What's The Low FODMAP Diet? + Why It Could Be the Key to Healing

If you're suffering with digestive symptoms that are on going FODMAP intolerance could be the root cause. Almost everyone with IBS (around 75%) find relief of their symptoms on a low FODMAP diet. Consuming FODMAPs does not actually cause IBS; it simply exacerbates symptoms. Others with digestive concerns or disorders can also sometimes benefit from temporally removing FODMAPS from their diet.

What is a FODMAP?
FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable, oligo-saccharide, disaccharides (lactose), monosaccharides (fructose), and sugar alcohols (polyols), such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and maltitol. These are basically a group of highly fermentable carbohydrates and sugar alcohols. 

Why do they cause symptoms in some?
Because FODMAPs are poorly absorbed, they make their way down to the large intestine where gut bacteria digest them for their own food. When these bacteria feast via fermentation, they release gas as a normal byproduct, which causes distention of the intestines and abdomen. The large particles of undigested food also cause the colon to draw water inside in an effort to move things along. Together, this gas and water can cause pain and bloating.

Healthy people with no digestive issues can still get symptoms occasionally from eating FODMAPS because they're poorly absorbed in the small intestine. Most often their symptoms are mild and go mostly unnoticed.

Those with IBS or other digestive disorders can get digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, cramps, diarrhea, constipation and sometimes excessive belching when eating FODMAPS.

How does a low FODMAP diet work?
The most important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t stay on the low FODMAP diet forever.  It’s meant to be a temporary diet, not a diet you stay on for life. It's meant to heal your gut and to show you specifically which FODMAPS may be giving you trouble. It's very possible for you to have a strong reaction to one FODMAP and a mild reaction to another.

First you do a strict elimination diet, which removes all foods high in FODMAP for a period of 3-6 weeks.  If you feel significantly better during that time, then some FODMAP carbohydrates may be affecting you. 

After the elimination phase of the diet you add in foods one at a times by type.  For example, the lactose challenge involves adding back in milk, cottage cheese, and/or ice cream.  If those don’t seem to cause symptoms, then you can try another challenge group.  These challenges should be done one FODMAP group at a time.

A few high FODMAP food sources: For a Full List Click Here

  • Dairy: milk, ice cream, yogurt
  • Fruit: apples, blackberries, cherries, mango, pears, watermelon
  • Vegetables: artichoke, asparagus, cauliflower, garlic, onion, mushrooms
  • Grains: wheat, barley, rye, inulin
  • Proteins: cashews, black beans, kidney beans, pistachios, silken tofu, soybeans
  • Sweeteners: agave, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, mannitol, sorbitol

Why not remove these high-FODMAP foods for good?
Some fermentation and osmosis is healthy for our GI tract. In fact, foods like garlic and onions have been studied for their role in increasing beneficial microbes in the gut. Many FODMAP sources are highly nutritious and shouldn't be avoided forever unless poorly tolerated.

Gluten sensitivity and FODMAPs: Is there a connection?
Gluten sensitivity is not yet well understood. The currently accepted means of diagnosing this condition is to rule out celiac disease, wheat allergy and other possible causes of symptoms. Then, if a gluten-free diet leads to improvement in symptoms, gluten sensitivity may be diagnosed.

Should FODMAP’s be considered one of these “other possible causes of symptoms”? Some research suggests this may sometimes be the case. Some individuals who believe they have gluten sensitivity and experience an improvement in IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)-like symptoms when on a gluten-free diet may be benefiting from reduced consumption of FODMAPs rather than from elimination of gluten. It has been concluded in some research that gluten may not be a trigger of GI symptoms in some individuals once FODMAPs have been reduced.

Here’s where overlap exists between a low-FODMAP diet and a gluten-free diet: the gluten-containing grains wheat, rye and barley also happen to be high-FODMAP foods. (It is the type of carbohydrates in these foods, however, not the gluten protein, which makes them high FODMAP.) So, when these foods are eliminated on a gluten-free diet, this source of FODMAPs is also reduced.

Celiac Disease and Low FODMAP
Those who have celiac disease may also have issues with FODMAP carbohydrates. While they are both present in many of the same foods, it’s important to note that gluten is NOT a FODMAP. 

Studies show that those with celiac disease who continue to have gastrointestinal symptoms after adopting the gluten-free diet may benefit from a trial of a low-FODMAP diet. In fact, many people who are newly diagnosed with celiac disease have some degree of lactose intolerance (a disaccharide), which usually resolves as the intestine heals. 

If you're struggling with IBS, a digestive disorder or bad digestive symptoms consider looking into a low FODMAP diet. While it can seem daunting and you may need some help to get through it, if you find relief of your bothersome symptoms it is very well worth it!