If you’ve been reading up on gut health, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the low FODMAP diet! But what does it mean? We’ve asked dietitian Laura Tilt to give us the low-down and explain more about who might benefit from it.
So, What Is The Low FODMAP Diet?
The low FODMAP diet is a type of elimination diet, developed by researchers at Monash University in Australia to help people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) manage their symptoms.
Some types of carbohydrates (sugars) aren’t very well absorbed in the small intestine. These sugars (called FODMAPs) end up travelling to the large intestine, and are consumed (fermented) by the gut bacteria that live there. Although this is totally normal, in people who have IBS, this can trigger uncomfortable symptoms like pain, gas, bloating and loose stools.
The research team at Monash found that by avoiding high FODMAP foods people with IBS experienced fewer symptoms and felt much better.
Fast-forward 10 years (yes 10!) and the low FODMAP diet is now used as an effective treatment for IBS. Studies in the UK have found that about 70% of people with IBS who follow the diet feel some improvement in their symptoms.
What does FODMAP mean?
Get ready…FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols! There’s no need to remember these words, they’re just the scientific names used to describe the different sugars. FODMAP is an easy way to remember them as a group.
Fermentable is the word used to describe the process where bacteria consume sugars (FODMAPs) to produce gas.
What foods are FODMAPs found in?
FODMAPs are only found in carbohydrate containing foods – this includes starchy foods made from wheat (like bread, pasta and biscuits), various fruits and vegetables (including apples, onion and beans), and some dairy products like milk and yoghurt.
What does the low FODMAP diet involve?
The diet is split into 3 phases
- The Elimination Phase – high FODMAP foods are avoided for 4-8 weeks, and replaced with low FODMAP alternatives
- The Reintroduction Phase – if you’ve been feeling better on the diet, you’ll now start reintroducing high FODMAP foods one at a time to find out which ones trigger symptoms. This can take another 4-6 weeks.
- The Personalisation Phase – you return to as normal a diet as possible avoiding just those FODMAPs that trigger your symptoms
How can I follow a low FODMAP diet?
Although there is lots of information online, it’s recommended that you work with a FODMAP trained dietitian, as they are skilled in helping you follow the diet as closely as possible, which gives you the best chance of seeing an improvement in your symptoms.
They can also help you with the reintroduction and long-term avoidance of FODMAPs. Because the diet is limited, it can be hard to follow by yourself– a dietitian will help make sure your diet stays balanced during the elimination phase and support you with how to replace high FODMAP foods.
The elimination phase of the diet can also be low in calcium and fibre, so it’s important to go through the reintroduction and personalisation phase to make sure your diet is as varied as possible.
How do I know if I need to avoid FODMAPs?
Not all of us are sensitive to FODMAPs, and there’s nothing unhealthy about them. People with IBS are prone to the pain and bloating triggered by eating FODMAPs, which is the diet is helpful.
There is no evidence that the low FODMAP diet works for non-gut symptoms linked with IBS, or that people without IBS will benefit from following a low FODMAP diet.
How can I find out more?
Kings College in London leads the training and research for the low FODMAP diet in the UK, with information on how you can find a FODMAP trained dietitian. To find out more, click here.
Laura also talks more about IBS and the low FODMAP diet in her new venture, ‘The Gut Loving Podcast’ which is available on iTunes.