The low FODMAP diet has been gaining a lot of attention in the online nutrition and health community. The low FODMAP diet is internationally regarded as an effective treatment for alleviating symptoms associated with gastrointestinal distress such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). An astounding 75% of patients who suffer from IBS have found the low FODMAP diet to be beneficial in managing their symptoms. Similar studies have found abdominal symptoms improved in patients with IBD when FODMAP intake was reduced.
Why follow a low FODMAP diet?
FODMAP is an acronym for a large group of short-chain carbohydrates known as fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols found in the everyday foods including specific dairy products, wheat and other grains, and fruit and vegetables. For more information about specific foods check the Gastroenterological Society of Australia FODMAPs table.
FODMAPs are poorly absorbed in some people, and gather in the small intestine, flowing into the large intestine, where they can draw more water into the bowel and act as a food source to bacteria increasing gas production. This fermentation process in the bowel explains symptoms such as lower abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, wind and altered bowel habits (diarrhoea and/or constipation). By eliminating foods containing certain FODMAPs, symptoms associated with specific gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS can be alleviated.
How is the low FODMAP diet implemented?
Getting started on a low FODMAP diet can be tough due to the complex and restrictive nature of this prescriptive diet. It is recommended that a low FODMAP diet be implemented by an experienced dietitian who is trained in the application of a low FODMAP diet.
The doctor or dietitian will guide you through two phases:
1. The first phase involves a practitioner recommending high FODMAP foods be restricted from the diet until there has been a significant reduction in symptoms, usually 6-8 weeks. It is important to work with a dietitian to ensure restricted foods are replaced with suitable alternatives and assist in developing easy tasty meal plans and shopping guides.
2. In the second phase some higher FODMAP foods are re-introduced, this will tests which specific FODMAPs may have aggravated symptoms so that a longer-term diet can be established to suit your specific needs.
Should the low FODMAP diet be followed forever?
The low FODMAP diet is not meant to be long term diet as there are a number of barriers to following a low FODMAP diet over an extended period.
Firstly FODMAPs are high in natural probiotics that basically help to feed the good bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract. These good gut bacteria are an essential part of our health, they help digest food, during digestion they make vitamins that are vital for life, sending signals to the immune system and making small molecules that can help your brain work. FODMAPs also contain high levels of fibre required to keep the digestive system healthy, stabilise glucose and cholesterol levels and decrease a number of chronic diseases such as bowel cancer, diabetes and coronary heart disease. FODMAPs are also important for food variety therefore it is important to introduce well-tolerated foods back into the diet.
Wrapping it up
It’s important to remember that the low FODMAP diet is not a fad diet. If you have symptoms associated with gastrointestinal distress such as IBS you should consult a doctor or dietitian.
For those who are advised to commence the low FODMAP diet the good news is most people with IBS have intolerance to only some of the FODMAPs, so after the full restriction trial, many foods can carefully be reintroduced to discover ‘what works’ for the individual as there is still an incredible amount of tasty and appealing food choices available.
Photo by: Flickr (Ashley Rose)