Not all diets are created equal and when it comes to improving digestive health, the FODMAP diet falls into a league of its own. The acronym refers to a group of sugars known to cause intestinal stress. Avoiding foods that contain these elements can help you manage digestive symptoms, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Read on below to learn more about the FODMAP diet and its nutritional guidelines.
What is FODMAP?
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are sugar alcohols and short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, and quickly fermented by the gut flora. The increased fluid in the bowel not only changes how quickly food is digested but can also lead to pain or discomfort.
These foods also ferment in the gastrointestinal tract, which releases short-chain fatty acids and gas. That gas can stretch the intestine, which in turn causes bloating and abdominal pain.
While not all high FODMAP foods trigger these kinds of symptoms, it's a good idea to limit your intake of these foods and keep an eye on any changes in your digestive system.
How Does the Low FODMAP Diet Work?
The low-FODMAP diet was first introduced by researchers looking for ways to relieve digestive stress, though the team was quick to note that people should only follow their guidelines for short periods of time. Many foods that the diet excludes are important for continued health and wellness.
Instead, the diet involves partial or full elimination of high FODMAP foods for only a few weeks. With this approach, you can better understand which FODMAP foods trigger symptoms, and which don't. The process revolves around three simple steps:
Step 1: Restriction
The first step involves limiting or eliminating high FODMAP foods from your daily dietary intake. This stage lasts anywhere from two to six weeks. You can still eat low-FODMAP foods during this phase. The idea is to use the restriction phase to identify specific causes of digestive distress.
Step 2: Reintroduction
The second phase of a low-FODMAP diet involves reinforcing foods high in FODMAPS to your diet. - but not all at once. Users should add these foods back one at a time and only every three days. This window allows you to monitor any changes in your digestive symptoms and identify the main triggers.
Step 3: Personalization
Everyone is different and so is the way they tolerate food, which is what makes this such a crucial step. The third phase of the diet allows you to loosen restrictions on certain foods based on how they interact with your digestive tract.
What Foods are Part of the FODMAP Diet?
FODMAPs are found in a wide variety of foods, which is why the diet involves a pretty steep learning curve. A lot of the high FODMAP food that gets eliminated when following the diet is considered healthy, which can make it confusing.
We've categorized certain items below to give you a better sense of what is considered a "low-FODMAP food" or a "high FODMAP food."
Low FODMAP Foods
If you're ready to go on a low-FODMAP diet to improve your digestive symptoms, add common foods to your diet that don't cause digestive issues or contribute to gastrointestinal disorders. A low-FODMAP diet may include some of the following:
- Almond milk
- Brown rice
- Chicken (free-range)
- Coconut milk
- Grass-fed beef
- Grass-fed butter
- Hard cheeses (cheddar, parmesan, etc.)
- Lactose-free milk, ice cream, yogurt
- Macadamia nuts
- Mustard seeds
- Pine nuts
- Rice milk
- Soy sauce
- Free-range turkey
- Wild-caught fish
- Bamboo shoots
- Bok choy
- Bean sprouts
- Herbs (fresh)
- Lettuce and salad greens
- Swiss chard
- Honeydew melon
- Passion fruit
The good news is that there's a variety of low-FODMAP foods available. You can still enjoy this fairly rich diet while still benefiting from the relief the diet can introduce.
High FODMAP Foods
Now, let's take a look at the types of food you should avoid during the restriction period. First up are carbohydrates which are found in foods that contain the following:
- Sugar alcohols (polyols)
You may recognize a lot of the high FODMAP foods listed below, but avoiding these items can be crucial to reducing symptoms of IBS. We should note that while many of the items on this list are recommended to individuals looking to improve their overall gut health, they should be avoided by people suffering from certain conditions, like SIBO or IBS.
Dairy Products and Alternatives:
- Milk (goat, cow, sheep)
- Soft cheese (cottage cheese, feta, brie, etc.)
- Soy milk
- Sweetened condensed milk
- Brussels sprouts
- Green peas
- Dried fruit
- Baked beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Butter beans
- Kidney beans
- Lima beans
- Split peas
Nuts and Seeds:
- Apple syrup
- High fructose corn syrup (in many processed foods)
- Xylitol (in sugar-free gum, candies, baked goods, etc.)
By avoiding items found on this list, you can improve your digestive symptoms. You can also take things one step further by permanently eliminating ingredients like high fructose corn syrup that's found in many processed foods, you'd be able to lose weight and help ward off associated diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
Who is a Good Candidate for the FODMAP Diet?
With millions of Americans suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms, many of those living with celiac disease, leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, SIBO, and inflammatory bowel disease can benefit.
Individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects between 25 to 45 million people in the United States. Though a common condition, IBS symptoms differ from person to person and come and go depending on different factors including stress, anxiety, depression, and diet.
Studies show that a low-FODMAP diet is helpful in managing IBS symptoms. For people living with the condition, a low-FODMAP diet improves their quality of life by reducing pain and bloating. As one of the most extensively studied elimination diets for IBS, the FODMAP diet has been shown to relieve symptoms in up to 75 percent of those with the condition.
While a low-FODMAP diet can significantly improve the quality of life for people with IBS, it's important to note that not everyone who has irritable bowel syndrome seeks medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Only half of the people with the condition are treated for it. This means millions of people with IBS may not even know they have this gastrointestinal disorder, or that certain foods can affect bowel movements.
Individuals With Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO is a disease where there are excessive bacteria in the small intestine. Unlike the colon, the small intestine (or small bowel) is designed to be relatively free of microorganisms.
However, when there's a bacterial invasion from the colon, these microorganisms start consuming nutrients in the small bowel before they have a chance to be absorbed. The result can be poor absorption of nutrients, and the digestive symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndromes such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea.
Since a low-FODMAP diet improves these symptoms, people with SIBO and similar symptoms are also good candidates for a low-FODMAP diet.
Scientifically proven to help with digestive symptoms associated with gastrointestinal disorders, a low-FODMAP diet provides tremendous relief to those who are suffering from gastrointestinal distress. Remember: You can win the war in your gut by understanding how what you eat plays a central role in how you feel.
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What are the benefits of the FODMAP diet?
For people with digestive issues, a diet low in FODMAPs is a great way to reduce symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.
What are the 5 FODMAPS?
The five FODMAPs include:
Fructans: Asparagus, garlic, leeks, onions, etc.
Fructose: Any foods containing fructose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, etc.
Galactans: Beans, Broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, etc.
Lactose: Milk, cream cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc.
Sugar alcohols (polyols): Apples, beets, wheat, etc.
What is FODMAP intolerance?
FODMAP intolerance is a condition where a person has trouble digesting certain carbohydrates, including fructans, fructose, galactans, lactose, or sugar alcohols. These items will trigger symptoms like bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, or other digestive symptoms. This reaction is common in people with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.
What can you eat on the FODMAP diet?
While a low-FODMAP diet is somewhat restrictive, the good news is that it is temporary and still leaves lots of options on the table. Many foods are low in FODMAPs including some vegetables, and fruits. Certain proteins also make it onto the list and include eggs, free-range chicken, grass-fed beef, grass-fed lamb, wild-caught fish, and more.