"Help! I'm new to...the Low FODMAP diet!"
Here’s the third in our “help, I’m new to…!” series, and in honour of #IBSAwarenessMonth, today we’re tackling the Low FODMAP diet!
But now, with the help of guest poster and medical practitioner, the wonderful Christina Tidwell, today we’re dissecting the Low FODMAP diet and how you go about following it...
What is the Low FODMAP diet?
The Low-FODMAP diet is diet created specifically to help people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It’s an exclusion diet followed by a reintroduction phase, which is intended to help you pinpoint the ‘trigger’ foods causing your specific symptoms and was created by researchers at the Monash University in Australia who recognized that particular hard-to-digest sugars were aggravating guts and causing IBS symptoms in patients.
IBS affects a whopping 15% of the world’s population – up to 45 million people in the US are thought to have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and in the UK it’s around 1 in 5 who are struggling with the issue. Unfortunately for women they’re twice as likely as men to have IBS in their life, in part thanks to female sex hormones. It’s also a tricky health issue to treat thanks to the fact that it affects everyone differently – there’s no one uniform way of managing it. But the Low FODMAP diet can be helpful to identify your personal food-related symptom triggers, gain relief and continue to troubleshoot underlying causes of impaired digestion.
It’s important to note that consuming high FODMAP foods do not cause a gut disorder, but rather it can exacerbate symptoms you might have due to dysbiosis (imbalance of good/bad bacteria) in the gut because they feed bacteria.
Who should consider trying the Low FODMAP diet?
Those who have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or symptoms of gas and bloating, following tests to exclude other potential causes of symptoms could benefit from trialing a low-FODMAP diet for a period of time.
What is a FODMAP food?
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols – what a mouthful! They’re sugars that are found in different concentrations within foods, and they can cause your gut to rebel and produce uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, excess gas, diarrhoea, constipation, cramps and more.
High FODMAP foods – ones that IBS sufferers may have to avoid – are often the types of food you wouldn’t expect to cause trouble because they’re commonly eaten and ostensibly ‘healthy’ foods, such as garlic, onion, beans, apples, mushrooms, and so on.
How does the elimination phase of the Low FODMAP diet work?
To trial a low FODMAP diet you first want to remove high FODMAP foods for a period of time to see if it alleviates symptoms of gas, bloating, constipation etc.
If you do notice an improvement of symptoms during this elimination period, this does not mean that you are “allergic” to FODMAP foods: it likely means that you have an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut and could benefit from further investigation from an integrative health professional. A 2003 study showed that about 84 percent of patients with IBS have a positive lactulose breath test for SIBO , so it's worth getting tested for this also, to ensure you're getting the correct treatment you need.
The LOW FODMAP diet – how to tackle the Reintroduction phase
Since high FODMAP foods are healthful foods with good prebiotic and nutritional benefits, you ideally want to reintroduce them into your diet! It’s a good idea to introduce them one at a time so that you can easily determine exactly what food is causing you issues. Some people may have a “threshold” with FODMAP foods as well, meaning portion sizing can make the difference between a symptom-free day and gut issues.
What are you looking for during the reintroduction stage?
In general you are ready to begin reintroducing FODMAPs when you have noticed a decrease in symptoms for at least 7 days straight. This way you are able to actually assess if introducing a food makes a difference rather than feeling like every food elicits a response.
The main symptoms you would be looking for are digestive issues such as bloating, gas, heartburn, constipation, etc. If you reintroduce FODMAPs and still have symptoms it can be worth getting a SIBO breath test or investigating other underlying causes of gut dysbiosis with your doctor.
The aim of reintroducing FODMAPs is to understand what individual FODMAP foods trigger symptoms, as well as what portion sizes trigger symptoms.
It’s best to reintroduce FODMAP foods one at a time. I (- Christina) like to start with one bite and wait 15 minutes to assess for symptoms. If that feels fine you can eat a full serving of that food and asses how you feel that day. It’s really helpful to use a food and symptom journal to track symptoms and gain clarity about how your body reacts.
There are a few different methods for introducing FODMAPs (by category and dose). A good guide can be found here.
Top FODMAP diet resources online
Here’s a few of our favourite IBS and Low FODMAP-specific online resources and blogs:
An IBS-specific diary - Laura created this gorgeous symptom-tracking diary when she was diagnosed with IBS and Coeliac disease and couldn’t find anything that suited her tracking needs in the shop. It’s all set up with three months’ worth of tracking for you to get going with.
The Monash App - This app is great for helping you understand what foods are high and low FODMAP, and help you find Low FODMAP products available in your area.
Emma Hatcher’s She Can’t Eat What? - is a must-have recipe book for Low FODMAP meal inspiration.
That Lo Fo Life - is another site specifically for low-FODMAP recipes! You’ll not feel restricted when you see the tasty meals you can make here.
Kate Scarlata’s website - has lots of brilliant FODMAP resources, such as helpful grocery lists and menu planning help.
The Tummy Diaries – Lottie is the cheeriest IBS person around, and blogs warts and all about being a foodie with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. You’re sure to feel less alone after reading her posts!
Here are the key points to remember when approaching the Low FODMAP diet:
Remember the aim of Low FODMAP isn’t to stick to Low FODMAP foods forever, but to pinpoint the specific High FODMAP foods that cause you issues to relieve symptoms.
Work with a practitioner like Christina wherever possible to guide you through the process.
Consider other underlying causes of digestive issues like SIBO if intolerance to FODMAPs progresses
Be diligent in tracking your progress in a food diary [https://thefooddiary.co/shop/the-food-diary]
The diet may not work for you, and if it doesn’t be sure to schedule an appointment with your health practitioner to look at your results.
We hope this blog post is helpful for anyone considering the Low FODMAP Diet to relieve symptoms!
A huge thank you to Christina Tidwell (pictured left) for her help and expertise in putting this post together.