What Is FODMAP

What Is FODMAP and How Can a Low FODMAP Diet Help with IBS

by Aleksandar Hrubenja

How many people you know have stomach problems on a regular basis? What about strange allergies and random symptoms that can’t be explained easily? The most likely culprit, even if you think it’s very clean and healthy, is your diet. Or, to put it a bit more into detail—your diet aggravated by a FODMAP intolerance.

What is FODMAP intolerance you ask? This is an intolerance to a specific subset of foods that fall under the FODMAP category. These are essentially fermentable carbs that are difficult to digest. Getting rid of this type of carb is a great way to improve your gut health, minimize irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, and improve your general sense of wellbeing. 

Learning about what is a low FODMAP diet specifically, means you can greatly improve your quality of life. IBS sufferers can also expect good results. A diet low in FODMAP carbs is a great IBS diet as well.

The article below deals with the nitty-gritty of what FODMAPs are, why do they cause the trouble they do, as well as giving you some tips on how to modify your lifestyle with this diet and reap its benefits.

What Does FODMAP Mean?

Now, first things first—what does FODMAP stand for exactly? This acronym stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. They are short-chain carbohydrates, molecules found in many of the foods we eat.

What makes them so special and important for your diet is that they are often poorly digested. A diet low in these foods is there to minimize the level of these carbs you ingest.

As far as what are the FODMAPs that we most often ingest, you are most likely already familiar with them. They are actually part of our everyday nutrition.

Basically, if you want to stick to a low FODMAP diet, avoid the following food categories and types:

  • Fructose (monosaccharides)
  • Lactose (disaccharides)
  • Fructans and galactans (oligosaccharides)
  • Polyols

Fructose is a simple sugar found in much of the produce we eat. Many fruits and vegetables contain fructose, and table sugar (sadly the most popular food on the FODMAPS list) is most often derived from this compound. 

You are likely very familiar with lactose. Namely, it’s a carb found in all dairy products, such as cheese, milk, and yogurt. Essentially, lactose intolerance is a type, or a subset, of FODMAP intolerance. If you ever felt lactose intolerance symptoms after eating other foods, you might just have an issue with FODMAPs. Sticking to low FODMAP foods can pretty much alleviate most of the symptoms of lactose intolerance you feel.

Fructans are commonly found in spelt, rye, barley, wheat, and essentially most grains. Galactans, on the other hand, are found in legumes, like beans, or peas.

Finally, we have polyols. Polyols are sugar-free sweeteners. However, unlike sweeteners such as aspartame, these are not artificial. In fact, you can find them in certain vegetables and fruits, just like fructose. Still, they do cause FODMAP-related symptoms. For example, blackberries have a great deal of polyols in them.

Why Do FODMAPs Cause Trouble?

Now, there is a good reason why the foods on the FODMAP list cause trouble. Namely, most of them just go right through your system, not being digested or processed. All high FODMAP substances are problematic, but that doesn’t mean they will cause problems for every single person. Some people are more sensitive to certain FODMAPs than others. 

For those that experience problems, these carbs, once ingested, reach your colon, and they stay there. Instead of being completely absorbed, they stay inside your guts and start getting digested by the wrong gut bacteria.

Now, when you consider items on the low FODMAP food list, they are fermented by different, healthy gut bacteria. You are most likely familiar with the positive effects of these foods and this kind of diet. The bacteria that feed on FODMAPs, however, are a bit more problematic.

Good gut bacteria release methane, while FODMAP-eating bacteria create hydrogen. Hydrogen in our guts cause bloating, cramps, constipation, and general gut pain.

To make matters worse, FODMAP carbohydrates are osmotically active. In other words, they draw water directly into your intestines, which then also leads to serious bouts of diarrhea. The good news here is that a good low FODMAP meal plan will set you straight, and mitigate most of the above issues. 

Now, bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, all without a clear cause might sound familiar to you. Well, you just might have irritable bowel syndrome. Luckily for you, a low FODMAP diet can help you with that as well.

FODMAP and IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common disorder that affects many people. In fact, in the United States, it affects somewhere between 25 and 45 million people. Furthermore, around 10 to 15% of the global population suffers from some form of IBS or another.

The main problem with IBS is that its specific cause is simply not known. Some claim that its caused, or exacerbated, by high FODMAP foods. One hypothesis claims that IBS is based on a problematic connection between your brain, your nervous system, and your gut. And while stress does not directly cause IBS, it can trigger it, or exacerbate its symptoms.

However, while a specific cure has still not been found, it has been shown that certain modifications to your lifestyle can help alleviate IBS symptoms. This diet might be just the thing you need. But first, you need to figure out if you have IBS or not. 

The most common symptoms of IBS are:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Cramps
  • Bloating
  • Gas

Of course, those are just physical symptoms. IBS also carries with it the anxiety and hardship that comes with living with such a condition. 

However, there is evidence that a proper irritable bowel syndrome diet, a diet that will help alleviate many symptoms of IBS, consists of almost no ingredients rich in FODMAPs. Due to the myriad of symptoms IBS has, it is difficult to find an effective treatment. Still, while relatively novel, there is evidence that shows that a low FODMAP food diet has shown some positive results. 

List of High FODMAP Foods

Below you can find a high FODMAP chart listing out foods you simply shouldn’t eat. Now, you won’t have to really throw all of these out the window, since it’s pretty rare that one single person can’t handle every one of these food items. Still, for your elimination diet (more on that later) you will need to, for a little while, completely avoid eating most of these foods. 

The chart below is far from comprehensive. It does, however, show you the most common high FODMAP foods we eat.

Legumes and vegetablesGrains, grain products, and nutsFruitDrinksOther
ArtichokesWheat (and products containing it)ApplesBeerHoney
Beans (almost any type)BarelyApricotsAny juice from the high FODMAP fruitsPesto pasta
CeleryAlmond mealBananasRumJam
GarlicBran cerealDatesFennel, black, chai, herbal, and chamomile teasMolasses
CassavaChestnut flourFigsWineTzatziki
LeekRyeMangoWhey proteinAgave
Pickled veggiesSpeltNectarinesCoconut milkRelish
SoybeansPistachiosPeachesKombuchaStock cubes
ShallotsGnocchiPearsQuinoa milkCaviar dip
MushroomsPasta wheatPrunesSoy milkFruit bars
BeetrootCashewsRaisinsMost sports drinksAgave

The above high FODMAP diet chart does not include dairy products because of the simple fact that they are pretty much universally banned from your diet (with a couple of exceptions).

You should also keep an eye for any pastries, cakes, and desserts that contain some of the ingredients above. Furthermore, sausages and generally processed meats might have things like flour and garlic in them. Garlic is actually a very strong and common trigger for FODMAP issues.

List of Low FODMAP Foods

Just like how the above high FODMAP food list is not comprehensive, neither is this list of foods that are completely fine. Below are common ingredients and foods found in most supermarkets that are not, nor do they contain, FODMAPs.

Legumes and vegetablesGrains, grain products, and nutsFruitDrinksOther
AlfalfaCornbreadBreadfruitKvassAlmond, rice, and hemp milk
Bean sproutsBrazil nutsGrapesSpiritsMost oils
CarrotsBuckwheatKiwiGreen, peppermint, white teaMost herbs
Collard greensChestnutsOrangesCoffee (no sugar or milk)Most spices
CucumberOatsPassion fritLow quantities of soft drinksLard
EggplantPeanutsStrawberryFruit juice made from low FODMAP fruitsPeanut butter
FennelPolentaPapayaWaterVegemite
KaleCorncakesGuavaOyster sauce
Green beansRice (and rice cakes, crackers, flakes…)ClementineFish sauce
PeppersChia, poppy, pumpkin… seedsPineappleMayonnaise
GingerWalnutsLimes and lemonsDark chocolate

Meat (seafood, fish, game, poultry, beef, pork…) is not on the list because it’s pretty much completely FODMAP friendly (on the account of lacking any carbohydrates). Unless it has been mixed and processed with something, you should be in the clear. Furthermore, wheat and gluten-free breads are also fine (and avoiding gluten has many added benefits).

You might also find that certain cheeses are easier to tolerate. Brie, feta, and mozzarella are much easier when it comes to your gut. The same goes for lactose-free yogurt, as well as Greek yogurt in small amounts.

So, eating fruits low in FODMAPs, sticking to low FODMAP vegetables will definitely help, but the benefits are not immediate. What we advise is that you stick to a strong elimination diet, a very specific and concrete system that is most often used during for the implementation of this diet.

The FODMAP Elimination Diet 

We still haven’t properly answered the question of what is a low FODMAP diet, and how can you put it into practice? Well, the best way is through the elimination and reintroduction of foods with high FODMAP content.

There are very few people who are allergic to all of the above FODMAP foods. However, it is very difficult to determine exactly which foods are causing us trouble. This is why the three stages are used: elimination, reintroduction, personalization.

Namely, the FODMAP diet explained simply is to throw out as many foods high in FODMAPs as you can. However, there is truly a method to this madness. You have probably noticed that these are basically most of the foods we eat. This is where the above three stages of the elimination diet come in, as well as the preparatory stage.

During this preparatory stage, you need to write down your most common symptoms. Write down how it feels when you have these problems, what are your exact issues. Do you feel them the most in the mornings or evenings? Are there times where you don’t feel symptoms at all? Maybe after breakfast, or perhaps before you go to bed? Be diligent, you will need this for later.

1. Elimination

Elimination is the first stage. Here, you completely eliminate everything that is not a part of the FODMAP diet plan. This is extreme, and rightfully so. It is difficult to maintain a balanced diet in this manner. Ingredients become sparse, you severely limit the choice of foods you have at your disposal. This can cause problems in that you have a pretty boring selection of foods in front of you, as well as having difficulty getting all the nutrients and vitamins inside of you.

Now, you will eat this kind of extremely low FODMAP diet only for two to four weeks. Keep track of what you eat, and keep an eye on your symptoms. If you followed it correctly, if you truly eliminated all FODMAP foods, you should notice your symptoms receding by a noticeable degree.
We suggest you take some vitamin and calcium supplements during this phase, just in case.

2. Reintroduction

Next comes reintroduction. Here you will slowly reintroduce certain foods. This is a vital part of the low FODMAP diet plan. Start with a couple of them at a time, and see how you react. Stick to only one group, like polyols for example, and see how it goes. This process can take a while—maybe a week, maybe two for each food group.

3. Personalization

And finally, personalization. This is where this diet becomes part of your everyday life. You should basically memorize and eliminate your most common triggers and problematic foods. Keep them all in mind, keep a list. If needed, have this as an extension of the reintroduction phase. There might still be some foods that, while not triggering severe symptoms, could still cause discomfort.

Low FODMAP Diet Recipes  

As you have probably noticed, the low FODMAP diet for IBS, or whatever gastrointestinal issue you have, is rather restrictive. That doesn’t mean, however, that you will have to starve yourself. There are actually some great low FODMAP recipes out there, some of which we have taken the liberty of presenting below.

Quinoa and feta salad

A delicious and healthy salad, a perfect light meal if you want to keep your energy levels high, while still feeling light and alert. Serves two people.

You will need:

  • 3 cups of quinoa
  • 1 cup of feta cheese
  • half a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • half a teaspoon of coriander
  • half a teaspoon of turmeric
  • half a teaspoon of cumin

The first entry on our short list of low FODMAP diet recipes is pretty simple, and pretty delicious. You want to get a big pan and heat up the oil (stick to medium-high heat). Then, throw in the spices for a couple of seconds first so that they release some of their fragrance and taste. Throw in the rinsed quinoa, let it fry for a couple of minutes until you hear it pop. Add around 2 and a half cups of boiling water, and keep it all simmering for a couple of minutes.

Once the water has mostly evaporated, remove it from the stove, and let it cool. Then, once it’s relatively cold, add the feta cheese (crumble it up).

And if you’re still a bit hungry after this light meal, we suggest you get some peanuts as low FODMAP snacks. Dried pineapple, raisins, and baby carrots are great as well and will be more than enough to tide you over until dinner.

High protein salmon and spinach lunch

A very high protein lunch, packed with iron, amazing nutrients like B5, and omega-3 fatty acids. A delicious and healthy lunch for two people.

You will need:

  • 1 teaspoon of vegetable or olive oil
  • 3 salmon fillets (skinless)
  • 1 cup of spinach
  • lemon juice (one large squeezed lemon)
  • 3 tablespoons of parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

This is one of the many amazing low FODMAP dinner recipes. Roll the salmon into the pepper and salt, and put it in an already hot, oiled pan, for 4 minutes. The meat is done when the seared sides are golden, and when it falls apart easily.

As far as the spinach is concerned, put entire leaves within the hot pan, add all the seasoning and finely minced garlic, and keep the pan covered for around 2 minutes. Let the steam do its work, and you should be done.

Baked potatoes and eggs

Probably the simplest meal on the list, this is the perfect low FODMAP breakfast for busy people on the go. It can serve two to three people.

You will need:

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 zucchini
  • 3 larger potatoes
  • pepper, paprika, garlic powder to taste

All you have to do is heat up the oven to high, with the fan on. Then, cut the potatoes and tomatoes into halves, or smaller pieces. Get the zucchini into one-inch slices. Put roasting paper into the pan, and put the potatoes in. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle all of the spices, and keep them roasting for 25 minutes. 

Then, put the zucchini, tomatoes, and the eggs in. Make some room for the eggs, crack them, and come back to the entire thing after 5 to 10 minutes, and this low FODMAP breakfast is good to go.

Conclusion

FODMAPs are everywhere, they represent core parts of our diets. The article above should have hopefully explained what is FODMAP, what this acronym stands for, and how the FODMAP diet can help you with various digestive and gastrointestinal issues. Many people today suffer from IBS and feel its debilitating symptoms, and this kind of diet can help them find relief. Navigating this type of nutritional landscape can be difficult, which is why the three stages of the FODMAP elimination diet are so useful. The key to success here is being thorough, and sticking to the program.

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