You’ve heard of gluten and the wonders that cutting it out can do (for some).
But have you heard of FODMAPs? Probably not, unless you’ve been doing some very strange homework.
There are plenty of fad diets to go around, but the low-FODMAP diet is not one of them. It’s actually backed by science in its ability to improve gut and digestive health. In fact, many people now depend on it to be able to eat normally without horrible stomach and other digestive side effects.
However, what the heck is a FODMAP and should you be avoiding them, too? Maybe so, maybe not.
Let’s take a look.
What the Heck Are FODMAPs?
FODMAP is an acronym that stands for a lot of big words. For the sake of giving you the full definition, it stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols.
Hope I didn’t lose you.
Unless you’re very learned in biochemistry or nutritional science, that all likely looks like a bunch of hullabaloo to you. To sum it up, fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides and monosaccharides are sugars that are hard to digest. Polyols are sugar alcohols that just wreak havoc on your tummy if you eat too much.
The list of foods that contain FODMAPs is quite long, but I can tell you they are mostly plant foods and dairy. As a note, fructose (a monosaccharide) in excess causes GI distress in pretty much everyone because of the way it’s digested.
That’s because these compounds are “fermentable,” meaning that when the bacteria in your stomach and intestines break them down, they produce gas that causes bloating, gas, and pain in some people that are FODMAP sensitive.
In the worst cases, these compounds can cause nausea and diarrhea because, when they are digested, they pull water into the intestines.
An important note, though, is that only a small population experience these negative side effects when eating too many FODMAP foods.
For others, the effect is quite the opposite. FODMAPs can act as prebiotics due to their indigestible fibers. This means that the beneficial bacteria in your gut eat them for food where they grow, multiply and thrive to keep your gut healthy and you feeling good.
So, if you don’t experience consistent and frequent stomach pain or GI discomfort after eating some vegetables or dairy, you probably don’t have a FODMAP sensitivity and eating these indigestible fibers is actually better for you than avoiding them. Eating fiber in general is just good for your heart and overall health.
How Do You Know If a Low-FODMAP Diet is for You?
The symptoms of eating FODMAPs may sound scary, but they don’t happen to everyone and it’s probably something you don’t have to worry about at all.
Therefore, you should know right away that if you don’t generally get an upset stomach right after eating, you probably don’t need to change your diet.
There is a lot of misinformation going around in which people are recommending a low-FODMAP diet to everyone who experiences bloating.
This is just irresponsible.
There are multiple factors that can cause bloating not related to FODMAPs and cutting down on FODMAPs, which are usually very nutritious foods, can do more harm than good if you don’t even have a sensitivity.
However, if you have any of the following conditions, a low-FODMAP diet may help:
GI discomfort from an unknown source
Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Due to the demonization of gluten, many people jump to the conclusion that it is gluten that is the cause of their tummy troubles, but that’s not always the case.
A personal example is that I’m lactose intolerant and it took me a long time to realize this was the reason I got so much discomfort after meals. However, even though I was sensitive to lactose, it wouldn’t have been a smart choice to just start blindly slashing stuff out of my diet, especially healthy stuff like whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
So, if you have this suspicion and you haven’t been formally diagnosed with bona fide celiac disease or lactose intolerance and are still experiencing unknown GI symptoms, a low FODMAP diet may be beneficial.
Due to the complex nature of the conditions listed above such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), medications aren’t always totally effective, so many turn to a low-FODMAP diet for help.
A study done in 2012 actually showed that a low-FODMAP diet helped abate the symptoms of IBS in 74% of patients.
So, can you test for FODMAP sensitivity? Some say that breath tests do the trick, but only fructose, sorbitol and lactose can be identified this way which doesn’t give the full picture.
Therefore, the most effective way to tell is by following a low-FODMAP diet with the guidance of a dietitian. By reducing your intake of FODMAPs you can slowly reintroduce them while paying close attention to how you feel and figure out the affecting foods.
What Does a Low-FODMAP Diet Look Like?
The low-FODMAP diet is usually recommended to last from 6-8 weeks.
It is vital to note that this is a low-FODMAP, not no-FODMAP diet. Why though? If they cause so many unpleasant symptoms to those that are sensitive, wouldn’t it just be easiest to ax them completely?
The fact is, many FODMAP foods are very nutritious (see chart below), so cutting them out completely would do the body more harm than good. The key to a low-FODMAP diet is eliminating some and then reintroducing them slowly to determine what you can and cannot tolerate.
Monash University has a dynamite app that can help you with this process. While I still recommend talking to a dietitian, this app can be of help if you need immediate assistance.
Below is a table of some high-FODMAP foods and their low-FODMAP alternatives, courtesy of Monash University. This table is not comprehensive, though, as there are a large number of low and high FODMAP foods, but these are the most common sources.
Can you identify any of the foods on this list as your trigger foods?
Once you’ve narrowed down the FODMAP(s) you’re most sensitive to, your dietitian may suggest taking digestive enzyme supplements to help you break them down so you can still enjoy them. A lot of “experts” will tell you that apple cider vinegar will help with this digestion, but no research has supported this.
It’s true that apple cider vinegar can help control blood sugar spikes, but anyone telling you it will help with IBS or any other digestive discomfort is not giving science-based information.
The bottom line?
It’s important that, before starting a low-FODMAP diet, you consult a doctor to be sure you don’t actually have something more serious going on with your gut such as celiac disease, cancer or allergies.
Also, the diet isn’t for everyone, so it’s not necessary to jump on it if you aren’t experiencing stomach issues that are bad enough to affect your quality of life.
Basically, chipotle poops don’t qualify.