You may have seen the acronym FODMAP in health-related news, or maybe you have a friend who has been on the low FODMAP diet for months, and the only downside is she’s no longer down for some late-night Domino’s pepperoni pizza and a six-pack.
Whatever the case, the low FODMAP diet—though it’s been around for years—has recently gained popularity due to its success, according to nutritional and wellness expert Fiona Tuck.
What are FODMAPs?
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols—basically, different types of sugars that are poorly absorbed in the intestines, which some people have adverse reactions to.
“When these sugars reach the large intestine, the bacteria in the gut can begin to ferment them, which can cause bloating, pain and wind,” Tuck says.
In the FODMAP diet, you’re eliminating the foods that contain those sugars and cause those symptoms, thereby reducing abdominal discomfort.
What foods contain FODMAPs?
Tuck says following a FODMAP diet can be extremely restrictive, as it limits many foods and can become mundane. The key is to choose foods low in sugar and limit high carbohydrate foods.
Foods to avoid include:
- Dairy products & Sweetened Yogurts
- Grains – Barley, rye, wheat, semolina, couscous, bread, pasta, cake, etc.
- Fruits – Apples, Apricots, Blackberries, Cherries, Mangoes, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Prunes, Watermelons
- Dried fruit
- Vegetables – Asparagus, Artichokes, Avocados, Beetroots, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Mushrooms, Onion, Peas, Shallots, Snow peas
What’s the difference between symptoms that come from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and eating high-FODMAP foods?
According to Tuck, the symptoms are very similar between the two. She suggests keeping a food diary and monitoring to see what foods trigger the reactions, which can come in the form of gas, bloating and diarrhea.
How do I start on the FODMAP diet?
Health coach and IBS expert Barbara Bolen says to start the diet, you need to eliminate foods that are high in FODMAPs for a period of two weeks to up to two months. While you’re preparing to start your elimination diet, she suggests consulting a dietician or nutritionist and keeping a food diary to stay on top of any slip-ups.
After eliminating high-FODMAP foods from your diet and hopefully starting to feel a decrease in symptoms, you can begin reintroducing some foods back into your diet and seeing how you feel.
Bolen says it is recommended that you pick one FODMAP sub-group at a time—perhaps once a week—and note if you can tolerate the food without getting any of your usual symptoms.
If you continue to experience symptoms with that particular food or food group, go back to the elimination phase and continue with the next sub-group until you find which foods are most likely to give you symptoms.
Bolen says you also may not have to be on the FODMAP diet forever.
“Many foods that are high in FODMAPs are also foods that can be very good for your health,” she says.
She suggests eating a variety of healthy foods and keep introducing new foods into your diet at regular intervals once you’ve been on the FODMAP diet for a while.
I’ve tried the FODMAP diet and it’s not working.
Laura Tilt, a London-based dietician and health writer, says everyone is different when it comes to the elimination phase. Some people may notice a difference in a day or two, while for others it can take up to a month.
While an elimination diet can help monitor the symptoms and patterns, it’s a good idea to go see a nutritionist who can do further testing—like stool or blood tests—to determine what else may be going on internally.
“It’s also possible that your symptoms are related to other causes–stress plays a huge role in IBS, for example–and therefore it’s important to manage not just diet, but other lifestyle factors,” Tilt says.
She suggests also building in good stress management, sleep and lifestyle habits.
What’s an example of a FODMAP-friendly meal?
Breakfast: spinach omelet; soya yogurt with rhubarb and mixed seeds
Lunch: green salad and salmon; quinoa salad and sliced chicken
Dinner: chicken stir fry with quinoa (add only FODMAP-friendly vegetables!); salmon with rice, spinach and zucchini