This speciality diet is growing in popularity as a way to manage gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and any other number of digestive issues. But before you start following a low FODMAP diet, it’s important to understand who it’s for, the possible benefits, and also the disadvantages.
Jessica Kelley, MS, RD, breaks down the details of this rather strict diet.
What Are FODMAPs?
First things first, FODMAP stands for:
Unfamiliar with most of those terms? Don’t stress. Basically, they’re types of carbohydrates that the gut doesn’t absorb properly. As a result, they can trigger IBS symptoms in those with sensitivities. Symptoms include abdominal pain, gas, bloating, cramping, constipation, and/or diarrhea. But before you start diagnosing yourself with IBS, it’s important to confirm the possibility with a health professional. That way, you can ensure any other possibilities are ruled out.
Is Your Diet High FODMAP?
FODMAPs are naturally occurring in a long list of foods, many of which are healthy and part of a well-balanced diet. But for sensitive individuals, these foods can cause problems.
High-FODMAP foods include garlic, onion, artichoke, asparagus, black beans, celery, cauliflower, peas, avocados, apples, cherries, dried fruit, mango, bananas, stone fruits, milk, yogurt, legumes, mushrooms, poultry, seafood, wheat, rye, barley, high fructose corn syrup, honey, cashews, pistachios, and more.
The Low-FODMAP Method
The low-FODMAP diet is a three-stage therapeutic protocol developed by Monash University in Australia following extensive research and testing. It’s about observing your body’s reaction to certain foods and finding out which foods your body can tolerate. The three phases include:
It starts with a two-to-six-week period during which you avoid all FODMAP foods. Since there are many restricted foods, it’s best to work with a dietitian to help ensure you’re getting all necessary nutrients and continue a balanced diet.
Next is a six-to-eight-week process of systematically testing how your body tolerates FODMAPs in different amounts. In this phase, you test a new FODMAP every three to seven days in various amounts. This reintroduction determines how your body can tolerate the foods and in what amount.
This phase is also known as a modified low-FODMAP diet. It’s a way of eating based on what your body tolerates. At this point, it’s only necessary to avoid the FODMAPs that trigger symptoms.
The goal of this diet is to uncover which of the FODMAPs your body can tolerate and in which amounts. For that reason, the restrictive phase is not meant to be a long-term way of eating. Once an individual has gone through reintroduction and knows what their body can tolerate, they can follow a modified low-FODMAP diet. It’s unique to every individual.
What Are Low-FODMAP Benefits?
For individuals with IBS, the low-FODMAP diet can help determine which foods trigger symptoms. From there, they can feel confident about their food choices without having to worry about unwanted side effects. Research shows that up to 86 percent of people with IBS saw improvements in their symptoms on a low-FODMAP diet. Overall, it affects the quality of life for those suffering from IBS. Since IBS is characterized as a group of symptoms with no other apparent cause, the low-FODMAP diet is often used as the protocol to alleviate these symptoms along with stress management, medication, behavioral therapy, and other approaches to alternative healing.
The low-FODMAP diet is extremely restrictive. It can be a difficult protocol to follow while still ensuring you’re getting all necessary nutrients, specifically fiber and calcium. It’s also very important to follow the protocol exactly. During the reintroduction phase, you’ll need to interpret the results of each FODMAP and how the amounts affect you. While most individuals with IBS benefit from this diet, not all have success. Because of its complexity, it’s best to work with a registered dietitian or doctor who’s trained on low-FODMAP protocol.
The Bottom Line
The low-FODMAP diet can be a wonderful temporary method to discover what foods cause digestive discomfort and ultimately help manage IBS. It’s not intended for weight loss, and shouldn’t be followed because of self-diagnosed IBS. Irregular digestion is annoying and can definitely affect quality of life. If you suspect you have IBS or do have IBS and think the low-FODMAP diet might help, I encourage you to talk with your doctor or have a dietitian help guide you through the protocol.