Through my own gut healing journey, trial and error, and many ups and downs, the Low FODMAP Diet played a big role in helping me manage my IBS symptoms. Here’s everything you need to know about the Low FODMAP Diet.
I remember the first time I ever heard the word “FODMAP” and thinking it sounded so absurd. What on earth is a FODMAP? Through my years of severe IBS flare ups, the low FODMAP diet was actually one of the last things I trialled. But funnily enough, it ended up being the most helpful.
While I no longer suffer from major IBS anymore, the low FODMAP diet was one of my favourite ways to manage symptoms and played a big part of my gut healing journey. I’ve learned a ton through my own experiences, and if you’re reading this because you’re a fellow sufferer of IBS or digestive issues, then I’ve got you covered today all about the low FODMAP diet.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects more than 10% of the worlds population and is characterized by chronic gas, bloating, constipation or loose stool. With IBS, intestines are typically more spastic and hypersensitive to pain, although it’s a functional disorder which means there is no abnormal pathology from test results (e.g. ulcers or inflamed tissues).
What is the Low FODMAP Diet?
The low FODMAP diet was developed by researchers at Monash University to provide relief from the symptoms associated with IBS. Up to 75% of those suffering from IBS find relief from this eating this way.
FODMAP is an acronym that stands for:
Fermented Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols
And what are these weird things exactly? They’re simply different types of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that aren’t digested or absorbed properly in the gut and are particularly irritating and symptom-triggering for those with IBS. These sugars include:
- Fructose — found in honey and certain fruits
- Lactose — milk and milk products
- Sugar polyols — sorbitol and mannitol found in some fruits, vegetables, and sweeteners
- Fructans — wheat, garlic, onions
- Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) — beans and legumes
The osmotic effect of these sugars draws water into the bowels which can lead to loose stool or diarrhea for those with faster motility, and the excess production of gas can lead to a mix of constipation and diarrhea.
The premise of this diet is that by limiting these aggravating foods, symptoms like gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and constipation or loose stool are improved. It’s important to note that these carbohydrates are not inherently bad. In fact, many high FODMAP foods are very nutritious!
Examples of High FODMAP Foods
Please note that the below lists are not comprehensive. For a full list of high and low FODMAP foods, I strongly suggest you download the Monash University Low FODMAP app.
Oligosaccharides (Fructans & GOS)
Wheat, barley, rye, onion, garlic, beans, grapefruit, leeks
Milk (cow, goat, sheep, etc.), cheese, ice-cream, yogurt
Sweeteners such as agave nectar, honey and high fructose corn syrup, Jerusalem artichoke, apples, pears
Apples, avocado, blackberries, cherries, mushrooms, avocado, sweet corn, peaches
Examples of Low FODMAP Foods
- Leafy greens and lettuces
- Gluten-free grains such as rice and quinoa
- Unripe bananas (green tips)
- Lemons and limes
- Navel orange
- Nuts and seeds such as flax, hemp, chia; macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, pecans and peanuts
- White potato
- Fresh meat (non-deli) e.g. chicken, fish, beef
Researchers determine if a food is “high” or “low” FODMAP based off of specific serving sizes. So a 1/4 cup of butternut squash is considered low FODMAP, whereas 2/3 cup is high. FODMAPs also have an accumulative effect which means that a combination of different amounts of FODMAPs can contribute to an overall high FODMAP load during the day.
Some people may tolerate certain FODMAP foods differently than others, and being intolerant to one doesn’t mean you’ll be intolerant to all. Additionally, your intolerance to certain FODMAPs may improve or resolve itself over time.
The Low FODMAP Diet
The 3 Phases
- Elimination: eliminating high FODMAP foods for 2-6 weeks to determine which foods are contributing to your symptoms
- Re-Introduction: Each FODMAP group (e.g. fructans, polyols) is carefully reintroduced one at a time in varying quantities to determine which ones (and in which amounts) may be causing symptoms
- Customization: Once you have a good understanding of which foods work and don’t work for you, it’s time to customize your dietary needs accordingly. The purpose of this stage is to re-introduce as many foods as possible. Eating a low FODMAP diet is never intended long-term. In this stage, you might discover that you can still continue to eat avocado, but you have less symptoms with half of it instead of whole. Or, you may be perfectly fine with a handful of almonds, but large portions make your stomach upset. This could also mean you’ve discovered you’re totally fine with larger amounts of other high FODMAP foods.
Once you’ve found your culprits and in which amounts, the goal is to re-introduce as many foods as possible that you while keeping symptoms to a minimum.
The Low FODMAP Diet is Temporary
Re-introducing high FODMAP foods after eating low FODMAP for some time can be a little daunting, especially if you’ve found relief. It can be tempting to continue to avoid certain foods indefinitely, but while it may be helpful in managing your symptoms, the low FODMAP diet is temporary and never intended (or recommended) to be followed long-term. Lengthy restriction of high FODMAP foods may disrupt our microbiome (the communties of bacteria and other microbes that exist in and on our body). This is because many high FODMAP foods are excellent sources of prebiotics which fuel the growth of our beneficial gut flora.
Remember, the whole purpose of the temporary elimination-reintroduction phases are to simply determine which foods are your biggest culprits. Then you can customize your diet based on what you tolerate best.
Elimination diets always run the risk of triggering disordered eating behaviours. This one of the reasons why the low FODMAP diet should be followed carefully with guidance — and only short-term!
Is the Low FODMAP Diet Right For You?
If you’ve been diagnosed with IBS, you’ve tried many strategies to manage your symptoms but are still looking for relief, and if you do not have a history of eating disorders, then the Low FODMAP Diet may be the right fit for you. I recommend working with a qualified professional such as a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist that specializes in gut health and also has an awareness of disordered eating behaviours and how elimination diets can be a trigger.
Remember that there’s more to IBS than just FODMAPs alone. Stress levels, other non-FODMAP food sensitivities or allergies, bacterial infections such as SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), hormonal imbalances, and other preexisting gastrointestinal conditions (such as Celiac or IBD) can all impact digestive health. Other GI disorders can mimic symptoms found in IBS. This is why working with a qualified professional, and undergoing further testing in some cases, is helpful before exploring this temporary diet.
If you decide to try the Low FODMAP Diet, be sure to download their app. It’s an invaluable tool as it lists each and every high and low FODMAP food, in what amounts, plus tons of other information.