By Sarah Ryan
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects 1 in 10 American adults and most of my clients. This digestive issue comes with the added bonus of no known cure, meaning healthcare professionals are turning to dietary solutions to help reduce the uncomfortable flare-ups of IBS symptoms.
One diet that has seen significant results in 76% of patients is the low FODMAP diet. Still, it remains a controversial treatment due to its associated risks of nutritional deficiencies. It can also be notoriously difficult to follow.
But What Is FODMAP?
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, and they are all slightly different sugars. The name itself is a mouthful, which is funny, considering many doctors believe the diet is actually too restrictive. Most agree that it should not be attempted without professional guidance from a registered nutritionist or dietician.
High FODMAP foods contain components many people with IBS find difficult to digest. This means they sit in your intestine, fermenting away, creating gas, bloating, and all the other uncomfortable symptoms sufferers experience. The idea behind the diet is that restricting or eliminating these foods restricts or eliminates your symptoms.
According to John Damianos, MD, “The low FODMAP diet is one of the best studied diets in IBS, and what’s been shown in the research is that the low FODMAP diet consistently improves global symptoms of IBS and specific symptoms, including abdominal pain and bloating,” he says. “Patients do report an improved quality of life when they’re on the low FODMAP diet.”
Sounds great, right? So what’s the catch?
Let’s give you the facts and eliminate the gas!
YES Foods VS NO Foods
The ‘no’ foods list is extensive. It includes, but is not limited to, a wide variety of fruits and juices, beans, legumes, garlic, onion, dairy, wheat, honey, packaged foods with high fructose corn syrup, and various artificial sweeteners. When I have a client that needs to start a restrictive diet, I find that a helpful trick is to actually focus on the foods they CAN eat rather than what they can’t. I suggest you work with your healthcare professional to create a diet plan around those foods.
There is a comprehensive list of YES foods, but before you go running off and making an entire meal plan, it is essential to remember that the low FODMAP diet is not the same for everyone. You may have only a few foods that trigger your symptoms, and it isn’t necessarily a diet you need to be on forever (yay!).
The diet is not recommended if you have certain health conditions or suffer from any kind of disordered eating. But, if your doctor has given you the go-ahead, here is what you should do.
I’m Going To Try It
The next step would be booking a consultation with a registered dietician or nutritionist. Find one with this handy list of dieticians with specialised training in low FODMAP diets. Thankfully they are popping up all over the world.
They will ask a series of questions about your diet and possibly request you complete a food and symptom diary. Then, they will likely get you to do a three-step FODMAP protocol to determine which foods you can eat and which ones are causing your IBS flare-ups. These steps are:
- Restriction: You will stop eating high FODMAP foods for 6 to 8 weeks to see if your symptoms improve.
- Reintroduction: You will introduce a higher FODMAP food weekly and see if it triggers you. If not, it is a food that can rejoin the YES list.
- Personalisation: Your dietician will create a diet or meal plan for you that is based on avoiding YOUR personal trigger foods while making sure you get a full spectrum of nutrients, even if your YES foods list is quite limited.
Following this protocol has seen great results in three out of four patients. So there is hope!
For those without access to a dietician or nutritionist, keeping a food diary to track what foods irritate your IBS, and eliminating them from your diet, is a good start. You can also download apps that focus on low FODMAP diets, including food lists, food diary sections, recipes and meal plans. My favourite is the Monash University Low FODMAP app, which is strictly FODMAP-focused, and based on the latest research.
But are the results worth the effort of such a restrictive diet?
They absolutely can be!
Still, they preferably need to be done under the guidance of a professional. At the time of writing, the low FODMAP protocol is the most well-researched IBS diet, with the most statistically significant results. So far, records show it has greatly improved the quality of life for people following the diet, which is the proof in the low-sugar pudding!