The low-FODMAP diet isn’t the latest trend for dramatic weight loss. It is designed to reduce the painful, embarrassing, and inconvenient symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Exactly what triggers an IBS attack varies from person to person. But researchers and dieticians have identified certain foods, known as FODMAPs, that make their symptoms worse.
Which foods are FODMAPs?
FODMAPs are poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates. When bacteria ferment these carbs in the gut, the process produces gas and increases fluid in the intestines.
High-FODMAP food choices include:
Fermentable Oligosaccharides: wheat, rye, legumes/beans, lentils, soybeans, cashews, garlic, onions, artichokes, mushrooms, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower
Disaccharides: lactose-containing milk, yogurt, and soft cheeses
Monosaccharides: fruits high in fructose, which include figs, watermelon, and mangoes, and natural sweeteners like honey and agave nectar
Polyols: fruits and vegetables containing sugar alcohols, such as pineapples, olives, asparagus, sweet potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, apples, avocados, cherries, peaches, plums, blackberries, and lychee, and some low-calorie artificial sweeteners
Who should try a low-FODMAP diet?
If you suffer from chronic IBS and you don't respond to traditional therapies and dietary changes, a diet low in FODMAP foods could help you manage your symptoms.
“The diet is also an option for patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) who have their intestinal inflammation mostly under control, but are still regularly experiencing symptoms of gas, bloating, and diarrhea,” said Luis Garces, a registered dietitian with the University of Miami Health System.
IBS can be hard to diagnose because there isn’t a specific test for it. People who suffer from persistent abdominal cramping and pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation are often diagnosed with IBS, after ruling out Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
“If you’re not diagnosed with IBS or IBD, but you have consistent symptoms of gas, bloating, and diarrhea, then the low FODMAP diet might be helpful for you. But, if you don’t have problematic gastrointestinal symptoms,” Garces says, “then there’s really no reason to follow this specialized diet that limits your options for healthy foods. If you want to figure out if you have a sensitivity or intolerance to high-FODMAP foods, then your dietitian or gastroenterologist might recommend temporarily adding more of these foods to your diet to test your body’s reaction.”
How should you start a low-FODMAP diet?
If you think you might benefit from a low-FODMAP diet, start with a consultation with a registered dietitian.
“That’s the best way to learn how to effectively meet your body’s caloric and nutritional needs while following this diet that eliminates many nutrient- and mineral-rich foods," says Garces. "You can adequately meet your nutritional needs as long as you’re eating a variety of healthy low-FODMAP foods.”
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.