VIBRANCE Dietitian Kate Watson weighs in on a low FODMAPS diet – one of the most effective ways to treat IBS through diet..
Hey, Kate – What is this FODMAPs diet all about?
You may have seen this acronym “FODMAPs” recently if you’ve read anything about sensitive stomachs or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Information about this diet has been popping up in the news lately, as more is understood about it and as more people look for relief from chronic digestive issues.
Researchers at the Monash University in Australia first identified FODMAPs, certain carbohydrates that may be a big contributor to symptoms of IBS. They have found that a diet low in FODMAPs can bring tremendous relief to IBS sufferers, with up to 75% of patients showing marked improvement in symptoms. Before this research, dietary guidelines for people with IBS were general and often anecdotal. This is the first time any scientifically proven diet has been found as a treatment for IBS. This is very exciting because if you or someone you know lives with IBS, you understand how frustrating and downright debilitating it can be.
So what does FODMAPs mean?
The FODMAPs are a group of carbohydrates which may be poorly absorbed in the small intestine. They are then fermented by bacteria in the gut to produce gas, leading to bloating, abdominal pain, and altered bowel habits after ingestion. The acronym stands for (pay attention, you will be quizzed on this later): Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Here’s what each of those mean.
Fermentable means they produce gas. Oligosaccharides are Fructans and Galacto-oligosaccharides found in things like wheat, garlic, lentils, and onion. Disaccharides is lactose, found in many dairy products. Monosaccharides is fructose found in apples, pears, and honey. And Polyols are Sorbitol and Mannitol (or sugar alcohols) found in mushrooms, peaches, and artificially sweetened candies and gums.
These are just a few examples of FODMAPs but they are found in many common foods, as you can see!
Who is this diet for?
I don’t believe that a low FODMAPs diet is right for everyone with IBS or stomach sensitivities. If you have not tried any other dietary strategies to help manage your IBS before, it might not make sense to jump into a low FODMAPs diet first, since it is somewhat difficult to follow and is rather restrictive.
Sometimes making a simple change, such as increasing fiber, or identifying a food sensitivity can make all the difference. In addition, if you are under a great deal of stress and feel that adding dietary restrictions to your life will make you more stressed, it may not be the best time for you to try a low FODMAPs diet. On the other hand, if you feel you’ve tried everything already, and still haven’t been symptom free for any period of time, you might be a great candidate for this diet. Or if it feels like everything you eat makes you sick, this diet will help you identify your triggers. It is important to note that if you have not seen a doctor for your tummy issues, please do so, as changes in bowel habits or sudden development of GI problems can be a sign of something more serious than IBS.
So what exactly does following this diet entail?
What is important to know is that the low FODMAPs diet is meant to be temporary and to be followed strictly for a period of 6-8 weeks until symptoms have resolved. In general, the diet is wheat free and lactose free and certain fruits and vegetables are also restricted. It would be impossible to memorize all of the FODMAPs, so working with a dietitian, having food lists, and recipes on hand are essential. I installed an awesome FODMAPs app from Monash University on my Iphone, which I rely on a great deal. (Get the FODMAPs app Kate uses here: Low FODMAP Smartphone App)
You should know that a low-FODMAPs diet can be difficult to adhere to during food-centered social activities and eating at restaurants. However, with advance planning, you can find ways to integrate the diet into your social life. For example, checking a restaurant menu online before going there can give you a chance to plan what to order before you arrive.
After the 6-8 week time period, you can start a challenge phase, where FODMAPs are re-introduced one at a time over a period of days while symptoms are monitored and recorded. I highly recommend that you seek the guidance of a dietitian knowledgeable in FODMAPS to help support you throughout the diet and during the challenge phase. This is important to ensure that your diet is balanced and nutritious.
Though this diet may sound like a lot of work, often by the end of the first week, many people feel so much better than they have in months or years that they are highly motivated to stay on it! That was my experience—I felt it was worth the time and dedication to follow the diet because it allowed me to be symptom free for possibly the first time in my adult life!
If you would like to learn more about whether the low FODMAPs diet is right for you, or if you are ready to implement it now, please contact Vibrance for a consultation with me!