Low FODMAP diet 101
Three in four people who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may benefit from a low FODMAP diet. But what are FODMAPs and how can you explain them to the waiter at your favourite restaurant without getting flustered? Here’s the lowdown.
What are FODMAPs?
FODMAPs are sugars and fibres that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. They continue their journey along the gut, providing food for bacteria in the large intestine. This is normal – we all have bacteria here which digest food, produce vitamins and keep our immune system healthy. But in a sensitive gut, the fermentation that naturally occurs can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, wind and diarrhoea.
- Oligosaccharides (fructans and GOS) in wheat, rye, onion, garlic, beans and pulses.
- Disaccharides (lactose) in milk, yoghurt and ice cream.
- Monosaccharides (fructose) in honey, agave, certain fruits and vegetables (asparagus, apples).
- Polyols (sorbitol and mannitol) in sweeteners, certain fruits and vegetables (cauliflower, apricots).
The low FODMAP diet
FODMAPs don’t cause IBS. But if you have frequent digestive problems, temporarily reducing them in your diet may help. Usually four to six weeks is sufficient to see if they are triggers. If you accidentally eat a high FODMAP food, you may get some symptoms - but it’s not dangerous and symptoms should pass once the food is out of your system.
Many foods high in FODMAPs are healthy and restricting them for too long can reduce good bacteria in your gut. Our goal is to find your personal tolerance by carefully reintroducing each group of foods.
What to tell that waiter
When you’re out, ask for meals that are “gluten and dairy-free, with no onions or garlic (hold the sauce)”. Although it’s not a gluten-free diet, both restrict wheat, so it’s an easy way of explaining it. Remember, gluten-free does not necessarily mean low FODMAP - so check packaged foods, which often add honey, apple or milk. Small amounts of gluten, like wheat croutons, are usually fine. Sauces, risotto, soups, stuffing and stews often contain onions, garlic and dairy. You might find South East Asian cuisines easier to manage than Indian, for instance. Try experimenting at home at first where it’s easier to manage.
Your nutritional therapist can help you navigate the nuances of the diet and develop a balanced eating plan that suits you.
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