FODMAPs 101: What you need to know about the FODMAPs diet

By Chloe McLeod, Dietitian

FODMAPs 101: What you need to know about the FODMAPs diet
What are FODMAPs and why do you need to know about them?

FODMAP and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) go hand in hand, with more than 2.2 million Australians diagnosed with IBS, research now shows that following a low FODMAP diet is the best way of managing your symptoms and IBS overall. Believe it or not, the principles of a low FODMAP diet were introduced to us 12 years ago, however there is still a lot of confusion about the FODMAP diet how it works.

What are FODMAPs?

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are all different types of carbohydrates. When these carbohydrates are poorly absorbed they can cause an array of tummy trouble. On the one hand in the small intestine the malabsorption of these carbohydrates can result in increased water being drawn into the gut resulting in diarrhoea. For others, the carbohydrates travel to the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria, producing gas. It’s also not uncommon to experience additional symptoms of IBS including bloating, constipation, flatulence, pain and nausea.

Things like unhealthy processed or sugary foods, caffeine, alcohol, too much fibre or too little fibre, medications and even stress may also influence your symptoms.

The FODMAP diet

To control your IBS, you must first start by identifying your triggers. A strict low FODMAP diet is a diagnostic tool, helping you to identify what trigger foods cause your unpleasant symptoms of IBS, and it is not a recommended long-term diet plan.

Take my The FODMAP Challenge for instance, a 12-week program based on an elimination approach. Throughout week’s 1 – 4 there is a focus on eliminating high FODMAP foods and incorporating more low FOMAP foods into your diet. This elimination of high FODMAP foods can help control your IBS and eliminate your symptoms all together. It’s important to remember that often it’s more than one of these high FODMAP foods that could be contributing to your symptoms, which leads us to the Challenges.

What are the challenges?

The challenges are a process whereby the high FODMAP foods are reintroduced back slowly, week by week. It’s important that this is done with the guidance of an experienced dietitian or nutritionist. There are eight challenges in total, spanning over an eight-week period… one FODMAP per week. The high FODMAP food is reintroduced into your otherwise low FODMAP diet, as organically as possible. For example, including milk with your morning coffee, breakfast cereal or a smoothie. If your symptoms flare up, you stop the challenge and note this carbohydrate as being off the table. If the symptoms don’t flare up or are very mild, a safe limit is determined, so that overall it can be reintroduced into your diet long term. Once the challenge is done, you return to being low FODMAP for a few days, then move onto the next FODMAP challenge.

Most people do not react to all the high FODMAP groups of foods. Identifying these means that we can re-introduce the groups of foods that weren’t a problem, then determine tolerance levels of those that were.

The High’s and Low’s of FODMAP foods

High FODMAP foods that are typically avoided on a FODMAP diet include;

Asparagus, onion, garlic, cabbage, celery, sweet corn, legumes, apples, pears, mango, watermelon, yoghurt, cow’s milk, soft cheese, ice cream, wheat-based breads, cereal, pasta, cashews and pistachios

Low FODMAP foods that you can enjoy include;

Cucumber, carrot, lettuce, tomato, zucchini, banana, orange, mandarin, grapes, lactose-free milk and yoghurts, hard cheese, meats, fish, gluten-free breads and pastas, quinoa and rice

What else should I consider?

Other things can trigger symptoms of IBS. These include processed foods, spicy foods and caffeine. Stress and anxiety also play a key role in symptom management and managing these will help to reduce the symptoms long-term.

If the above sounds a little too familiar, consult your GP and set out to determine your triggers with support from a dietitian or nutritionist.

About Chloe McLeod:

Chloe McLeod is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Sports Dietitian passionate about motivating Australians to create positive relationships with food and educating them on making holistic health changes so they live the best lives they can. Specialising in sports nutrition, nutrition for arthritis and autoimmune conditions, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and food intolerances, Chloe also enjoys working with people to improve their general wellbeing, weight management and eating disorders.


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