This article will explain what the low FODMAP diet is, including foods to eat and avoid, the benefits, risks, and a sample menu.
What is the low FODMAP diet?
A low FODMAP diet is an elimination diet that restricts foods containing fermentable carbohydrates. Dietitians or doctors often recommend it to reduce symptoms of digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This diet was developed by a team of researchers at Monash University in Australia.
The acronym “FODMAP” stands for:
- Fermentable: meaning gas-producing
- Oligosaccharides: fructans and galactans, which are simple sugars linked together
- Disaccharides: lactose, a type of sugar found in milk
- Monosaccharides: fructose, a type of sugar found in fruits, honey, and some vegetables
- Polyols: Sorbitol, mannitol, isomalt, xylitol, glycerol, also known as sugar alcohols
FODMAPs are carbohydrates that the body cannot absorb well. They draw water into the large intestine, leading to digestive symptoms similar to those in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
There are four main groups of FODMAPs including:
- Oligosaccharides: This group includes fructo-oligosaccharides, or fructans, galacto-oligosaccharides, or galactans.
- Disaccharides: These are two monosaccharide sugars combined. They include lactose and sucrose, but only lactose is a FODMAP.
- Monosaccharides: These are single sugars, with fructose being the FODMAP in this group.
- Polyols: These are sugar alcohols that occur naturally in some fruits, such as apples, or can be added to foods for texture or sweetness. This group includes sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol.
FODMAPs are found in varying amounts in many foods. Some foods may contain only one type, while others have several.
A brief list of high FODMAP foods include:
- beans, lentils, and other legumes
- certain fruits, such as apples and pears
- dairy products
- Certain vegetables, such as garlic and onions
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What foods are included in the low FODMAP diet?
Research shows that most people with IBS can tolerate no more than 0.5 grams of FODMAPs per meal or snack. We recommend working with a dietitian who can help you ensure you’re not exceeding this limit.
Foods in the low FODMAP diet may include:
- Vegetables: This includes vegetables such as cucumber, spinach, chili, and radishes.
- Fruit: This includes fruits such as strawberries, bananas, oranges, and grapes.
- animal proteins: This includes proteins such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish, and shellfish.
- Cereals and grains: This includes cereals and grains such as white or brown rice, rice crackers, rice noodles, oats, quinoa, and buckwheat.
- Dairy: This includes dairy products such as cottage cheese.
- Seeds: This can include seeds such as sunflower seeds.
- Condiments: This may include condiments such as soy sauce and spices such as cumin, coriander, and cardamom.
What foods do you avoid on the low FODMAP diet?
The following foods are high in short-chain carbohydrates.
- Vegetables: These may include asparagus, cauliflower, garlic, mushrooms, and onions.
- Legumes: Most legumes are avoided during the elimination phase of the diet, where you slowly cut out various foods, which can include lentils, peas, beans, and chickpeas.
- Fruit: These may include apples, blackberries, stone fruits such as nectarines and peaches, and watermelon.
- Cereals and grains: These may include wheat, barley, and rye.
- Dairy: These may include milk, ice cream, soft cheeses, and yogurt.
There’s still a lack of research on the long-term effects of the low FODMAP diet, so be sure to consult your doctor before making any dietary changes.
How does the low FODMAP diet work?
The low FODMAP diet limits the intake of fermentable carbohydrates in your diet. Fermentable carbohydrates are sugars that bacteria in the digestive system can eat. These bacteria then produce gas as they break down these foods, which can cause discomfort to people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive disorders.
The low FODMAP diet involves removing or reducing all foods that contain high amounts of these fermentable carbohydrates.
However, it is recommended that you slowly reintroduce them after a few weeks to determine which food symptoms are causing problems for you. It is important to work with a dietitian as the low FODMAP diet is a complex way of eating, and you want to ensure you’re still getting enough nutrients.
Read more about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
What are the benefits of the low FODMAP diet?
A low FODMAP diet offers numerous health benefits, including:
- Reducing symptoms of IBS: Studies indicate that a FODMAP diet can help reduce the symptoms of IBS.
- Highlighting food intolerances: The diet enables you to find out if you have a food intolerance, as it eliminates all high FODMAP foods from your diet. Once you reintroduce them, you can see which foods, if any, cause issues.
- Reducing symptoms: It can help reduce symptoms related to other food intolerances or allergies, such as bloating, flatulence, or abdominal pain.
What are the risks of the low FODMAP diet?
While the low FODMAP diet may help people with financial issues, it is important to understand any possible health risks.
Consuming a restricted diet may increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies. This can occur if you do not eat various foods to get all the essential nutrients. This can include:
You may wish to contact your doctor for advice before making changes to your diet. They may refer you to a dietician or nutritionist who can help create a plan to ensure you get all the essential nutrients.
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What are the steps of the low FODMAP diet?
A low FODMAP diet involves three main steps of restriction, re-introduction, and long-term maintenance:
- Step 1: Strict avoidance of all high FODMAP foods. This phase should last between 2 to 6 weeks, when your symptoms may have subsided enough that you can progress to the second step.
- Step 2: Slowly re-introduce high-fermentable carbohydrates one at a time and see how your body reacts to each after consuming. Monitor for symptoms such as gas and bloating, and keep track of the amount of FODMAPs you can tolerate until you find what works best for your body.
- Step 3: Monitor how each food personal affects you, and adjust to the tolerance you identified in step 2.
Below is an example of a low FODMAP diet plan you may wish to try.
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with spinach, served with a slice of gluten-free toast
- Lunch: gluten-free chicken wrap with lettuce and tomato and a side salad with cucumber and bell pepper
- Dinner: Gluten-free spaghetti with meat and tomato sauce, and roasted eggplant
- Snack: 1 kiwi and chia pudding
If you’re looking for meat alternatives, try firm tofu or tempeh.
The low FODMAP diet is an elimination diet that restricts foods containing specific carbohydrates to reduce symptoms of IBS and other digestive disorders.
This diet involves a three-step process that may take up to 6 weeks to produce improvements. However, not everyone with IBS responds to it.
Contact your doctor if you are considering a FODMAP diet. They may refer you to a nutritionist or dietitian who can help you transition toward a low FODMAP diet.