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What is FODMAP? (Definition and Diet Explained)

In today’s day and age, there’s a diet for every goal and health requirement. From low carb through paleo to the 5:2 diet, each diet can help you achieve different results and even bring you wonderful health benefits.

Recently, there has been one more diet that has received a lot of attention: the FODMAP diet. If you’re not familiar with it, the name might not be too helpful in figuring out what it entails. 

So, let’s dive into what exactly is the FODMAP diet.

The FODMAP diet, most commonly referred to as a low FODMAP diet, is a dietary plan that restricts the consumption of fermentable, indigestible carbs. It’s often used to treat and improve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome as well as other digestive system conditions.

A low FODMAP diet differs depending on how strictly you have to limit your intake of FODMAP-containing foods. So, it can look different for a lot of people.

But, according to a lot of research, this diet is quite beneficial for a lot of people.

What exactly is a FODMAP diet?

A diet low in FODMAPs – a lot FODMAP diet – is specifically designed for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is because this diet limits the consumption of certain sugars that cause intestinal issues.

FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are short-chained carbohydrates (sugars) that your intestine isn’t particularly good at absorbing. They include:

  • Oligosaccharides: leeks, garlic, onions, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, legumes, berries, bananas, watermelon, wheat, rye, and beans.
  • Disaccharides: sweet potatoes, beers, spelt, glucose syrup, muesli bars, instant coffee, honey, bread, bagel, and similar.
  • Monosaccharides: dried fruit, fruit jams, breakfast cereals, canned fruits, fresh fruits, whole wheat, and oats.
  • Polyols: cherries, peaches, plums, mushrooms, cauliflower, apricots, pears, green beans, and others.

Even though these foods contain FODMAPs, some of them are still allowed on a low FODMAP diet in moderation.

But make sure not to overdo it, as they may cause unpleasant symptoms after eating them. Such symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps
  • Stomach bloating
  • Gas flatulence

These symptoms are very bothersome, so following a FODMAP diet is very beneficial for people with IBS, as it can greatly ease these issues.

The FODMAP diet consists of three stages:

Stage 1: Restriction

At this stage, you have to strictly avoid all foods that are high in FODMAPs. You should follow these guidelines for about 4-8 weeks but not more.

Many people who begin a low FODMAP diet think that they have to avoid FODMAPs forever, but that’s not true. 

These carbs are important for gut health, so they can’t be eliminated from your diet completely.

This stage is supposed to help your digestive system adjust to consuming foods lower in FODMAPs and make it easier for you in the long run.

In fact, studies show that people with IBS start noticing improvements in their symptoms at this stage after only six weeks.

When that happens, you can move on to the next stage.

Stage 2: Reintroduction

When you start this stage, you should slowly reintroduce high FODMAP foods into your diet. 

How long you should follow this stage depends on person to person, but it usually takes about 6-10 weeks.

This stage is supposed to help you figure out which kinds of FODMAPs you can tolerate since everyone’s body reacts differently to each FODMAP.

It also allows you to identify how much of each FODMAP you can consume without triggering any adverse side effects in your digestive system.

In order to do that, you have to test each food for about three days to check if it gives you any unpleasant symptoms. 

This is important, as only after a couple of days can you figure out which foods you can eat and which you should avoid.

Once you establish which foods you can tolerate, you can add them to your diet and figure out in what serving sizes they don’t trigger any digestive issues.

Some people might find it beneficial to complete this step with a registered dietitian, who can guide them through all the foods and help them figure out their tolerance. But that’s not necessary if you’re able to carefully track what you can eat and what you shouldn’t.

Stage 3: Personalization

This step is also often called a “modified low FODMAP diet.” This is because it limits your intake of some FODMAPs but allows you to eat other types of FODMAPs that your digestive system can tolerate. 

Essentially, in this stage, you personalize the low FODMAP diet to your own tolerance that you’ve established in the second stage.

A diet low in FODMAPs doesn’t look the same for everyone. So, it’s important to go through all these stages to find your own version. 

This can also help you avoid eliminating certain foods that you may really like that don’t trigger your symptoms but do contain FODMAPs.

This stage is particularly important as it allows you to keep a low FODMAP diet flexible. Many people tend to fail in their diets as they don’t feel like they can consume a wide variety of foods.

So, if you follow through with this step, you can ensure long-term compliance with the diet as well as improved quality of life and gut health.

What foods aren’t permitted on a low FODMAP diet?

As mentioned above, a low FODMAP diet isn’t one-size-fits-all. So, which foods you can consume and which you should avoid is very individual.

With that being said, the majority of people aren’t able to tolerate garlic and onions, as they’re especially high in FODMAPs.

Other foods that are really high in FODMAPs include:

  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Beetroot
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Celery
  • Kidney beans
  • Scallions
  • Apples
  • Mango
  • Avocado

Still, keep in mind that some of these foods can be consumed on a low FODMAP diet as long as your body tolerates them. 

Make sure to stick to smaller serving sizes, though, to avoid any digestive system issues, even if you know you can tolerate these foods.

What can you eat on a low FODMAP diet?

Contrary to what you might think, a low FODMAP diet can actually be very versatile and flavorful. 

Many foods are actually naturally very low in FODMAPs. So, you can include them on a low FODMAP diet without triggering any symptoms.

Some of the foods you can safely eat on a low FODMAP diet include:

  • Proteins: beef, chicken, fish, eggs, pork, lamb, seafood, shrimp, tofu, and tempeh.
  • Whole grains and starches: white and brown rice, lentils, oats, quinoa, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn.
  • Fruit: blueberries, raspberries, pineapple, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, kiwi, guava, grapes, and strawberries.
  • Vegetables: bean sprouts, bell peppers, radishes, carrots, zucchini, kale, tomatoes, spinach, and cucumber.
  • Nuts: almonds, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, and walnuts (make sure to stick to a recommended serving size).
  • Seeds: pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower.
  • Dairy: lactose-free milk, Greek yogurt, Parmesan, cheddar, mozzarella cheese, and other white cheeses.
  • All oils, most natural beverages, and condiments.

Coffee and tea, without any other added ingredients, are low in FODMAPs. Still, most experts recommend avoiding consuming coffee and tea on a low FODMAP diet, as caffeine is a known trigger for IBS and other digestive system issues.

There are many more foods you might safely consume on a low FODMAP diet. But make sure to give this food some time after introducing it to your diet to figure out how it’s affecting your digestive system.

When it comes to adding flavor to your foods, it might be more difficult but not impossible.

Even though you should avoid garlic and onions, there are many other herbs and spices you can include on a diet low in FODMAPS. Some of the best seasonings include:

  • Chives
  • Fenugreek
  • Ginger
  • Lemongrass
  • Mustard seeds
  • Peppers
  • Saffron
  • Turmeric

These herbs and spices are low in FODMAPs, but still allow you to consume a healthy, balanced meal with lots of flavor and aroma.

What other conditions can a low FODMAP diet help you with?

A low FODMAP diet is primarily designed for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is because it eliminates the specific carbohydrates that cause unpleasant digestive system issues in people with this condition.

So, before you start this diet, make sure that you are diagnosed with IBS. This is important since following a diet low in FODMAPs can do more harm than good for people who are healthy.

Most FODMAPs are prebiotics, which means they feed the ‘good’ gut bacteria that support a healthy digestive system and diversify your gut microbiome. 

So, eliminating them from your diet can worsen your digestion and overall health if you don’t have IBS.

What’s more, a diet low in FODMAPs eliminates, or at least greatly limits, a lot of fruits and vegetables. 

This type of produce is very healthy, rich in fiber, and high in several important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. 

A healthy diet should include at least five portions of fruit and veggies each day. So, if you remove these foods from your diet, you can significantly reduce your fiber intake, worsening your digestive health.

So, make sure to only follow this diet under the supervision of your doctor or registered dietitian.

Should you always follow a low FODMAP diet if you have IBS?

A low FODMAP diet is great for the symptoms of IBS. But first, you have to be sure that you actually do suffer from this condition.

Many people might confuse IBS with other digestive system issues. This is because the symptoms of IBS can resemble the symptoms of other digestive conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, defecatory disorders, and even colon cancer.

As a result, it’s important to consult your doctor before embarking on a low FODMAP journey to avoid worsening any issues and get the right diagnosis.

The symptoms of IBS – in order to get the proper and official diagnosis – include:

  • Recurrent stomach pain: Generally, people with IBS experience stomach pain at least once a week for at least three months.
  • Stool symptoms: When it comes to this criterion, there are a few ways IBS can present itself. For example, you might experience changes in stool frequency or notice that your stool has a different appearance than usual.
  • Persistent symptoms: The symptoms of your digestive disorder need to last for at least three months without a break. You also need to have your first onset of symptoms over six months before the official diagnosis.

In order to be officially diagnosed with IBS, you need to fulfill all three of these criteria. If you don’t, you might be suffering from a different health condition. So, make sure to check with your doctor.

What’s more, many people with IBS find relief from their symptoms by changing their lifestyles and modifying their dietary habits.

This can be an easier way to go about it since a low FODMAP diet can be expensive and time-consuming, especially in the beginning stages. And most of us don’t have that much time on our hands.

Simply removing processed foods from your diet and sticking to a natural and fresh diet instead can make a huge difference.

In many cases, planning your meals and making small changes can work great, even if you don’t follow a low FODMAP diet.

Conclusion

A low FODMAP diet is a very common dietary plan that helps you control the symptoms of IBS. In fact, it can greatly reduce the severity and frequency of the symptoms of this condition. So, you might want to give it a show if you’ve been diagnosed with IBS.

While this diet has a lot of health benefits for people with IBS, it’s not suitable for everyone. So, always consult your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet and the way you consume foods.

Sources: National Library of Medicine, PMC, and BMJ