Digestive Discomfort and a Low FODMAP Diet

August 13, 2019

At some point most of us experience digestive discomfort of some sort. Whether it’s abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea, these symptoms can really put a damper on your day. If you suffer from these symptoms often, as people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) do, then it can greatly impact your quality of life.  

Although there are more and more medications available every day to help manage symptoms of these conditions, they often can’t resolve all the symptoms, and come with a lot of side-effects. However in most cases, lifestyle changes, such as changing the diet can really help, without the side-effects. One example of such a diet is called “The Low FODMAP Diet”. For many, avoiding foods known as FODMAPs has been the key to digestive relief. 

What are FODMAPs?

FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Basically, the low FODMAP diet works to limit the types of starches in the diet that can trigger digestive symptoms. 

Some people have trouble digesting these types of starches, and find that ingesting them can cause symptoms. In turn, this undigested food can ferment in the gut causing a buildup of gas. This gas can cause pressure in the gut, which can cause abdominal pain. Other symptoms of those with FODMAP sensitivities may include:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Which foods and drinks contain FODMAPs?

Some common foods that contain high amounts of FODMAPs, which you should avoid on the low FODMAP diet include:

  • Wheat, barley, and rye
  • Certain vegetables like asparagus, cauliflower, garlic, Brussels sprouts, celery, leeks, button mushrooms, or onions
  • Cow’s milk and related milk products
  • High fructose fruits like apples, cherries, mangoes, pears or peaches
  • Products containing sugar alcohols like sorbitol, mannitol or xylitol
  • Products containing high amounts of high fructose corn syrup

It’s also important to read the labels of processed food products that may contain such ingredients. Examples of processed foods that may be high FODMAP include certain sauces, processed meat products, or marinades that contain garlic or onion. Also, fruit juices made from high FODMAP fruits are considered high FODMAP. 

What foods and drinks can I have on the low FODMAP diet?

Those foods and drinks that are encouraged on the low FODMAP diet include:

  • Lactose-free dairy products such as lactose-free milk, plant-based milks such as almond or coconut milk or hard cheeses such as feta or aged sharp cheddar
  • Fruits such as bananas, pineapple, berries, kiwi, lemon, lime and oranges
  • Vegetables such as lettuce, potatoes, zucchini, squash, carrots, cucumbers, olive, and eggplant
  • Proteins such as beef, chicken, fish, firm tofu, eggs, and limited quantities of plant-based proteins such as almonds, peanuts and walnuts.
  • Gluten-free grains such as gluten-free pasta or bread, rice or rice noodles, quinoa, corn or corn flour.

How can I follow the low FODMAP diet?

Research shows that many people with IBS that followed the low FODMAP diet had improved symptoms. Also, a 2018 study found that the low FODMAP could help those with IBS, non-active IBD, or those with celiac disease that are also on a gluten-free diet. Some research also shows that the low FODMAP diet can help relieve gastrointestinal symptoms in athletes and others who may not have a diagnosed digestive condition. 

So, if you suffer from any of these conditions, or any related symptoms, then you may wonder how you can start the low FODMAP diet and give it a try. Follow the steps below to see how the low FODMAP diet may help improve your digestive health.

  1. During the first phase, restrict high FODMAP containing foods for about six to eight weeks (tip: search for a list of all high FODMAP foods and carry it with you. A FODMAP phone app can help with this).
  2. During the second phase, you will start to introduce some FODMAP-containing foods into your diet. You should only add in one food every three days, so you will be able to determine if that food or drink is causing any symptoms. Be sure to write down any symptoms you feel in a food-symptom diary during this phase. This will help you to narrow down which foods you can consume safely without symptoms, and which ones you can’t.
  3. The third phase is the maintenance phase, during which you will use the information you learned from phase two to create a customized food and drink list for yourself to help prevent and manage symptoms.

Important advice regarding the low FODMAP diet

It’s important to understand that the low FODMAP diet is a temporary regimen. It can help you determine whether certain foods and drinks are triggering your digestive symptoms so you can avoid such items. A low FODMAP diet is best applied when supervised by a healthcare provider and is not meant to be a weight loss plan.  

While you are following a low FODMAP diet, it may be helpful to visit with a physician or registered dietitian who specializes in gut health to supervise you. They may be able to answer any questions you have along the way and/or help you manage any symptoms that may arise during each phase of the diet.

Plus, healthcare providers will be better able to help you pinpoint which foods you should avoid to reduce symptoms. They may also be able to recommend specific food allergy tests or other labs that you can have done to help determine which foods are causing your body problems. 

Bottom line

If you suffer from digestive distress, meal time can become a time of stress and anxiety since certain foods can cause pain and discomfort. For many, simple changes in diet, like adopting the low FODMAP regimen, can make a big difference for their digestive health, providing relief and an improved quality of life. 

By finding out what foods trigger your symptoms and then taking steps to avoid them, eating can become enjoyable again.  If you want to start the low FODMAP diet, but you’re not sure where to start, be sure to visit a nutrition expert, dietitian or health care provider who specializes in gut health to help.

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