Regarding Irritable Bowel Syndrome and the Low FODMAP diet, there is a lot to unpack - so let’s jump right in!
The FODMAP diet is, in its essence, a diet low in fermentable carbohydrates. This diet is the recommended lifestyle change for people who are diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) to help manage the symptoms. Because IBS is the most common digestive disorder in America, it’s likely that you know someone who lives with this issue.
FODMAP is an acronym that stands for:
These are the scientific terms for short-chain carbohydrates that don’t digest in your small intestine and draw a heavy amount of water into your digestive tract. This excessive amount of water can alter the function of your bowels, meaning constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of the two. In addition to dealing with those uncomfortable symptoms, these types of carbs hang out in your intestines for quite some time and ferment to feed good gut bacteria, resulting in gas1. In people with IBS, this is constant and highly uncomfortable and often accompanied by painful stomach bloating and abdominal pain.
FODMAPs exist in several categories of food which can contain one or more of these fermentable carbs.
- Oligosaccharides - artichokes, garlic, legumes, nuts, brussels sprouts, onions, rye, & wheat
- Disaccharides - dairy products with lactose, such as buttermilk, certain cheeses, ice cream, milk, cottage cheese, & yogurt
- Monosaccharides - fructose & sweeteners like apples, agave nectar, honey, high fructose corn syrup, mangos, pears, & watermelon
- Polyols (sugar alcohol) - cauliflower, mushrooms, snow peas, stone fruits, isomalt, and xylitol (artificial sweeteners).
While this may seem incredibly restrictive and hard to stick to, there is a wealth of naturally low FODMAP foods available to people living with IBS4. For instance, the majority of protein sources are still an option for you, even if you’re looking to reduce your IBS symptoms.
You can still eat your favorite meats like beef, pork, chicken, lamb, fish, and prawns. Other sources of protein and even meat replacements receive the green light as well - foods like eggs, tofu, and tempeh.
Fruits and vegetables that won’t aggravate your IBS symptoms can add plenty of variety to your meals. Some fruit options include blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, kiwi, guava, starfruit, grapes, and limes. And veggies to help keep you balanced: bok choy, carrots, celery, eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, radishes, bean sprouts, kale, spinach, cucumber, zucchini, and pumpkin.
Nuts and seeds that add healthy fats and loads of nutrients including pecans, walnuts, macadamias, pine nuts, peanuts, and small amounts of almonds (no more than 10 in one meal); pumpkin seeds, sunflower, and sesame seeds.
Grains and starches are a filling and satisfying addition to any meal. Low FODMAP grain options open to IBS patients include white rice, brown rice, quinoa, lentils, oats, corn, cassava, and potatoes.
Certain dairy foods and cooking oils add another source of healthy fats to a Low FODMAP diet. This includes lactose-free milk, parmesan cheese, colby, cheddar, mozzarella, greek yogurt, coconut oil, and olive oil.
Condiments and spices add some flavor and excitement to your dishes and can help with the inflammation associated with IBS. Our recommendations include mustard, soy sauce, fish sauce, white rice vinegar, wasabi powder, ginger, saffron, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, cardamom, coriander, and your classic salt and pepper.
Why Switch to a Low FODMAP Diet?
For people with IBS looking for relief from their symptoms, switching to a Low FODMAP diet is a helpful tool that can turn into a long term solution. While every body is different, using an elimination method can help you to determine a personalized plan for you and your body’s needs. All the research points to the Low FODMAP eating pattern bringing noticeable benefits to people living with IBS.
The gastrointestinal symptoms of IBS affect everyone in different ways, and the level of severity for each symptom varies from person to person. IBS is characterized by:
- Stomach bloating
- Stomach pain
- Excessive gassiness
- Irregular and disruptive bowel activity
The Low FODMAP diet has the most impact on bloating and stomach pain according to evidence from studies. Scientists concluded that eliminating or reducing High FODMAP foods from the diet of IBS patients gave them a 75% greater chance of relieving bloating and an 81% chance of alleviating stomach pain.
Other studies suggest that Low FODMAP can help manage the remaining symptoms associated with IBS. Overall, IBS patients receive this dietary therapy as the first course of action from their dietitians.
How to Introduce Your Body to the Low FODMAP Diet
When your body has a negative reaction to what it consumes such as allergic reactions or digestive disorders, the most common method of approach by dietitians is an elimination diet. This takes place in three phases and will help identify exactly what’s causing your symptoms.
- The first phase of an elimination diet requires you to remove all High FODMAP foods. This elimination phase lasts anywhere from four to eight weeks depending on how long your body takes to display improvements in your symptoms. A majority of people following the elimination process experience improvement in their symptoms around the six-week mark.
- The second phase involves reintroducing High FODMAP foods back into your diet, one at a time and in small amounts. You’ll want to give each food about three days to lead to symptoms, if any. This will help you identify which foods you can tolerate and the ones to which your stomach is sensitive. It’s rare for someone to feel the effects of all FODMAPs. You’ll also be able to establish your threshold level - the amounts of each food you can tolerate. This reintroduction phase lasts anywhere from six to ten weeks, depending on your body.
- The last phase is personalizing your modified FODMAP diet. You’ll find that some foods don’t affect you at all, and that you can reintroduce them into your regular eating habits. Some foods will still be restricted to small amounts, but you’ll know exactly what you can tolerate so that you can go on enjoying what you love to eat without suffering through symptoms. This last phase is essential to establishing long-term gut health and improved quality of life, due to the reintroduction of a variety of foods involved in defining the composition of your microbiome. If your body can tolerate certain High FODMAP foods, you should incorporate them into your eating habits, because they provide essential nutrients your body needs.
A FODMAP Diet Tailored To YOU
Before you dive into eliminating and reintroducing FODMAP foods, it’s important to understand a few key points.
KNOW YOUR SYMPTOMS
Certain conditions have similar symptoms to IBS but are actually something else. This includes celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and even colon cancer. It’s important to have a doctor rule out these other possibilities, and then confirm the following criteria:
- An average occurrence of stomach pain at least once a week for the past 2-3 months.
- A combination of changes in stool frequency or appearance related to your episodes of pain, or your pain being related to a bowel movement.
- Consistent symptoms for at least 3 months and symptom onset for six months prior to your diagnosis.
WORKING WITH AN EXPERT
Referring to an expert and following their guidance is the best pathway to the management of your IBS symptoms. They will be able to pinpoint what fits your body based on the data they collect from working with you one-on-one. They can also make informed decisions about the foods you tolerate and your threshold level for those foods.
OWL offers several different methods for addressing your health concerns and dietary needs. Our team of licensed and experienced experts can hone in on the diet and lifestyle factors affecting your health, including walking you through and the elimination, reintroduction, and personalization phases of the FODMAP diet to improve your IBS symptoms.
Get to know our Nutritional Health Coaches so that you can choose the best pathway for you. OWL was founded with the mission of healing the body and sharing new ways to live a healthier, more complete life. We are here to walk alongside you.