The word “FODMAP” probably doesn’t make your mouth water, but most of us eat at least a few of them every day. And if you’re someone who suffers from serious gastrointestinal discomfort or a condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), cutting them out of your diet and slowly reintroducing them back could spell relief. But what is a low-FODMAP diet and what foods can you eat on a low-FODMAP diet? We chatted with experts that explain everything you need to know about the gut-friendly way of eating.
What are FODMAPs?
FODMAPs are a group of carbohydrates found in certain foods that have one big thing in common: For some people, they’re notorious for causing stomach discomfort. These include fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Hence the name FODMAP. There are four groups of carbs that fall under the FODMAP umbrella. During the diet’s elimination phase, you’ll need to steer clear of all of them.
These soluble plant fibers are also known as prebiotics and work to feed the existing gut bacteria.
These foods all contain lactose, the fermentable sugar found in dairy milk.
Often found in fruit, this fermentable sugar is present in different quantities so not all fruits are in this category.
High fructose corn syrup
Found in some fruits, but they’re most commonly found in artificial sweeteners.
Packaged foods can contain FODMAPs too, of course, so it’s also important to read labels. For instance, “natural flavors” in soups or sauces could be derived from triggers like onions or garlic. And many cereals or granola bars are sweetened with chicory root (which comes from inulin, a fiber those following a low-FODMAP diet should avoid), explains FODMAP and IBS expert Kate Scarlata, R.D.N. A registered dietician can help you decipher the ingredient list so you can find FODMAP-friendly versions of packaged foods you normally buy.
What foods can you eat on a low FODMAP diet?
The number of foods that contain FODMAPs might seem endless, but don’t worry. There are still plenty of things you can eat, say Patsy Catsos, M.S., R.D.N., a medical nutrition therapist and FODMAP expert. Most people on low FODMAP diets can tolerate things like:
Remember, FODMAPs are carbs, so you won’t find them in foods that are mostly protein or fat. That means things like meat, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, butter, and olive oil all get the green light. Plus, you’ll eventually reintroduce some FODMAP foods into your diet to see which give you tummy trouble and which are totally acceptable to eat.
Why do FODMAP foods cause stomach trouble?
Foods containing FODMAPs are hard for the intestines to absorb and tend to draw lots of water into the digestive tract. They also tend to hang out in the gut for a long time, which can cause them to ferment. The end result is an uncomfortable combo of bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
A low FODMAP diet gets rid of these offending foods, usually for six to eight weeks. Then the foods are slowly reintroduced to figure out which ones are causing problems. Once you know which FODMAPs tend to trigger discomfort for you, you can avoid them permanently, explains David Bridgers, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Gastroenterology Associates of North Mississippi.
Who should follow a low FODMAP diet?
It might seem worth a shot if you sometimes suffer from annoying bouts of gas or bloating, But because low FODMAP diets are pretty restrictive, experts say they’re not the best option for fixing run-of-the-mill tummy troubles. Before you get started, it’s best to chat with your healthcare provider or a dietitian to see if it makes sense for you.
Usually, low FODMAP diets are reserved for people with severe gastrointestinal problems. IBS is the most common one, but going low FODMAP can be an option for those with an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. It might also be helpful for people with celiac disease who haven’t found relief from a gluten-free diet alone, says Scarlata.
Additionally, steering clear of FODMAPs might also be helpful for endurance athletes who suffer from cramping or diarrhea during races. “If you’re prone to that, it can be used as a pre-event kind of diet,” Scarlata says.
But if you’re just having occasional gas or bloating, a low FODMAP diet might not be for you, Scarlata adds. “A registered dietitian might recommend pulling out certain FODMAPs as an option, though,” she notes.
How to get started on a low-FODMAP diet
If you think that going low FODMAP could help you, talk with a gastroenterologist first. The doc can take a look at all of your symptoms and help you figure out whether a low FODMAP diet is the best option, Dr. Bridgers explains.
Your doctor can also refer you to a registered dietitian who specializes in low-FODMAP diets. That’s important since cutting out entire food groups can cause you to miss out on certain nutrients. “Calcium and fiber are two that sometimes need special attention on low FODMAP diets,” says Catsos.
A dietitian can also prove invaluable for bringing FODMAPs back into your diet. That’s a slow, systematic process that can take up to eight weeks, Scarlata explains. And once you’ve figured out which FODMAPs you can tolerate, they’ll help you bring those foods back gently—so you can enjoy the foods you love without feeling uncomfortable.
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