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What Are FODMAPs And How Do They Affect Your Health?

FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. The full title is quite a mouthful so you’ll probably want to stick with the ugly, but easier to pronounce acronym. Why are FODMAPs getting attention in the health news these days and should you concern yourself with the details?

The FODMAPs diet and its potential for improving health have been well researched over the last couple of decades. The concepts are starting to gain acceptance in medical circles. Many people swear by its potential to help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Of course, there is no shortage of fad diets these days (and never has been) but this particular diet focuses on a debilitating condition that affects many people in Ireland (and worldwide). The focus is not on losing weight or looking good. It’s about optimal health. Let’s take a look at what FODMAPs are and how a diet low in FODMAPs has the potential to help people with specific conditions.

What is the Low FODMAP diet?

The main aim of this diet is to relieve symptoms of IBS. According to a study in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in the United States, the evidence is strong that following the principles of this diet can help IBS sufferers in a high percentage of cases.

IBS is a condition that affects between 5 and 20% of the population of Ireland. It is not considered a disease but rather a group of symptoms that can manifest as bloating, gas, irregular bowel movements, and bowel/abdominal pain. The incidents of IBS are higher in western countries, thanks in most part to the western processed food diet. IBS is not a symptom of old age either. Most sufferers are under the age of 50. IBS interrupts food absorption, and as a result, is harmful to your health as well as being uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Apples are a common FODMAP food

Which foods are considered FODMAPs?

If we examine the acronym, we get a better idea of what types of foods fall into this category:

  • Fermentable – this seems simple enough but fermented foods can actually be beneficial to IBS sufferers. Fermented foods have been consumed for centuries and offer many nutritional benefits. In this case, fermentable refers to sugars in foods (most foods contain sugar in some form) that are not completely absorbed. Your gut bacteria then ferment these sugars, resulting in bloating, gas, and diarrhoea.
  • Oligosaccharides – Fructo-oligosaccharides, a type of fructose (fruit sugar) molecule, are found in many vegetables, and Galactooligosaccharides, found in beans, lentils, and chickpeas. We all know about the gassy results of an overindulgence in beans.
  • Disaccharides – Lactose is a good example of a disaccharide. Many people are unable to digest the sugars in milk, yoghurt, and cheese.
  • Monosaccharides – fruit sugar. Foods high in monosaccharides are apples, pears & watermelon. Regardless of your health condition, you should probably avoid any products containing High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).
  • Polyols – artificial/manmade and natural sweeteners. You’ll find them listed on food products as Sorbitol, Lactitol, Isomalt, Erythritol, Mannitol, Maltitol, and Xylitol. Polyols are called “sugar alcohols” and occur naturally in foods but are also manufactured and added to foods to increase sweetness. Many diet products contain polyols, used as a low-calorie sugar substitute.

Foods that should be avoided or reduced on the low FODMAP diet

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Apples
  • Dates
  • Baked Beans
  • Soy Beans
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Mushrooms
  • Wheat products (bread, cereals, bran)
  • Honey
  • Sweeteners
  • Soy Milk
  • Milk products
  • Beer

This is not a comprehensive list and we recommend you check with a nutritionist for a personalized list.

Onions - typical fodmap food

Foods to include in your meal plans when on the low FODMAP diet:

  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin
  • Parsnip
  • Ginger
  • Papaya
  • Blueberries
  • Lemon/Lime
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Oats
  • Walnuts
  • Lactose-free dairy products
  • Eggs

Some foods will be OK to eat in small portions so they can appear on both lists. The best approach is to know which foods are considered high-FODMAP and test your tolerance using small portions. Everyone is different and has different gut bacteria processing their foods. How your gut responds to foods is highly personal and should be tested on an individual basis.

The Bodywise Clinic offers a food intolerance and a food allergy test to determine if you have any indicators for intolerances.

How your gut responds to foods is highly personal and should be tested on an individual basis.

How does the low FODMAP diet work?

It’s quite simple and consists of two steps

  1. Eliminate all high FODMAP foods from your diet
  2. Gradually introduce these foods back into your diet, one at a time. Monitor for negative effects such as bloating, cramps, mood changes, and energy levels.

Is there a FODMAP test?

There are tests for some of the FODMAPs using a hydrogen (breath test) test but these are not conclusive. The best way to test is to first find out if you have any food intolerances and then use an elimination diet to find out which foods by themselves cause problems.

Is the FODMAPs diet a weight-loss diet?

In short, no. In some cases, people that follow the diet may find that their meals are absorbed better and that they feel less irritable and depressed (triggers for overeating). Any weight loss is purely a byproduct of following a healthy diet and cannot be attributed to the Low FODMAPs diet. It should not be treated as a weight-loss plan.

What are examples of low FODMAP snacks?

  • Rice cake and peanut butter
  • Lactose-free yoghurt
  • Boiled eggs
  • Walnuts
  • Baby carrots and cucumber slices with lactose-free cheese

What is Fructose Malabsorption?

It’s the inability of the small intestine to absorb fructose. Fructose is fruit sugar and is found not only in fruits but in high quantities in some manufactured products. Coke, Fanta, 7-Up and the usual suspects in the soda/fizzy drink business are one of the worst culprits in the high FODMAP group. These are closely followed by sweetened yoghurt.

You know those fat-free “healthy” yoghurts that have taken up a lot of space on our supermarket’s shelf in the last few years? Well, you’re better off with the real thing, even if you’ve got no bloating issues. Salad dressing often contains huge amounts of sugar, HFCS and other sweeteners. Olive oil and some herbs are a much safer choice (for everyone).

FODMAPs diet for IBS Infographic

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