Understanding a Low FODMAP Diet

The first thing that we need to clarify here is that a low FODMAP diet is prescribed by medical professionals to manage certain symptoms (generally, those related to IBS). High FODMAP foods are not unhealthy, you will actually find that some are fruits and vegetables with numerous benefits. Low FODMAP is also not a weight management diet. Do not attempt to implement a low FODMAP diet without supervision of a dietician.

Background - IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic digestive disorder characterised by pain in the stomach, often accompanied with regular diarrhoea or constipation. The cause of IBS is still unknown, making treatment difficult. It also seems that what works for one person with IBS might not work for another. A low FODMAP diet is one intervention often recommended.

If you suspect that you might have IBS, list your symptoms and approach your GP who may then present you with questions about various criteria, or possibly direct you for tests to rule out other conditions (such as coeliac - for more on that, read our post here) before making a diagnosis.

FODMAPs

'FODMAP' is a fun little acronym for 'fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols'- not quite as catchy! These are a group of carbohydrates that, in people with digestive issues, are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. Consuming them in this instance can lead to bloating, flatulance and motility problems. This is because, in some individuals, hydrogen gas is released when gut bacteria feed on them.

High FODMAP foods:

Some fuits, including; apples, mangos, pears
Some vegetables, including; asparagus, cauliflower and garlic
Lactose containing foods
Some grains including barley and rye
Most sweeteners

Low FODMAP foods:

Fruits such as banana, kiwi, strawberry
Vegetables such as carrots, lettuce, tomato
Grains such as brown rice and oats
Nuts such as brazil and peanut

As you can see, separating low from high FODMAP is incredibly complex for an individual who isn't trained in the diet. There are lots of blurred lines, and individuals may react more severely to some FODMAPs than others, or only when several sources are combined in a meal. A low FODMAP diet, if followed strictly, can seem incredibly restrictive. This is another reason why it is advised that you work with a professional, so that after an initial elimination phase, you can begin to reintroduce foods that do not trigger a reaction.

One of the strengths of the low FODMAP diet for individuals, is that it can avoid the need for medications. Most people would agree that they would rather treat a condition naturally, without prescriptions. Great things to combine the diet with would be: meditation, mindful eating, staying active (walking, yoga, resistance training...) and good sleep and overall self care. IBS has been linked with stress and inflammation. Control these as well as possible.

Supplements

Protein powders that are low FODMAP include high quality whey isolates or egg white protein powders.

When shopping for supplements, avoid added sweeteners ending in 'ol' (present in many bars especially).

Unflavoured supplements are safer choices for the more sensitive.

Try supplements such as digestive enzymes, probiotics and glutamine to support a healthy gut.

About the Author

Savannah Westerby, BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. IG:@savannahwesterby
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