Low FODMAP information has been swirling on social media these days as more people have taken a keen interest in gut health. But does that mean you should be on a low FODMAP diet? Also, what even is a FODMAP?
Here you’ll learn about the low FODMAP diet and if it’s right for you.
Let’s talk FODMAPs!
What Are FODMAPS?
FODMAPS are sugars that easily ferment in the gut and thus aren’t fully absorbed. This process can lead to unwanted digestive symptoms in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Here is a breakdown of the specific types of sugar groupings that easily ferment in the gut, also known as FODMAPs.
Refers to the process in which sugars ferment in the gut in people with IBS
Oligosaccharides are groups of 3-10 long links of sugars, including fructans and galactooligosaccharides (GOS) (1). You can find them in the following:
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Some fruit
Humans lack the digestive enzymes needed to help break down fructans and GOS. In someone without IBS, this may only cause some gas, whereas, in an individual with IBS, these carbohydrates can cause further discomforts like bloating and stomach pain.
If you have IBS, you may be sensitive to neither or both of these carbohydrates, so it’s essential to test this out in the reintroduction phase of the low FODMAP diet.
Oligosaccharides are typically good sources of dietary fibre, which is good for regularity and gut health, and you do not need to avoid them if you don’t have a sensitivity.
Disaccharides refer to the linkage of two sugar molecules (2). Lactose is a common disaccharide and is found in the following:
- Soft cheese
A sensitivity to lactose in an individual living with IBS is not to be confused with lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is when one lacks the enzyme lactase needed to break down lactose.
In IBS, a sensitivity to lactose occurs because of a functional bowel disorder, not because they lack the enzyme.
Monosaccharides are single sugar molecules that are found in the following:
- High fructose corn syrup
Polyols are sugar alcohols, both naturally occurring and synthetic. Polyols are found in foods like:
- Some fruits
- Some vegetables
- Artificial sweeteners
Excessive amounts of polyols in individuals with IBS can pull water through the gut, which produces excess gas.
Sensitivity to polyols in those with IBS can vary and depend on the amount consumed throughout the day. Although not everyone with IBS is sensitive to polyols, following a low FODMAP diet will help you understand which FODMAP you are sensitive to.
What Is A Low FODMAP Diet?
Now that you understand FODMAPs let’s dive into the diet itself.
A low FODMAP diet is a diet for individuals living with IBS to help reduce unwanted GI symptoms.
Research by Monash University, the founder of the low FODMAP diet, has shown a reduction in symptoms in 75% of patients when following this diet.
Who Is It For?
If you’re struggling with gut issues, jumping on a low FODMAP diet may be tempting. After all, as research shows, it can be highly effective and has helped improve symptoms for many people.
Don’t fall into this trap. First and foremost, before you decide if the low FODMAP diet is right for you need to have an IBS diagnosis from your doctor.
Although IBS doesn’t cause harm to the gut, other gut disorders may look like IBS and are harmful. Therefore, it’s vital to get tested by your doctor to determine what is causing your symptoms.
Okay, so you’ve been tested and have IBS. Does this mean the low FODMAP diet is appropriate for you? Well, it depends.
As mentioned earlier, the low FODMAP diet has shown promising results in ¾ of people living with IBS. However, this does not mean it is suitable for all. It’s best to consult a registered dietitian first before trialling any diet.
A registered dietitian can assess your overall health needs, as you may have more than one chronic health condition, and determine if this diet or another approach is the right fit.
How Do You Follow A Low FODMAP Diet?
A low FODMAP diet is a short-term temporary elimination diet that helps you identify your food triggers.
The diet has three phases:
- Low FODMAP diet
Low FODMAP diet
During this 2-6 week phase, you eliminate all high FODMAP foods and only stick to low FODMAP foods.
For this phase, you must have access to an accurate low-FODMAP food list to ensure you choose the right foods.
We highly recommend utilizing the Monash University FODMAP app to help you with your diet. They have created a traffic light system that is easy to follow and shows you specific low FODMAP foods and in what amounts too.
Note this app has a small fee, but you get lifetime access, including new updates and new foods added regularly.
Further, we recommend working with a registered dietitian specializing in FODMAPs, as this diet can get tricky.
A registered dietitian will ensure you eat low FODMAP and get all the necessary nutrients to meet your specific health needs.
This part of the diet is where you slowly re-introduce FODMAP groups over 2-3 days into your diet.
Due to things like social media, the low FODMAP diet has become sensationalized as this “cure-all gut health solution.” However, what is often missed is that this diet is meant to be temporary to help you identify which FODMAPS are triggers for you.
Once reintroducing a new group, after 2-3 days, if you do not notice any unwanted symptoms carry on to the next group.
If you notice any symptoms once you reintroduce a new FODMAP, you know that that is a FODMAP group triggering symptoms.
Once you have determined all, if any, of the FODMAP groups are causing unwanted symptoms, you can work with your registered dietitian on low FODMAP swaps you can include in your diet in place of the groups of foods causing your symptoms.
Again, remember IBS is a functional gut disorder, meaning if you consume FODMAPs that are triggering, the worst case scenario is you may feel things like bloating, discomfort, diarrhea and gas. These foods, however, will not damage your gut.
As well, when it comes to FODMAPS, the amount matters. For example, you may handle ½ a cup of greek yogurt, and your friend with IBS may tolerate none or have no problem with any amount.
What Foods Can You Eat?
Ok, enough about what foods you can’t eat; what about what you can eat? The good news is lots!
Check out this Low FODMAP Food List.
What Is A Modified Low FODMAP Diet?
As exciting as the research is around the low FODMAP diet, something other than this diet may be more suitable for you. This diet requires strict adherence, particularly during the first two phases, which may not suit your lifestyle or overall health needs.
The initial phases of the low FODMAP diet require careful meal planning and extra time choosing foods at the grocery store. However, if life is busy, consider that there may be a better time for you to try a diet that requires time and attention.
If you have another chronic disease requiring nutrition attention, you’ll want to assess with a Registered Dietitian if reducing FODMAPs is your top priority. You may need to put this diet aside while focusing on other health goals.
If you experience a disordered relationship with food or have a diagnosed eating disorder, we do not recommend this diet unless otherwise deemed safe by your healthcare team. In addition, a low FODMAP diet is restrictive; thus, a further restriction may trigger disordered eating behaviours.
Modified Low FODMAP Diet
So, what do you do if a low FODMAP diet isn’t right for you, but you are still experiencing symptoms? You can take many approaches with your registered dietitian, but a common one is eliminating a few select high FODMAP offenders.
Many people with IBS experience sensitivity to only fructans. Thus, eliminating foods high in fructans like onion and garlic can help some ease their symptoms.
Hidden Sources of FODMAPs
- Sugar-free gum
- Sugar-free mints
- High fructose corn syrup
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Some spice blends
- Vegetable broth concentrate
- Chai tea (strong)
- Chamomile tea
- Dandelion tea
- Fennel tea
- Oolong tea
FODMAPs and Alcohol
If you choose to drink alcohol, note that a few drinks are exceptionally high in FODMAPs, like:
- Ice wine
- Drinks containing some artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols
Easy Low FODMAP Hacks
1. Infuse your oil with garlic. Garlic is a well-known high-FODMAP food; however, something unique happens when it sits in oil.
The high FODMAP components of garlic don’t leach out as garlic is only soluble in water, not fat. This process creates a tasty garlic-infused oil which is a great way to include that garlicky flavour in your meals.
When it comes to infusing oils, food safety is critical. Herbs can harbour deadly bacteria that can cause botulism if not prepared correctly. Check out how to infuse your oils safely here.
2. Onions are another bold flavour enhancer that can be tough to give up on a low FODMAP diet. Try swapping your yellow, white and red onions for spring onions. However, stay away from the bulb, as they are high in FODMAPs.
3. Download the Spoonful app. Spoonful is an easy, user-friendly low FODMAP app that helps you shop easier by scanning food items in the grocery store. The app will tell you whether or not the food is low FODMAP and in what amounts.
4. Look for low FODMAP brands. For example, Fody Foods is a certified low FODMAP brand by Monash university. Fody carries a wide selection of sauces, dressings and snacks for your low FODMAP needs.
Do Supplements Help?
Some supplements promote symptom relief in those with IBS, but do they actually work?
Several probiotics on the market claim to help manage IBS symptoms. Research on probiotics and IBS has grown significantly over the last decade; however, a 2022 study revealed no one probiotic will relieve all IBS symptoms (3).
However, one notable one did stand out, B. coagulans. According to this review, B. coagulans may be effective at helping to treat IBS symptoms when compared to other probiotics on the market.
More research is needed on the best dosing and delivery of B. coagulans and other probiotics that may be supportive in IBS treatment.
Depending on what works best for you and your needs, as determined by your registered dietitian, adding a probiotic with B. coagulans may aid in symptom relief.
Research on Prebiotic supplements and IBS treatment is in its infancy, and at the moment, there is no substantial evidence to support it as a treatment for IBS (4).
The Bottom Line
First, ensure you’ve received an IBS diagnosis from your doctor before trialling a low FODMAP or any diet.
If you are the right candidate, work with a registered dietitian to ensure you follow it correctly while meeting your overall nutrient needs.
If you can afford it, the Monash University FODMAP app is worth every penny as it provides a user-friendly traffic light system list of high, medium and low FODMAP foods.
A probiotic supplement containing B. coagulans may be another tool to help you combat symptoms of IBS, however, don’t rely on supplements alone to help with symptom management.
Check out the Monash University FODMAP site to learn more about FODMAPs and download the app!