There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of diets out there. Unfortunately, some of these diets call for eliminating foods that contain necessary nutrients. Then there are the diets that cut out food groups entirely or eliminate specific foods during certain times of the day. These types of diets are what we not-so-lovingly refer to as fad diets. Not only are fad diets almost impossible to maintain, they can also be downright dangerous. So, does the Low-FODMAP diet fall into this unfortunate category or is it a diet worth discovering? Let’s take a closer look.
What Is a FODMAP?
Lots of foods in the common diet are FODMAPs. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (try saying that three times fast!). These are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine is unable to absorb properly and can lead to intestinal distress and discomfort, particularly in people with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Not all carbohydrates are FODMAPs, though.
Common FODMAPs in your diet include:
- Fructose: Found in fruits such as apples, pears, peaches; honey, table sugar, and high fructose corn syrup.
- Lactose: Found in dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and soft cheeses.
- Fructans (inulin): Found in onions and garlic; grains, including wheat, spelt, and barley.
- Galactans: Found in many legumes, such as beans, lentils and soy; vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus, and artichokes.
- Polyols: Found in stone fruits, such as cherries, peaches and avocadoes; sweeteners, such as sorbitol, xylitol and isomalt, found in sugar-free gum and mints.
What Is the Low-FODMAP Diet and How Does It Work?
The Low-FODMAP diet was created in 2005 by a research team at Monash University in Australia. Basically, the Low-FODMAP diet limits high FODMAP foods in an effort to curb digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, cramping, constipation and diarrhea that are commonly associated with IBS.
The diet works in two phases:
- Phase 1: Eliminate high FODMAP foods from your diet over the course of 4-6 weeks.
- Phase 2: Gradually incorporate the eliminated foods back into your diet.
By removing the foods that are possible triggers for digestive distress – and then slowly reintroducing them – you can pinpoint your intolerances and adjust your diet.
What Can You Eat on a Low-FODMAP Diet?
The purpose of the Low-FODMAP diet isn’t to eliminate FODMAPs altogether (which would be extremely difficult), but to minimize these types of carbs in order to alleviate digestive discomfort. It’s important to keep in mind that everyone is different. There may be some high-FODMAP foods that you tolerate quite well, while some foods low in FODMAPs will cause you digestive symptoms.
Foods to eat on a Low-FODMAP diet include:
- Meat, Fish, Eggs
- All Fats and Oils
- Most Herbs and Spices
- Most Nuts and Seeds: Except pistachios, which are high in FODMAPs
- Some Fruits: Such as bananas, blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, grapes and citrus fruits
- Some Vegetables: Such as carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, squash and potatoes
- Some Grains: Such as corn, rice, oats and quinoa
- Some Dairy: Lactose free beverages such as almond milk, rice milk and coconut milk; cheeses such as brie, cheddar and feta
Who Can Benefit from the Low-FODMAP Diet?
Studies have shown that 50% to 86% of adult patients with IBS have a clinically meaningful response to the Low-FODMAP diet. The diet may also alleviate symptoms from other functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID).
Potential benefits of the Low-FODMAP diet include:
- Less gas
- Less bloating
- Less diarrhea
- Less constipation
- Less abdominal pain
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, maybe it’s time to give the Low-FODMAP diet a whirl.
Potential Pitfalls of the Low-FODMAP Diet
Because the diet is highly restrictive, it can be very challenging to maintain. For this reason, it is important that you work with a doctor, nutritionist or dietician to make sure you’re following the diet properly. Not only is following the diet correctly crucial to success, it also ensures that you are getting the proper nutrition in your diet.
Lots of foods that contain FODMAPs are actually quite healthy. Many FODMAPs even support healthy gut bacteria. So, if you can tolerate these types of carbs, there is absolutely no reason for you to avoid them. Depriving yourself of some of these nutritious – and delicious – foods could actually do more harm than good.
Does the Low-FODMAP Diet Help with Weight Loss?
Probably not, especially if you do things like opt for gluten-free processed foods or unhealthy, calorie-laden, low-FODMAP foods like potato chips. On the other hand, if you swap out high-FODMAP processed foods for fruits, vegetables and other healthy whole foods, you could tip the scale in your favor.
A Note from GR8NESS
If you or someone you love is struggling with IBS or other digestive issues that affect your quality of life, talk to your doctor and ask about the Low-FODMAP diet. Don’t forget, there are lots of other factors that could be contributing to your digestive issues. Try keeping a food journal to identify triggers. Cut back on processed foods and increase your intake of gut friendly foods. Most of all, try your best to keep your stress level in check.
Before starting any diet, including the Low-FODMAP diet, be sure to talk to your doctor. “The low FODMAP diet is a temporary eating plan that’s very restrictive,” says Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Hazel Galon Veloso, M.D. It’s always good to talk to your doctor before starting a new diet, but especially with the low FODMAP diet since it eliminates so many foods — it’s not a diet anyone should follow for long. It’s a short discovery process to determine what foods are troublesome for you.”
Our guts are complicated. They are also an incredibly important factor in our overall health. Just like our fingerprints, everything in our gut, from our bacteria to our enzyme levels, is unique to us. Millions of people suffer from digestive issues but no two experiences – or guts – are alike. Some people are constipated. Others always feel bloated. Some have excessive gas. The least fortunate among us have all sorts of deficiencies. By understanding that gastrointestinal disorders vary from person to person, we can finally acknowledge that when it comes to diet, one size does not and definitely should not fit all.