Demystifying the FODMAP Diet
If you suffer with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) rest assured you’re not alone – around one in seven UK adults are affected.
With symptoms ranging from tummy pain and bloating to heartburn and a change in bowel habit (including diarrhoea and constipation), IBS can have a huge impact on your sense of wellbeing.
For many years dietary guidance for IBS was pretty ineffective, but happily things are getting better – with the low FODMAP diet leading the way. So what exactly is it, and how does it work?
What are FODMAPs?
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols (the scientific names!)
In less science-y terms; FODMAPs are a group of short chain sugars that aren’t very well digested by the gut. Instead of being broken down and absorbed in the small intestine, FODMAPs travel to the large intestine where they are fermented (consumed) by the bacteria living there, causing tummy pain, wind, bloating and loose stools.
Developed by researchers at MONASH University in Australia, the low FODMAP diet limits foods high FODMAP foods, providing symptom relief.
Where are FODMAPS found?
FODMAPs are found in various carbohydrate containing foods, including wheat, onion, garlic, apples, mushrooms, milk, yoghurt, beans and lentils.
There’s nothing ‘unhealthy’ about them – in fact many high FODMAP foods are healthy – and most of us can eat them without problems, but they can cause digestive symptoms in people with IBS.
A low FODMAP meal plan might include blueberry porridge for breakfast, a chicken salad with wheat free bread at lunchtime, and a salmon fillet with rice noodles and peppers for dinner.
What does the diet involve?
The Low FODMAP diet involves three phases, which takes around 12-14 weeks to complete – so it does require serious commitment! However, if your symptoms are affecting your quality of life it’s well worth the effort – studies show the diet is very effective, providing symptom relief in ~ 70% of people with IBS.
In my personal practice, I’ve also found that it can quite literally change the lives of people who were living with severe symptoms, giving them much needed relief.
- Elimination – high FODMAP foods are limited for 4-8 weeks
- Reintroduction – if your symptoms have improved, you’ll reintroduce high FODMAP foods one at a time to find out which ones trigger symptoms. This takes 4-6 weeks.
- Personalisation– you return to a normal diet avoiding just the high FODMAP foods that trigger your symptoms
How can I follow the low FODMAP diet?
If you’ve not had IBS diagnosed, visit your G.P. to rule out any other possible causes – as some conditions (like coeliac disease) share the same symptoms, but have important treatments.
If you have been diagnosed with IBS and you want to give the FODMAP diet a go, it’s helpful to do so with the help of a dietitian. Although there are lots of resources online, these aren’t always up-to-date and can be confusing. They also tend to miss out the reintroduction phase, leaving you stuck on a limited diet, which isn’t fun!
A FODMAP trained dietitian will be able to teach you how to eliminate and reintroduce FODMAPs, and help you adjust your meals so that your diet remains balanced.