Is A Low FODMAP Diet For You?

Low FOD-what?

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.

Registered dietitian, Jessica Kelley, MS RD breaks down the details of this rather strict diet.

What Are FODMAPs?

 First things first, FODMAP stands for…

Fermentable
Oligosaccharides
Disaccharides
Monosaccharides
And
Polyols

Unfamiliar with most of those terms? Don’t stress. Basically, these are types of carbohydrates that the gut doesn’t absorb properly. As a result, they can trigger Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms in those with sensitivities.  Symptoms include abdominal pain, gas, bloating, cramping, constipation and/or diarrhea. But before you start self-diagnosing yourself as having IBS, it’s important to confirm your diagnosis 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 after 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:

Restriction

This is a 2-6 week period where you avoid all FODMAP foods. Since there are many restricted foods, it is best to work with a dietitian to help ensure you are getting all the necessary nutrients and a balanced diet.

Reintroduction

A 6-8 week process of systematically testing how your body tolerates FODMAPs in different amounts. In this phase, you test a new FODMAP every 3-7 days in various amounts. This determines how your body can tolerate the foods and in what amount.

Maintenance

This is also known as a modified low FODMAP diet and is a way of eating based on what your body tolerates. 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 what 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. This is unique to every individual since it goes off what you can tolerate and in what amounts.

What Are Low FODMAP Benefits?

For individuals with IBS the Low FODMAP diet can help determine what foods trigger symptoms and so they can feel confident about their food choices without having to worry about unwanted side effects. Research shows that up to 86% of people with IBS saw improvements in their symptoms on a low FODMAP diet. Overall this 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 alternative healing approaches.

Possible Disadvantages

The Low FODMAP diet is extremely restrictive. It can be a difficult protocol to follow while still ensuring you’re getting all the necessary nutrients, especially fiber and calcium. It’s also very important to follow the protocol exactly. When in the reintroduction phase you will 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 is best to work with a registered dietitian or doctor who is trained on the low FODMAP protocol.

The Bottom Line

The Low FODMAP diet can be a wonderful temporary diet to discover what foods cause digestive discomfort and ultimately help manage IBS. It should not be intended for weight loss or 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.

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