This article is the complete guide to the low FODMAP diet. What and how we eat can affect our lives in more ways than you might think.
Your diet can influence your weight, disease risk, and even your emotional state.
Nonetheless, it isn’t easy to switch up years of ingrained eating patterns. Before altering your food habits, you need to be well-informed.
You’ll learn what eating low FODMAP entails and who could benefit from it. We’ll provide you with the basics you need to get started if this diet is right for you.
Table of Contents
What Are FODMAPs?
FODMAP is an abbreviation that stands for:
- FO – Fermentable Oligosaccharides.
- D – Disaccharides.
- M – Monosaccharides.
- P – Polyols.
Now you understand why it’s shortened. These compounds may be a mouthful to say, but they’re straightforward to define.
All FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates. They can be found in a diverse variety of foods, from legumes and grains to certain fruits and vegetables.
Wait—fruits, vegetables, and legumes?
We’ve all heard about cutting down on grains, but isn’t everything plant-based supposed to be healthy?
The fact is, you can’t always generalize when it comes to food. FODMAPs aren’t necessarily bad to eat or dangerous in and of themselves.
The necessity of a low FODMAP diet is more about how you react to them, if at all.
FODMAPs and the Connection to IBS
For some people, FODMAPs aren’t easy to process. These short-chain carbohydrates can take longer to be digested and absorbed compared to other nutrients.
The consequences of drawn-out digestion are nothing good.
When FODMAPs wear out their welcome in your small intestine, water volume inside the lumen (passageways) increases.
Gut bacteria jump into action to break down the offending compounds through fermentation.
These internal activities can manifest as all sorts of unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms for susceptible individuals. These may include:
- Abdominal pain.
These are the trademark symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This disease isn’t lethal, but it can significantly impair your quality of life.
Food management is one of the primary tactics doctors recommend as a treatment. Intolerances to particular foods and drinks can provoke or worsen the condition.
Readers who suffer from IBS already know the drill. You quickly learn to steer clear of obviously stomach-agitating ingredients like alcohol, refined sugars, caffeine, etc.
Unfortunately, foods that are classed as healthy can also cause trouble if you have IBS. FODMAPs are found in various common food items, including some fruits and vegetables.
Getting to the source of the problem may require more drastic measures. That’s where the low FODMAP diet can help.
How Can a Low FODMAP Diet Benefit You?
By now, you may have realized that a low FODMAP diet isn’t appropriate for everyone.
If you rarely experience gastric distress and you’re in good health overall, there likely isn’t a need for it.
For those of you dealing with IBS or a chronic illness, a low FODMAP diet may help. Readers who have sensitive stomachs might also merit from it.
Improve Symptoms of IBS and Other Bowel Diseases
A low FODMAP diet has been shown to have promising results for IBS patients. Take note that it’s not the same as the traditional IBS diet—it’s more restrictive.
For example, on the traditional diet, you can eat three servings of any fruit per day. Nearly all fruits contain fructose in varying quantities, which is a monosaccharide (the M in FODMAP).
Let’s get back to discussing those promising results we mentioned. Patients reported an appreciable decrease in abdominal pain on the low FODMAP diet.
There were also considerable reductions in bloating and stool frequency. Roughly 70 percent of IBS patients studied reported relief in their symptoms.
Other chronic bowel afflictions could be controlled too. One study involved patients with Crohn’s disease, who followed a diet rich in FODMAPs.
They were put on a low FODMAP diet for three months. Almost all the participants benefited from a notable improvement in symptoms and quality of life.
Identify Which Foods Trigger Stomach Discomfort
Perhaps you experience occasional bouts of abdominal distress with no apparent cause. Some of you may experience mild symptoms on a regular basis—e.g., feeling gassy or bloated.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with a gastric illness, it can be tough to deal with. It’s even more frustrating if you eat a balanced diet and avoid processed junk foods.
A low FODMAP diet may reveal food intolerances you weren’t aware of. It could be something you never suspected—like a favorite legume or tea.
How to Follow the Low FODMAP Diet
The low FODMAP diet is not for the faint of heart. That is to say; it isn’t as simple as tossing out unwholesome sugary snacks and drinks.
Firstly, this diet is divided into stages. It isn’t like other regimes (e.g., keto) where you transition into the lifestyle and stick with it.
Next, it isn’t the sort of thing you can jump into on a whim. We strongly recommend that you check in with a medical professional and prepare yourself beforehand.
Check With Your Doctor First
Readers with or without a diagnosed bowel illness should consult a physician before trying the low FODMAP diet.
Those of you coping with IBS or another disease may want relief from your symptoms as soon as possible. However, your gastroenterologist knows your condition best and can advise you on how to proceed.
If you don’t have a formal diagnosis, you may still not turn out not to be an ideal candidate for this diet.
It can be dangerous to plan a dramatic dietary change with a health condition or while taking medication.
Think of the low FODMAP diet as a journey. Instead of traveling through cities, you’ll be passing through different stages. There are three of them: restriction, reintroduction, and personalization.
Like any trip, you need to make preparations beforehand. As the first stage of the diet is highly restrictive, you need to be ready for that mentally.
Do whatever makes you feel comfortable and in charge. If that means making a poster to track your progress or finding a low FODMAP diet support group, go for it.
You might not instantly feel your symptoms ameliorate, which can be discouraging. Put up reminders for yourself to boost your spirits when you’re struggling.
Stage 1: Restriction
The term “restriction” usually connotes misery, especially when we’re talking about food. It’s also an obligatory component of the low FODMAP diet.
During this phase, you will eliminate (or heavily limit) all high FODMAP items from your diet. The stage can last from three to eight weeks. Your doctor or dietician will tell you how long you should restrict yourself.
Yes, this is harsh, but it will allow your stomach to recuperate. There’s no other way for you to uncover the culprits behind your abdominal distress.
Why not make things easier by restricting high FODMAP foods one by one?
That would take forever—there are literally hundreds of items that fall into this category. You will be able to try reintroducing them later (slowly) and see how your body reacts.
Stage 2: Reintroduction
The restriction phase is finally over. You can celebrate with a fun activity, but don’t discard your hard-earned low FODMAP diet restraint just yet.
You can begin to eat high FODMAP foods again but proceed with caution. Take it as slowly as you can, introducing foods one by one, and monitor how you react.
If your symptoms start to manifest again, you’ll know that food is a trigger for you. You’ll have to face relegating it to a rare treat or eliminating it permanently from your diet.
It’s easier said than done—but try not to binge on all the foods you missed at once. If you feel worse all of a sudden, you won’t know what caused the relapse.
Stage 3: Personalization
This is the final phase of the low FODMAP diet. This is the part where you make permanent changes to your diet that fit into your lifestyle.
By now, you should be well-versed on what foods do and don’t work for you. The reintroduction stage will have taught you what your triggers are.
You have to be realistic about your long-term abilities. If all your most cherished foods turn out to be triggers for you, giving them all up can seem overwhelming.
All the effort you put into achieving healthy, functional bowels may not seem worth it. The role that food plays in your life is one of the factors that influence diet adherence.
Restrict what you can manage without forcing yourself. If you can’t live without pasta, experiment with having a small bowl once a week.
Don’t throw away your treasured family recipe for cherry pie. Treat yourself to it every so often, or find a way to modify it to contain less high FODMAPs.
Low FODMAP vs. High FODMAP
Ready to find out what’s on (and off) the menu on the low FODMAP diet? We’ve summed up typical high and low FODMAP items below.
Note that these are not comprehensive lists. Your physician or dietician will provide you with a detailed guide to refer to.
High FODMAP Items
These are things you’ll be reducing or wholly avoiding:
- High-fructose, high-polyol fruits (sweet fruits such as mangos, cherries, pears, peaches).
- Dried or tinned fruit.
- Lactose products (e.g., milk, cheeses, yogurts, ice cream).
- High-oligosaccharide, high-polyol vegetables (e.g., artichokes, Brussels sprouts, garlic, onion, beets, mushrooms).
- Most legumes (e.g., chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils).
- Grain-based products (e.g., pasta, cereal, bread, biscuits).
- Fructose sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup, honey).
- Artificial sweetners ending in “-ol” (e.g., xylitol, sorbitol).
- Most alcohols.
- Certain teas (e.g., chai, black, dandelion).
Low FODMAP Foods
These are examples of low FODMAP diet-friendly alternatives:
- Low-fructose, low-polyol fruits (e.g., banana, raspberries, strawberries, lemons, limes).
- Low-oligosaccharide, low-polyol vegetables (e.g., carrots, lettuce, corn, parsnips).
- Certain dairy products (e.g., butter, hard cheeses such as feta).
- Artificial sweeteners not ending in “-ol” (e.g., sugar or glucose).
- Gluten-free products.
- Meat, fish, and seafood.
- Certain alcohols in limited quantities (e.g., clear spirits).
- Certain teas (e.g., peppermint, green tea).
Difficulties of Following the Low FODMAP Diet
To reap the rewards of the low FODMAP diet, you have to adhere to it. Anticipating the hurdles you’ll encounter will better help you prepare for them.
Restricting or Eliminating Common Foods
Many of the foods you eat regularly are going to be off the table for a while.
If you don’t live alone, you may want to inform everyone about this beforehand. You don’t want to be tempted with offers of your favorite foodstuffs right after you begin.
Later, during the reintroduction phase, you may face more difficulties. Getting used to the idea that some foods aren’t appropriate for you anymore is hard.
Understanding High vs. Low FODMAP
It’s necessary to get familiar with which foods and beverages are low FODMAP—and which aren’t.
As you’ve seen from the section above, it can be tricky. It’s not a question of dividing so-called bad and good foods.
Honey is antioxidant-rich, but it’s high in the monosaccharide fructose. Mushrooms are delicious and low-calorie, but they’re also abundant in polyols.
Unlike other diets, there’s a big learning curve to adapt to. It’s likely you’ll have to carry a list around with you for a while when food shopping or eating out.
Aim to set yourself up for success and a smooth voyage through the phases. Have your pantry stocked and ready before you start, and make plans for meals at work.
Not Getting Enough Nutrients
There are a lot of foods you won’t be eating during the restriction stage. You may fall end up losing out on vital nutrients if you’re not careful about your diet.
Ensure that you’re getting enough variety on the low FODMAP diet.
We hope our complete guide to the low FODMAP diet has been illuminating for you. If you have IBS or a similar condition, this diet may be worth exploring.
The majority of healthy adults won’t merit from trying drastic elimination diets. In general, the low FODMAP diet shouldn’t be attempted without medical guidance.
If you feel like this diet could help you, consult your doctor to discuss it. Be aware of how to follow a balanced, low FODMAP diet before you begin.
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