How Do I Start a Low FODMAP Diet?

Following a Low FODMAP Diet, combined with other lifestyle modifications, can be very effective for managing IBS

There is growing evidence that a low FODMAP diet is helpful for some people suffering from Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (FGID). To understand why a low FODMAP diet can be helpful, it is important to understand what a FODMAP is.

FODMAPs, which stands for, Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols, are short chain carbohydrates. What FODMAPs have in common is that they can be difficult to digest.  They range from being inadequately absorbed in the small intestines to indigestible.

Some people have adverse reactions to consumption of short chain carbohydrates. These reactions include:

  • Abnormal bowel movements (constipation or diarrhea)
  • Bloating or abdominal distention
  • Cramping
  • Excessive gas, flatulence
  • Nausea

These adverse reactions are not a consequence of malabsorption of short chain carbohydrates. They result from the response of the body, in some people, to that malabsorption.

A Low FODMAP Diet Could Help Relieve Symptoms from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a chronic condition where someone fairly frequently experiences many, or most, of the aforementioned symptoms. IBS is one of more than a dozen functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. Gut issues are common in adults and children.

The collection of symptoms that fall under the umbrella of IBS are, at times, the result of a dysfunction of the gut–brain–microbiome axis. For this reason, those who suffer from IBS are often advised to increase physical activity, take prebiotics and probiotics, engage in relaxation and self-care, and also practice stress management techniques. Many people have found practicing yoga particularly helpful for alleviating bloating.

There is also a connection between IBS symptoms and our enteric nervous system (ENS), also called the “brain in the gut” or the “second brain”. I prefer to think of it as the source of my gut feelings and instincts.

Because IBS has a variety of causes, what allows people to successfully reduce or eliminate symptoms varies, as well. Coping with Irritable Bowel Syndrome often requires a comprehensive lifestyle overhaul. Changing one’s diet is just one part of the larger solution.

What the Heck is a FODMAP?

The low FODMAP diet was the result of research conducted at Monash University. It is one way to tame symptoms associated with IBS.

Fermentable

The “F” in FODMAP, refers to the fermentation that happens when intestinal bacteria consume undigested carbohydrates. In other words, it describes a process that, for some, leads to digestive issues.

Oligosaccharides

The “O” in FODMAP refers to oligosaccharides, which are chains of sugars (fructans, galacto-ogliosaccharides, etc.). Some of the more commonly used foods containing oligosaccharides are:

  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cashews
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Soy milk
  • Wheat
Because corn is high in Oligosaccharides, it needs to be eliminated in phase one of the diet
Because corn is high in Oligosaccharides, it needs to be eliminated during phase one of the diet
Disaccharides (lactose, maltose, sucrose, etc.)

The “D” in FODMAP references disaccharides. They are formed when two monosaccharides link together. Among others, the following foods containing disaccharides:

  • Buttermilk
  • Cottage cheese
  • Custard
  • Hot chocolate
  • Ice cream
  • Kefir
  • Milk
  • Milk chocolate
  • Processed or soft cheeses
  • Whipping cream
Dairy products, such as milk, butter, and whip cream are high in FODMAPs
Dairy products, such as milk, custard, and whipping cream are high in FODMAPs
Monosaccharides

The “M” in FODMAP stands for monosaccharides, like fructose, which contain a single sugar molecule. Foods high in fructose include:

  • Agave
  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Cherries
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Mangoes
  • Molasses
Certain fruits, including apples, are high in FODMAPs
Certain fruits, including apples, are high in FODMAPs
And…

The “A” in FODMAP stands for and, apparently they needed to buy a vowel.

Polyols

Polyols are the “P” that completes FODMAP. They are sugar alcohols (erythritol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, etc.). Some of the foods containing polyols are:

  • Apricot
  • Butternut squash
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Mushrooms
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches

Alcohol, caffeine, fatty foods, and spicy foods may also trigger symptoms.

Starting a Low FODMAP Diet

Phase One

A low FODMAP diet begins with an elimination phase. For two to six weeks, all of the high and moderate FODMAP foods are removed from your diet. Because this phase is so restrictive, many find it difficult to follow. Since restaurants are not yet classifying menu items as low FODMAP, or FODMAP friendly, you may need to make everything from scratch, at home.

Phase two

The second phase involves the reintroduction of foods. It is very important to introduce them one at a time, or it becomes nearly impossible to identify the source of troubles, should they arise. Ideally, you will want to try including just one new ingredient each week. Begin with the foods that will give you the most “bang for your buck”, such as garlic. Alternatively, you may begin with those foods that you adore most. When you are able to handle one food, try a few others from the same category. It is possible that the entire group won’t affect you negatively. Note that some foods appear in more than one category. For example, apples contain both fructose and sorbitol. Therefore, your reactions to them may be less telling with respect to categorical sensitivities.

Introduce foods back into your diet one at a time, to see how your body responds
Introduce foods back into your diet one at a time, to see how your body responds
Phase Three

Phase three implements a personalization of dietary restrictions, or reductions, based on the results of your trial and error during phase two. For example, I should never consume an onion again. Some foods, like blueberries, I can handle in moderation. And I enjoy others once in a while, including pasta, when combined with plenty of hydration, regular exercise, and low levels of stress.

“The diet was helpful for a couple of reasons. Most notably – IT WORKED!”

My Struggle with Digestion

When the third phase is complete, your newfound nutritional guidelines will be far more sustainable.

As awareness increases, sites and books full of recipes and tips are being published by chefs, dieticians, and those living with IBS, to ensure that following a low FODMAP diet doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor!

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