Low FODMAP Diet: What's the Deal?

You may have heard of the low FODMAP diet because it's become increasingly popular in the media. But what does this diet entail and who's it intended for? Is this a diet you should be turning to? Here's some information to help guide you.

What Is Low FODMAP?

The low FODMAP diet was developed at Monash University in Australia to help people struggling with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) manage their symptoms. IBS is a common disorder that causes frequent abdominal pain and a range of symptoms, including diarrhea, constipation, gas, and bloating, and it affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States.

The low FODMAP diet specifically focuses on carbohydrates. Different forms of carbohydrates are found in the foods we eat, varying from long- to short-chain carbohydrates. The developers of the diet found that a group of short-chain carbohydrates were closely linked with IBS symptoms. This group of short-chain carbohydrates forms the acronym FODMAP: Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. FODMAP carbohydrates are poorly absorbed by the gut and tend to produce a lot of gas in the intestines during digestion, causing symptoms for people who have IBS.

Intricacies of the Diet

A low FODMAP diet limits the intake of foods that fall into this group of carbohydrates. It's recommended that you eliminate high FODMAP foods from your diet and replace them with low FODMAP foods for six to eight weeks, or until the symptoms of IBS are under control. After this period, you can start to slowly add higher FODMAP foods back into your diet with the guidance of a registered dietitian. This will help you figure out exactly what triggers symptoms for you.

Some examples of high FODMAP foods include garlic, onions, beans, legumes, dairy, and wheat products. Some low FODMAP foods include lettuce, tomato, cucumber, herbs, meat, poultry, and tofu. To learn more, check out the full list of high and low FODMAP foods.

The Research

While the majority of research has found that limiting FODMAPs is an effective way to treat IBS, there are some drawbacks:

  • This diet requires a high level of restriction, which can lead to potential nutrient deficiencies.
  • Many high FODMAP foods hugely support healthy gut bacteria, and long-term adherence to this diet can result in a significant reduction of gut bacteria, which could potentially lead to the same digestive issues that were present to begin with.
  • A lot of time and patience is required to fully eliminate foods that are high in FODMAP, and then add them back one at a time to accurately determine an individual's trigger foods.

So is this diet right for you? If you have IBS, you should definitely consider trying it. However, keep in mind that properly following the diet requires an assessment and monitoring by a specialized registered dietitian, so you'll need a referral from your doctor. This diet is mostly used in the clinical setting for the alleviation of IBS symptoms. If you don't have IBS or symptoms of IBS, there's no need to follow this diet—especially because it's not seen as an effective method for weight loss. If you're suffering from IBS or its associated symptoms, discuss the low FODMAP diet with your healthcare provider.

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