What is the FODMAP diet?

If you’re interested in gut health, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the FODMAP diet.

But what is it, and who should follow it?

What are FODMAPs? 

FODMAPs are short chain sugars which trigger symptoms like pain, wind, bloating and loose stools in people with IBS.

Why do they trigger gut symptoms?

When we eat carbohydrates they are broken down into individual sugars.

Usually these sugars are absorbed in through the small intestine and into the bloodstream, where they are used for energy.

For various reasons, FODMAPs are trickier to break down and absorb, so they end up travelling to the large intestine. Once they arrive in the large intestine they are consumed (fermented) by the trillions of bacteria that live there.

Although this isn’t harmful, it can cause uncomfortable symptoms like pain, wind, bloating and diarrhoea in people with IBS.

Right, so what is a LOW FODMAP diet? 

The low FODMAP diet was developed by researchers at Monash University in Australia to help improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) .

The research team at Monash found that by removing high FODMAP foods from their diet, people with IBS experienced fewer symptoms and felt much better.

Fast-forward 15 years and the low FODMAP diet is now used as an effective way to manage IBS. Studies in the UK have found that about 70% of people with IBS who follow the diet feel some improvement in their symptoms.

What does FODMAP actually mean?

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols – these are the scientific names for the different sugars. FODMAP is an easy way to remember them as a group.

Fermentable is the word used to describe the process during which bacteria consume sugars (FODMAPs) and produce gas.

What foods are FODMAPs found in?

FODMAPs are only found in carbohydrate foods which includes some starchy foods (like wheat bread and pasta) various fruits and vegetables (including apples, onion and beans), and some dairy products like milk and yoghurt.

What does the low FODMAP diet involve?

Lots of people assume the low FODMAP diet is something you need to follow forever, but the elimination phase (where you cut out FODMAPs) only lasts for 6 weeks. It’s important to do the reintroduction phrase, as the elimination phase is restrictive, and can be low in fibre and other nutrients.

Here’s how it works –

  • Step 1 – The Elimination Phase – high FODMAP foods are avoided for 4-8 weeks, and replaced with low FODMAP alternatives
  • Step 2 – The Reintroduction Phase – if you’ve been feeling better on the diet, you’ll now start reintroducing high FODMAP foods one at a time to find out which ones trigger symptoms. This can take another 4-6 weeks.
  • Step 3 – The Personalisation Phase – you return to as normal a diet as possible avoiding just those FODMAPs that trigger your symptoms

How do I start a low FODMAP diet?

Although you can find TONS of information online, it’s recommended that you work with a FODMAP trained dietitian, as they are skilled in helping you follow the diet as closely as possible, which gives you the best chance of seeing an improvement in your symptoms.

They can also help you with the reintroduction and long-term avoidance of FODMAPs. Because the diet is limited, it can be hard to follow by yourself– a dietitian will help make sure your diet stays balanced during the elimination phase and support you with how to replace high FODMAP foods. They can also answer questions and advise on personalising the diet to your symptoms.

Should I follow a low FODMAP diet?

Most of us don’t experience symptoms when we eat FODMAPs, and there’s nothing unhealthy about them. People with IBS are  sensitive to the pain and bloating triggered by eating FODMAPs, which is why diet is helpful for them.

There is no evidence that the low FODMAP diet works for non-gut symptoms linked with IBS, or that people without IBS will benefit from following a low FODMAP diet.

There’s some research showing that a low FODMAP diet might be helpful for managing functional gut symptoms in inflammatory bowel disease, but this should be done with guidance of a dietitian.

How can I find out more?

As a FODMAP trained dietitian I’m always happy to answer questions – find me over on Instagram or drop me an email.  You might also find it helpful to listen to my new venture ‘The Gut Loving Podcast’ where I discuss the diet in more detail.

You can also check out Kings College, who lead the training and research for the low FODMAP diet in the UK. To find out more, click here. 

Photo credit: Designed by katemangostar / Freepik

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