All About a Low FODMAP Diet

For people who experience dietary issues or distress after eating certain foods, depending on the severity, it can be an incredibly uncomfortable--even debilitating-- experience that interferes with day-to-day activities.

There is a strong link between certain foods and digestive disorders, and a low-FODMAP diet has proven successful in minimizing chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, such as recurrent bloating, gas, cramps, diarrhea or constipation for sufferers. Some studies even suggest a low FODMAP diet can help with other chronic health conditions, too.

So What are FODMAPS?

FODMAP is an acronym that stands for:

Fermentable - broken down by bacteria in the large intestine
Oligosaccharides - “oligo” means “few” and “saccharide” means "sugar." These molecules are made up of individual sugars joined together in a chain
Disaccharides - “di” means two. This is a double sugar molecule
Monosaccharides - “mono” means single. This is a single sugar molecule
Polyols - sugar alcohols

These saccharides and polyols are short-chain carbohydrates that, if digested poorly, ferment in the lower part of the large intestine. This fermentation process draws in water and produces carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and/or methane gas that causes the intestine to stretch and expand.

This results in strong pain, bloating, visible abdominal distension and other related symptoms.

What are Common FODMAPS?

The most common FODMAPS are: 

Fructose: a sugar found in most fruits and veggies
Lactose: a sugar found in most dairy foods
Fructans: very similar to fructose and found in most veggies and grains
Galactans: found mostly in legumes
Polyols: Sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol and mannitol. You'll mainly find them in artificial sweeteners and chewing gum.

When you read the labels of packaged foods, look out for ingredients like inulin, added natural flavors, high fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, etc. 

(If you read my last post about prebiotics and probiotics, you probably remember seeing the words 'inulin' and 'oligosaccharide.' For healthy individuals these are an important part of a healthy diet to maintain a balanced, healthy gut. This is why a low-FODMAP elimination diet is ONLY intended for individuals who experience one of the issues listed below). 

Who Should Try a Low-FODMAP Diet?

Those who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Functional Gastrointestinal Disorder (FGID), Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), certain auto-immune conditions/diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, MS, or eczema, Fibromyalgia, and frequent migraines might benefit from a low-FODMAP diet. 

Since this diet is very restrictive, it is designed to only be temporary and for those with conditions outlined above. 

At some point, foods need to be reintroduced. This part is key. 

The goal is that, by restricting all FODMAPs at once, the sufferer should see much greater and more consistent effects than simply restricting one FODMAP in isolation. With all FODMAPs out of your diet, it gives your gut bacteria a chance to correct any imbalances, and heal.

How a low-FODMAP diet works

For 3-8 weeks, you would limit or exclude all FODMAPs from your diet. This is known as the elimination phase. It generally will take at least 3 weeks for your body to adjust and 'reset.'

After the elimination phase, you begin to reintroduce each FODMAP type back into your diet. The reason for reintroducing one at a time is so you can identify which of the food types triggers the negative symptoms. For example, you would reintroduce Fructose in your diet for one week, and if no symptoms appear, then you would proceed to lactose for one week, and so on. 

Once your trigger FODMAPS are identified, you will know what you can and can't eat. 

As with any elimination diet, consult your doctor first before giving it a try.

Here's a list of the best low-FODMAP foods with serving sizes as a guide: