician and/or nutritionist is recommended. Second, it is not for people with eating disorders, or for children.
Elimination diets in general—and low FODMAPS specifically—offer the opportunity to investigate and learn what foods trigger negative consequences in your body. If you suffer from IBS symptoms, dyspepsia or food allergies that cause digestive distress, the low FODMAPS diet represents a significant tool to promote relief. It is by no means an exclusive remedy. There are other diets and products that can be helpful, as well. It’s always key to consult your doctor before starting a diet of any kind.
- The New York Times – https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/29/well/eat/low-fodmap-diet-ibs.html