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What is the FODMAP Diet Used For?

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects 10-15% of Americans. Yet, only 1 in 4 people with IBS seek treatment for their condition. While IBS is not life-threatening and does not cause serious health problems, it can be a difficult condition to live with. The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome may include gas production (flatulence), bloating (distension), cramping, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, and changes in bowel movements (color and consistency of stool).

A low FODMAP diet is part of the treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Research has shown it can reduce IBS symptoms in almost 9 out of 10 people with IBS. However, a diet containing low FODMAP foods can be challenging to follow, especially initially. That’s why it’s important to work with a registered dietitian or doctor. This will help ensure the FODMAP diet is implemented successfully while also maintaining adequate nutrition. 

If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome and would like to make dietary changes to control your IBS symptoms, a good way to start is by learning about the low FODMAP diet.

What is a low FODMAP diet?

FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are all short-chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that are poorly absorbed by the human small intestine and move to the large intestine undigested. Bacteria in the colon ferment these carbohydrates, leading to gas production. As a result, people with IBS experience distressing digestive symptoms after eating certain foods that contain these types of carbohydrates. 

A low FODMAP diet involves eliminating high FODMAP foods and slowly reintroducing them one at a time to see which one’s cause problems. Once the food (type of carbohydrate) that cause IBS symptoms have been identified, you can avoid or limit those foods high in FODMAPs that are troublesome and enjoy everything else without problems. A FODMAP diet is thus a discovery process that can greatly improve your quality of life if you have IBS.

Who benefits from a low FODMAP diet?

A low FODMAP diet is recommended for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The diet is designed to help figure out the foods that cause symptoms like gas, bloating, and stomachache in people with IBS.

How long should you follow a low FODMAP diet?

As noted, the FODMAP diet is a discovery process in which you eliminate food items one by one. This is to find out which are the foods that trigger symptoms of IBS. Experts recommend that a diet low in FODMAPs should be a temporary measurethey recommend following the elimination portion of the diet for only two to six weeks. It is not something you should follow long term. This is because a low FODMAP diet is highly restrictive, especially in the early phase when most high FODMAP foods are prohibited.

In other words, a FODMAP diet is not an eating plan that you should undertake for a long time. Also, because many high FODMAP foods are vegetarian staples, this diet can be challenging for vegetarians to follow. Long term restrictions in healthy fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds,  such as those included in FODMAP diet, may lead to vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. It is important to talk to a doctor or dietitian who can provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment before starting a FODMAP diet for IBS.

Does the FODMAP diet help with inflammation? Is it good for conditions besides irritable bowel syndrome?

The FODMAP diet is a meal plan that can help with many different digestive conditions. Besides irritable bowel syndrome, it can be helpful for people with other gastrointestinal disorders such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO is a condition in which bacteria that grows in other parts of the gut starts growing in the small intestine). 

Interestingly, advocates of the FODMAP diet say it can alleviate symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. It is believed this occurs because the diet eliminates carbohydrates such as lactose and fructose, which act as fuel for problematic bacteria in the gut. Some dieticians recommend a low FODMAP diet to patients with arthritis, for example. It is believed that following the diet for a couple of months might help reduce inflammation due to improved bacterial balance.

However, it is worth remembering that a low FODMAP diet restricts many nutrient-dense foods. These foods contain nutrients that have anti-inflammatory properties. Eliminating these important foods from the diet for a long time can have negative effects on the diversity of gut bacteria. And given that there is no strong scientific evidence that a low FODMAP diet improves arthritis symptoms, this type of meal plan should be started with caution. Nonetheless, following a low FODMAP diet for a couple of months may be worthwhile to see if it improves joint inflammation.

What are the worst high FODMAP foods?

Some of the worst culprits that cause digestive symptoms in people with IBS include:

●  Lactose in dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream

●  Fructans in wheat-based products such as bread, cereals, crackers

●  Galactans in lentils and beans

●  Fructose and fructans in vegetables such as asparagus, artichokes, onions, garlic

●  Fructose in fruits such as cherries, peaches, pears, apples

●  Polyol’s additives in artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup

It is worth noting that high FODMAP foods are not unhealthy as such. Some of these foods contain substances that stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Many are good for overall health as part of a balanced diet. But when people with IBS eat one or more of these foods, they can cause digestive symptoms that disrupt daily life.

What are some low FODMAP foods?

If you want to keep your IBS symptoms under control, you should plan your meals to include low FODMAP foods such as:

●  Meat

●  Eggs

●  Almond milk or other lactose-free alternatives

●  Hard cheeses like cheddar, brie, camembert, and feta

●  Grains such as oats, quinoa, rice

●  Fruits like oranges, grapes, strawberries, pineapple, bananas, blueberries

●  Vegetables like potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bok choy

●  Nuts and seeds like pine nuts, almonds, peanuts

How do I know if I need a FODMAP diet?

A low FODMAP diet has been found to reduce IBS symptoms in up to 86% of people with this condition. If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you can enjoy the benefits of a low FODMAP diet. Eliminating common foods high in FODMAPs one at a time will allow you to identify the foods that cause symptoms. By avoiding or limiting these foods and eating more foods that are low in FODMAPs, you can greatly improve your quality of life.

Please note that a low FODMAP diet is NOT for weight loss. However, because it eliminates many foods, a low FODMAP diet may cause weight loss or nutritional deficiencies, which can be especially dangerous in people who are already underweight. Keep in mind also that a FODMAP diet can be challenging. It’s important to talk to a doctor or dietitian to make sure you follow it correctly. This will not only increase your chances of alleviating IBS symptoms but also ensure proper nutrition while on FODMAPs.

References:

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360016
  2. https://gi.org/topics/irritable-bowel-syndrome/
  3. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/fodmap-diet-what-you-need-to-know
  4. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/anti-inflammatory/diet-as-therapy-for-arthritis-symptoms
  5. https://www.wholemedicine.ca/the-low-fodmap-diet-for-ibs-is-it-helpful-or-harmful/