Research shows that following a low FODMAP diet is the best way of managing your symptoms and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). But what are FODMAPs? Here is everything you need to know about FODMAPs and following a low FODMAP diet.
What are FODMAPs?
FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are all different types of carbohydrates. When these carbohydrates are poorly absorbed in the small intestine it can result in increased water being drawn into the gut, causing diarrhoea for some people. For others, the carbohydrates travel to the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria, producing gas. This gas can lead to additional symptoms, including bloating, constipation, flatulence, pain and nausea. Unpleasant symptoms, that often many people do not like talking about!
To complicate it further some low FODMAP foods can still contribute to IBS. Things like chilli, fatty foods, caffeine, alcohol, too much fibre or too little fibre, medications and stress may influence your symptoms.
The FODMAP diet
In order to control your IBS, you must first start by identifying what your triggers are.
The FODMAP Challenge is a 12-week program based on an elimination approach. For example week 1 – 4 focuses on eliminating high FODMAP foods and incorporating more low FOMAP foods into your diet. This elimination of high FODMAP foods can help control your IBS and it’s important to remember that more often than not it’s more than one of these high FODMAP foods that could be contributing to your symptoms!
IBS symptoms can often occur when there is an increased consumption of one or more of your “triggers”; foods that you are intolerant to. For example, if you have apple, mango and pear all in the one-day, this could be too much for you to tolerate. However if you only have the apple the quantity may be fine for you to eat without getting any symptoms. This can make it super tricky to work out what is causing your discomfort!
Which Foods are High FODMAP, and which ones are Low FODMAP?
High FODMAP foods that are typically avoided on a FODMAP diet include;
- Asparagus, onion, garlic, cabbage, celery, sweet corn, legumes, apples, pears, mango, watermelon, yoghurt, cow’s milk, soft cheese, ice cream, wheat-based breads, cereal, pasta, cashews and pistachios
Low FODMAP foods that you can enjoy include;
- Cucumber, carrot, lettuce, tomato, zucchini, banana, orange, mandarin, grapes, lactose-free milk and yoghurts, hard cheese, meats, fish, gluten-free breads and pastas, quinoa and rice
How does it work?
Through reducing consumption of high FODMAP foods, symptoms of IBS can clear up in a matter of weeks! This is where a low FODMAP diet comes into it. A strict low FODMAP diet is a diagnostic tool, helping you to identify your trigger foods, and it is not a recommended long-term diet plan.
Once it has been determined what FODMAPs are causing grief, moving through a series of food challenges is essential to help determine which FODMAPs are an individuals’ triggers.
The challenges are a process that is recommended to work through with a dietitian who is experienced in the area. There are eight challenges in total. For example, for the fructose challenge, 2 mangoes, or 3tsp of honey is suggested to be consumed for up to four days, less if symptoms return. The mango or honey is added in to the diet, for example with tea, breakfast cereal or a smoothie (or any other way you wish!), whilst the diet otherwise stays low FODMAP. Once the challenge is complete, or your symptoms reappear, you return to being low FODMAP for a few days, then move onto the next type of FODMAP.
How come I can’t just stay low FODMAP?
Most people do not react to all the high FODMAP groups of foods. Identifying these means that we can re-introduce the groups of foods that don’t trigger your symptoms, then determine tolerance levels of those that were. This is recommended for the following reasons:
- Most people with IBS can maintain good symptom control with reintroduction of some high FODMAP foods. This makes it easier to make informed choices when you aren’t directly in control of food choices, and better management of symptoms on a daily basis.
- Avoiding unnecessary restrictions helps to ensure a nutritionally adequate diet.
- Many high FODMAP foods are also high in prebiotics. These provide food for the healthy bacteria that are found in your gut. In particular, this includes onion, garlic, legumes, wheat, watermelon and asparagus. Research indicates that long-term avoidance of these may affect the health of your gut microbiome.
What else should I consider?
Other things can trigger symptoms of IBS. These include fatty foods, spicy foods and caffeine. Stress and anxiety also play a key role in symptom management; managing these helps with reducing symptoms.
If the above sounds a little too familiar, determining your triggers with support from a dietitian is the best way forward. Check out The FODMAP Challenge for recipes, meal plans and lots of support to help you figure out your triggers. The second round of The FODMAP Challenge commences on September 1st, register at http://fodmapchallenge.com.