Understanding FODMAPS and the Low FODMAP Diet

April 2019 - Health & Wellness

Do you or a family member or friend struggle with chronic digestive distress? Are you familiar with every public restroom in your neighbourhood? Is diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, indigestion, and/or nausea a regular (and unwanted) companion at mealtimes?

Tummy Troubles and the Toilet
Perhaps you’ve been diagnosed with IBS—Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Or you have some other form of inflammatory bowel disease with ongoing gut symptoms. Or maybe you’ve had your colon removed and suffer from frequent loose stools.

IBS is, well, gut-wrenching—and embarrassing at times. Its symptoms can be debilitating and often lead to reduced quality of life. Constantly running to the toilet is agonizing and one’s existence can become very small and limited as social avoidance sets in.

Low FODMAPs to the Rescue
About a dozen years ago, a new way to regulate digestive distress was developed by Monash University researchers in Melbourne, Australia. This therapeutic management strategy for IBS symptoms—called the Low FODMAP Diet—took the digestive world by storm with its three-step elimination, integration, and maintenance system.

FODMAPs Explained
“FODMAP” may sound like a Muppet’s name, but really, FODMAP is an acronym: Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols.

Basically, FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars and fibres) that are ‘osmotic,’ meaning they pull water into the small intestine. This can cause diarrhea in an individual with a fast-moving intestine, and the person more prone to constipation may feel like they have a water balloon in their gut.

FODMAPs are also fast food for gut microbes. When microbes ferment FODMAPs, the gas they produce fills up and stretches the intestine, leading to bloating, abdominal pain, and cramping. The combination of gas and water in the intestine packs a one-two punch, altering intestinal movement and contributing to diarrhea and constipation.

FODMAPs are abundant. They are found in everyday foods—like milk, yogurt, wheat, barley, rye, apples, pears, onion, garlic, and kidney beans. And they are innately healthy for most of us who do not have IBS symptoms. There are high FODMAP foods and there are low FODMAP foods, and IBS sufferers often struggle with many of the high FODMAPs.

The Low FODMAP Diet
The Low FODMAP Diet is regarded as a learning diet. In other words, the goal is to determine one’s personal food triggers and ultimately find balance between tolerance of some higher FODMAP foods and avoidance of others.

Taking On Your FODMAPs
While IBS can’t be cured, the Low FODMAP Diet is a viable symptoms management tool that allows sufferers to take back control of their health—and their lives! If this sounds like an option for you, keep these tips in mind:

  • Find a health professional to guide you through the ins and outs of FODMAP eating.
  • Educate yourself—read up on pioneering work in this field.
  • Enlighten your support system—get family and friends up to speed on your FODMAP food lists; talk digestive health with them.
  • Remember that your digestive plan is unique to you—your trigger foods are your trigger foods, and what works for you, works for you. Don’t get sidelined by the latest health food trends.

The 3 Phases of the Low FODMAP Diet
The Low FODMAP Diet is regarded as a learning diet. In other words, the goal is to determine one’s personal food triggers and ultimately find balance between tolerance of some higher FODMAP foods and avoidance of others.

The Low FODMAP Diet restricts high FODMAP foods to reduce uncomfortable, distressful digestive symptoms, and consists of the following 3 phases:

Phase 1 (2–6 weeks) – Elimination
Remove all high FODMAP foods from the diet to assess whether FODMAP-rich foods are triggering GI symptoms. This is a highly restrictive phase and not sustainable long-term.

Phase 2 (8–12 weeks) – Reintroduction
Work with a practitioner to reintroduce FODMAPs in a methodical manner, one food at a time. This phase is very individualized—every person reacts to different high FODMAP foods in different ways.

Phase 3 – Maintenance
Listen to your gut. Pay close attention to shifts in the FODMAPs that work and don’t work for you. Incorporate methods to manage/reduce emotional stress to ultimately ease digestive stress.

Experts are seeing progress around the world with the Low FODMAP Diet. This may be the tool you need to manage your digestive woes! 

Julia Denker has a passion for wellness, educational background in psychology and nutrition, and administrative leadership experience. She knows that we can all live and work smarter by making small but impactful lifestyle changes, including rethinking our food choices. Understanding bio-chemical individuality is key, and she guides clients on cueing into their bodies to craft a nourishment plan that works.

Article was published in The Good Life magazine.

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