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IBS or Tummy Trouble? A Low FODMAP Diet Could Help

Feeling gassy, bloated and uncomfortable again? We’ve all had that unsettling feeling in our stomach after eating something that just didn’t hit the spot. And it always seems to occur at the worst time possible … “Check, please!”

Uncomfortable and inconvenient digestive issues related to food are very common. It’s estimated that 36% of Americans are lactose intolerant and 10% to 15% of Americans have irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.

If food is giving you nothing but trouble in the bathroom, you may have considered a low FODMAP diet to ease the pain (and strain). A low FODMAP diet has been shown to help those with IBS with symptoms, but it isn’t for everyone. It’s restrictive and hard work.

So, if you’re blessed with an iron stomach, then this diet isn’t for you. However, this diet could be the answer to help you poop more normally again. Read on to learn more about the diet and next steps.

What does FODMAP stand for?

FODMAP is an acronym that stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which basically are a specific group of carbohydrates (sugars) that are difficult for some people to absorb and digest.

Why are foods high in FODMAPs a problem for some people?

For the “Average Joes” with no digestive issues, these saccharides and polyols can make their way through the small and large intestines with no problem. But for those with IBS, they can wreak havoc.

“As saccharides and polyols move through the small intestines, they attract water and increase the amount of fluids in the bowel,” said Jennifer Oikarinen, a registered dietitian at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. “As they reach the large intestines, they are rapidly fermented by bacteria in the colon, which produces excess gas. As a result, the excess fluid and gas cause the gut wall to expand and stretch.”

If you have IBS, you already have highly sensitive gut walls and/or issues with foods moving too fast or too slow through your intestines. The excess fluid and gas can lead to abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.

What types of foods are low and high in FODMAPs?

“FODMAPs are found in various types of foods, from every food group, including fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein, breads and cereals and even types of sugar like honey,” Oikarinen said. “This makes following the FODMAP diet a bit tricky.”

While this isn’t a comprehensive list, here is a list of foods high and low in FODMAPs.

High in FODMAPs
  • Fruits: apples, figs, mango, pears, watermelon, blackberries, dried fruit
  • Vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, sweet corn, asparagus, celery, hummus
  • Dairy: Cow’s milk, yogurt, ice cream, cottage cheese, soy milk (made from soybeans)
  • Breads and cereals: Regular wheat or rye bread
  • Desserts and sweeteners: Sugar-free candy, gum, supplements or shake mixes sweetened with sorbitol, mannitol or xylitol, milk chocolate, honey, agave
  • Condiments: Garlic, onions, ketchup, commercial salad dressings, seasonings that contain garlic powder, onion powder, dried mushroom, dried beans of any kind or the white part of scallions
  • Beverages: Rum, champagne, coffee drinks with milk or soy milk (made from soybeans), chamomile tea
Low in FODMAPs
  • Fruits: cantaloupe, grapes, kiwi, mandarin oranges, pineapple, strawberries
  • Vegetables: Eggplant, green beans, bok choy, bell pepper, carrot, cucumber, lettuce, potato, tomato
  • Dairy: Lactose-free milk, almond milk, kefir milk, feta cheese, camembert cheese, hard cheeses, soy milk (made from soy protein)
  • Breads and cereals: Sourdough spelt bread, rice cakes, corn flakes, oats, quinoa flakes, rice, corn pasta
  • Desserts and sweeteners: Dark chocolate, maple syrup, table sugar
  • Condiments: Cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, tomato paste, allspice, olive oil, lime or lemon, mustard, vinegar, ginger, leafy herbs, chives, red or green chiles
  • Beverages: water, vodka, whiskey, beverages sweetened with 100% maple syrup or stevia, coffee, green or peppermint tea

How does the low FODMAP diet work?

The best way to prevent bloating, gas, diarrhea and all other tummy issues is to avoid the very foods that are likely to ferment during digestion. This is where eating foods low in FODMAPs can help.

“The easiest way to describe the FODMAP diet is ‘eat this, and not that,’” Oikarinen said. “The FODMAP diet isn’t a forever diet, but it helps you identify which foods to avoid or limit depending on how your body responds.”

Research has shown 75% of people with IBS who have tried the FODMAP diet experienced fewer and/or the absence of gastrointestinal symptoms. “This means no more pain or cramping after eating, no more worries about rushing to the restroom or the discomfort of not being able to go,” Oikarinen said.

The FODMAP diet should be done under the care and direction of a health care provider and/or a registered dietitian. A dietitian can help you navigate the different types of foods to eliminate but also help you gradually add foods back in over time while monitoring symptoms.

The low FODMAP diet is broken down into three phases:

  1. The elimination (restriction) phase: Removing all foods high in FODMAP, which includes various types of foods from every food group (fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein, breads and cereals and even types of sugar such as honey). This lasts between 2 to 6 weeks.
  2. The challenge (reintroduction) phase: Once your gastrointestinal symptoms improve and/or resolve, it’s time to start slowly adding foods back into your diet. This phase lasts 8 to 10 weeks as you move through each food group and monitor and identify any culprits.
  3. The modification (lifetime) phase: This is the most exciting phase as you get more freedom back on what you can and cannot eat. The goal of this phase is to help you create a balanced diet of both high and low FODMAP foods that can support your gut health, while keeping IBS symptoms at bay.

Important Note: The low FODMAP diet isn’t for everyone

Due to the restrictive nature of the diet, only people diagnosed with IBS should follow a low FODMAP diet. If you suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms, be sure to consult your health care provider and don’t self-diagnose and treat your condition.

“A lot of people think they’ve tried a low FODMAP diet by cutting out only certain food groups, but this isn’t a true FODMAP diet—it’s just avoiding foods similar to if you were lactose intolerant,” Oikarinen said. “FODMAP is cutting every high FODMAP food. If you don’t need to go this extreme, you probably don’t need this diet.”

To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.

For other gut-friendly articles, check out:

Nutrition Wellness Gastroenterology