We may not talk about it much, but we all have occasional digestive challenges such as bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea. However, if you frequently have those symptoms and have been diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or IBD (irritable bowel disease), your doctor or dietitian might recommend a low FODMAP diet to help identify the foods that cause your digestive upset.
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, which are carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that are naturally found in our foods but are not digested or absorbed in the first part of the intestine. These carbohydrates and sugar alcohols make their way to the large intestine where they are digested and fermented by the bacteria in our gut. This is often what causes abdominal pain, gas, and bloating.
Studies have found that a low FODMAP diet helps people with IBS, which causes abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. The diet may also alleviate symptoms associated with IBD, which shares some of the same symptoms as IBS but also includes more chronic conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
Not all IBS or IBD sufferers have reactions to the same foods — that’s where a low FODMAP diet comes in. The diet helps determine which foods are disagreeable to you, so you can avoid them — and the troubles they cause.
1. The diet consists of 3 steps: food elimination, reintroduction, and maintenance.
During elimination, you cut out high FODMAP foods such as certain vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, wheat, dairy products with lactose, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners.
Step 2 consists of reintroducing the high FODMAP foods one at a time in a portion-controlled manner. The reintroduction phase is important because it will help you identify which foods are the culprits of your discomfort. You may be asked to keep a detailed record of triggers and symptoms.
The last step is maintenance. Maintenance is when you reintroduce all foods except for the ones that are problematic for you.
2. A low FODMAP diet is not a long-term solution and is usually followed for only 2 to 6 weeks.
Because certain fruits, vegetables, and dairy products are eliminated in a low FODMAP diet, if you follow this diet long term, you may not get enough fiber, minerals such as calcium, or vitamins A, C, and D.
3. You may want to consult a registered dietitian to help you design the right low FODMAP diet for you.
You do need to be careful with this diet because it’s low in fiber, which can exacerbate constipation. The long-term effects of a prolonged low FODMAP diet may have other consequences on chronic conditions because fiber has been shown to be beneficial in preventing diabetes and heart disease, and in managing weight.
The low FODMAP diet is a tool to help you know what is disagreeable to your belly so you can make food choices that will leave you feeling well.
Contributor: Silvia Delgado, RD