The Low FODMAP Diet: Everything You Need to Know
Are you someone with a heightened awareness of where the toilet is at all times? Do you experience painful bloating, gas, constipation or bathroom emergencies on a regular basis? If so, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your GP as you may be one of the millions of people in this country who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for IBS, many find relief by following a diet called the low FODMAP diet. FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrate found in many common foods, and they’re known to trigger the digestive issues associated with IBS. By removing, or limiting, these foods from your diet, you can help get your symptoms under control. In fact, 70% of IBS sufferers find relief by following a low FODMAP diet.
We’ll be explaining exactly what FODMAPs are, how the low FODMAP diet works, and who should follow it – as well as detailing how to reintroduce foods back into your diet. We’ll also provide a list of high and low FODMAP foods, to give you an idea of what you can and can’t eat.
First things first, we should stress – the low FODMAP diet is not for everyone and should not be followed without supervision from a dietitian, registered nutritionist or other registered healthcare professional. Unless you’ve been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, it could actually do more harm than good! FODMAPs benefit the growth of good gut bacteria, and eliminating them could be detrimental for gut health. Plus, cutting out lots of different fruits and vegetables from your diet could reduce your intake of fibre, vitamins and minerals.
If you’re struggling with digestive issues, always speak to your GP first – they may want to rule out any other underlying conditions first. If they diagnose you with irritable bowel syndrome, they may recommend a low FODMAP diet as a treatment option.
The full name for FODMAPs is ‘fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols’ – quite the mouthful. Put more simply, these are short-chain carbohydrates that your body can’t digest – so your gut bacteria ferment them. FODMAPs release water, gas and short-chain fatty acids into your digestive tract, which can lead to IBS symptoms.
FODMAPs are found in many common foods, the main ones being wheat, dairy, pulses, onion, garlic and several other kinds of fruits and vegetables. Here is a breakdown of the different high FODMAP foods:
- Oligosaccharides: wheat, onion, garlic, rye and many kinds of nuts, as well as legumes, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans.
- Disaccharides: lactose-containing foods (the sugar found in milk and dairy products), such as milk, yoghurt, cream, soft cheese and ice cream.
- Monosaccharides: fructose-containing foods. This is a type of sugar that’s found naturally in many fruits, such as apples, pears and mangoes, as well as in honey, agave syrup and high fructose corn syrup.
- Polyols: these are sugar alcohols found naturally in stone fruit, cauliflower and mushrooms, as well as in xylitol and isomalt (sweeteners used in some ‘low-sugar’ or ‘no-sugar’ products).
It is important to remember the low FODMAP diet is not a long term diet – the elimination phase (where you reduce FODMAPs) lasts for a maximum of 2-6 weeks. Once you experience an improvement in symptoms, you move onto a reintroduction period where you re-introduce some high FODMAP foods systematically to see which FODMAPs you can tolerate and in what quantity. In the long term, you only want to limit the foods you are sensitive to (the aim is to have as broad a diet as possible – with minimal restrictions).
This elimination phase may seem complex and restrictive, but there are plenty of delicious foods that you can still eat. Meat, fish, eggs, rice and lots of non-triggering fruit and vegetables are still on the menu. Plus, excellent gluten free and dairy free alternatives are becoming ever more widely available.
Here’s a list of some low FODMAP foods to get you started:
- Proteins: chicken, eggs, beef, pork, fish, lamb, prawns, firm tofu and tempeh
- Whole grains and starches: white and brown rice, potatoes, corn, gluten free oats, quinoa and cassava
- Fruits: bananas, blueberries, raspberries, grapefruit, lemons, limes, oranges, strawberries, pineapple, grapes and kiwis
- Vegetables: carrots, celery, cucumber, beansprouts, squash, lettuce, kale, rocket, spinach, tomatoes, olives and chives (a great onion substitute)
- Dairy alternatives: lactose-free cow’s milk, almond milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, rice milk and soy milk (made from hulled soybeans)
- Nuts and seeds: almonds (in small amounts), walnuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but demonstrates that you still have plenty of foods to choose from – you just need to be a bit more mindful about what you’re eating. There’s a way to make a low FODMAP version of pretty much any dish, and once you get the hang of it, it’ll become second nature. Also, as we mentioned earlier, the elimination phase is only temporary – and bear in mind that everyone will have different triggers and levels of tolerance.
Here are a few tips and tricks to make your low FODMAP journey a little easier:
- FODMAPs are water-soluble, and not oil-soluble. This means you can’t eat an onion broth with the onions taken out – but you can use garlic or onion infused oil for flavour!
- Chives are a great way to impart onion flavour. A mixture of carrot, celery, chives and garlic oil make a great low FODMAP base for soups, sauces and curries.
- For the FODMAP diet, lactose is the issue behind dairy products. So unless you’re allergic to dairy, you can still have lactose-free milk, butter, and hard cheeses such as Cheddar and Parmesan, which are all low in lactose.
- Portion size is key – some foods, such as raspberries, almonds and melon, can only be eaten in small quantities or the FODMAP levels get too high. If you’re unsure about an ingredient, consult your healthcare practitioner or visit the IBS Network.
- Most spices are low FODMAP – but garlic and onion powder are not. Keep an eye out for these in blended seasonings and savoury snacks.
The symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease can be debilitating. As well as the physical discomfort associated with digestive issues, IBS can be embarrassing and stressful too. In the worst cases, it can restrict your life and ability to work.
The low FODMAP diet approach is now considered first-line dietary therapy for those suffering from IBS. Studies have shown it to have an 81% and 75% success rate in relieving stomach pain and bloating, respectively. Other studies have shown the diet to help manage gas, diarrhoea and constipation.
There’s also evidence indicating that by relieving digestive symptoms, the low FODMAP diet lowers stress, depression and fatigue – and enhances overall quality of life significantly.
Few people are sensitive to all high FODMAP food. As mentioned before, the low FODMAP diet should be a short-term strategy to help you identify certain foods that trigger your symptoms. Once you’ve worked out your specific triggers, you should start reintroducing other FODMAPs that don’t make you feel unwell.
You should always reintroduce FODMAPs one at a time, over the course of several weeks. This will help you figure out which FODMAPs are problematic for you, and in what quantities. You may find that some foods don’t bother you at all, while others make your symptoms flare up even in small amounts. Make sure you liaise with your healthcare professional to ensure you are meeting your nutritional needs.
If you think a low FODMAP diet could help you, the first step is to chat to your GP or a registered dietitian. They can give you tailored advice and support, and may also be able to refer you to a specialist gastroenterologist.
There’s plenty of information and resources available online too. The Monash University Low FODMAP Diet app is a great tool for tracking which foods you can and can’t eat, and has lots of delicious recipes too. The NHS website also has an informative video on IBS and the low FODMAP diet, which is definitely worth a watch.
So there you have it – everything you need to know about the low FODMAP diet! If you have IBS and are looking for delicious gluten free or dairy free goods to supplement your low FODMAP diet, Maiana has everything you need:
DISCLAIMER: All health and nutrition content on Maiana is for general information only, and should not be viewed as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any health concerns, you should contact your local health care provider.