Ask the RD: What is a low FODMAP diet?
Have you heard about the (FODMAP) diet with a long acronym for a name? If you haven’t, it’s likely you’ll be hearing more about it as it continues to gain momentum and popularity. So, what exactly is a FODMAP anyway? And is a low FODMAP diet something you should consider? Read on to get all the facts.
WHAT IS IT?
A low FODMAP diet entails a multi-step elimination and then reintroduction of foods that contain high levels of certain types of carbohydrates, called FODMAPS.
FODMAP stands for:
These particular types of carbohydrates are found abundantly in many foods you eat regularly, including, but not limited to:
wheat, barley, rye, apples, pears, mangos, watermelon, honey, cow’s milk, yogurt, certain soft cheeses (like ricotta), cashews, pistachios, cauliflower, mushrooms, onion, garlic, asparagus, and additives like high fructose corn syrup, inulin, and sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, mannitol, and maltitol.
The trouble with FODMAPS is that they have three traits that make them problematic for some people.
- They are poorly absorbed in the intestine.
- They draw extra water into the intestine and are rapidly fermented by bacteria in the bowel.
- Depending on the quantity consumed and an individual’s tolerance, FODMAPs can lead to increased gassiness, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
HOW TO FOLLOW IT
Following the diet consists of a 2-6 week elimination phase that involves removing all high FODMAP foods from the diet in order to identify whether FODMAP rich foods are causing your symptoms to worsen. After the elimination phase, a knowledgeable professional (aka registered dietitian experienced in FODMAPS) will help you navigate a reintroduction phase of high FODMAP foods that helps identify which foods you can tolerate and which ones trigger symptoms. Finally, you’ll formulate a more personalized plan to follow long-term, in which you maximize your food variety while minimizing trigger foods to help keep symptoms at bay.
WHO IS IT FOR?
A low-FODMAP diet has been shown in research to help about 75% of people with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) manage their symptoms. Since IBS is estimated to affect about 11% of people around the globe (that’s about 40-45 million in the US and 1 billion globally!), the low FODMAP diet has the potential to help many people feel a whole lot better.
Symptoms of IBS can include abdominal pain and cramping, gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, changes in bowel movements, fatigue and difficulty sleeping, anxiety and depression.
If you have been diagnosed with IBS and think that following a low FODMAP diet may help you, it’s important to seek more information from trusted professionals on how to effectively implement this diet. If you have not been diagnosed with IBS but are having many of the symptoms, do not self-diagnose. Get checked by a trained physician and then seek help from a registered dietitian for dietary strategies to manage it, such as the low-FODMAP diet.
The diet involves a multi-step approach, which entails an elimination phase, followed by a reintroduction phase, and the final modification / personalization phase which can lead to complications when trying to implement. This diet is also looked at as complex because there is a lot of information on the internet that is either out of date or inaccurate in regards to which foods to restrict and how to properly and safely implement the diet to help maximize nutrition and minimize symptoms.
WHAT ARE THE DOWNSIDES?
The diet can be restrictive and without proper planning it can fall short on certain nutrients. Despite some hype, this is not a diet to go on strictly for weight loss, especially if you have tendencies towards an unhealthy relationship with food or unhealthy dietary restriction.
Here are helpful resources from registered dietitian Kate Scarlata who is an expert in the low FODMAP diet. She includes a section to help find a low FODMAP dietitian near you as well. You can also visit Monash University’s website for up-to-date information on low and high FODMAP foods.
Have you tried (or are thinking about trying) the low FODMAP diet to help with digestive issues or IBS? How did it work for you?