For individuals who suffer digestive distress, finding the right dietary approach can be a nightmare. While eating should bring us joy and fulfillment, those who have gastrointestinal issues may find that nourishing their body is incredibly challenging, restrictive and sometimes more of a mental game than a celebration. One of the most common causes of digestive upset is food allergies, but what if, after trying allergen-free diets, nothing works? The answer could be quite simple, something as simple as the FODMAPs diet.
What are FODMAPs and what do they do?
FODMAP is merely an acronym that stands for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides And Polyols. What does all that mean? It basically boils down to types of sugars (the oligosaccharides, disaccharides and monosaccharides). These are all categorized by the length of their cellular chains. For instance, oglio means a multi-celled sugar molecule, di means the sugar molecule is double bonded, and mono refers to a single sugar molecule. All you really need to know is that these are three types of sugar that have fermentable properties once they hit the small intestine.
Foods that are categorized as FODMAPs are often very healthy, which is the main reason they may not have been removed in your previous diets. These foods contain prebiotic fibers and sugars which ferment in the digestive system as your good bacteria feed on them for fuel and growth. The problem is, when people have a sensitivity to starches and sugars for whatever reason (candida overgrowth, previous exposure to antibiotics or birth control that disrupted good bacteria, or simply a sugar intolerance), this process of fermentation causes a great deal of digestive stress including gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and sometimes weight gain due to the bloating and bad digestion.
The pain that one feels during an episode can be as intense as those who have IBS, Crohn’s, or celiac disease. FODMAPs can be crippling to someone with a sensitivity, but following a FODMAPs elimination diet is usually enough to manage symptoms without medication of any kind.
But first, what are FODMAP-rich foods?
The main groups that are rich in FODMAPs include:
- Fructose (all higher sugar fruits, honey, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), agave, molasses, maple syrup, coconut nectar, etc.)
- Lactose (dairy)
- Fructans (wheat, garlic, onion, celery, coconut and coconut products (except the oil), asparagus, inulin, etc.)
- Galactans (all beans and legumes such as peas, fava beans and chickpeas, black beans, lentils, soybeans, etc.)
- Polyols (sweeteners containing isomalt, mannitol, maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, peaches, plums, apricots, prunes, avocados and other stone fruits).
Most of the vegetables that are known as the healthiest are high in FODMAPs. Whole grains and resistant starches are also high in FODMAPs because they contain high amounts of prebiotic fibers (which is what causes the digestive issues). Unlike most people who get used to these healthy fibers, people especially sensitive to FODMAPs only get worse with time. One dose can be enough to trigger a debilitating episode.
So if you’ve tried everything imaginable to heal your gut and cannot find relief, you may want to give this FODMAPs diet some thought. You’ll be glad to know there are an array of healthy foods you can eat.
Foods low in FODMAPs include:
- All meats, eggs, poultry and fish
- Meat alternatives: tempeh and tofu
- Most seeds (flax, chia, hemp, pumpkin, sunflower)
- Vegetables: green beans (technically a veggie, not a bean); all lettuces, spinach, kale, arugula, collards, and all other greens; carrots, zucchini and yellow squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, parsnips, radishes, rutabaga, bell peppers and cucumbers
- Dairy alternatives: almond and cashew milk, hemp milk (not coconut milk)
- Gluten-free grains: gluten-free oats and oat bran, small amounts of quinoa and teff; wild rice, black rice, brown and white rice; gluten-free crackers; plain popcorn
- Herbs and spices (watch hot spices since they can be a trigger)
- Some nuts and seeds, though they can be hard on some people’s systems — nut butters tend to work better
- Low fructose fruits in small servings: pineapple, tomato, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, raspberries; citrus of all kinds, oranges, tangerines (no fruit juice)
- Coffee, tea, water
- Most all seasonings without garlic, onions or the ingredients above
How do you know if you are sensitive to FODMAPs?
Some of the key signs of FODMAP sensitivity include:
- Reacting strongly after eating several (or all) of the foods above, including gas, bloating, pain, or digestive disturbance of any kind
- Have tried multiple food allergy tests without success
- Cramping after eating
- IBS tendencies and IBD
Why are FODMAP diets helpful?
It’s important not to pass off digestive symptoms as minor issues; an untreated FODMAP sensitivity can lead to an imbalance in gut bacteria, which can trigger SIBO (small intestinal bowel overgrowth) and fungal overgrowth, as well as gut inflammation. When this happens, bad bacteria start to take over the body and most all foods end up fermenting in the gut and go undigested. If left untreated, those undigested particles end up in the bloodstream and can trigger autoimmune disease disorders and severe health issues as a consequence.
Digestive health is incredibly important. If you eat a food that causes you pain, it’s important to stop eating that food no matter how many health benefits it claims to have.
Remember, we all have different bodies with different needs; while one person may tolerate boatloads of bananas and oranges for a meal, another may find they bloat, become constipated and feel very ill after eating them. People with digestive issues tend to do well with a lower sugar and lower fermentable diet. This might mean avoiding many healthy foods, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy plenty of delicious meals with nutritious ingredients low in FODMAPs.
Some great recipes to make on a FODMAPs diet might include:
- Sweet potato or brown rice with salmon, kale and herbs
- Sweet potato or pumpkin puree with almond butter and chia seeds for breakfast
- Smoothie with almond milk, a quarter of a cup of raspberries, 2 tablespoons of chia seeds, plant-based protein (gluten-free and no added sugar) with ice and stevia
- Spinach salad with a small amount of carrots, plenty of cucumbers and zucchini (grilled or plain), herbs, mustard, olive oil, and sliced almonds with a protein of choice
- Plain oatmeal or quinoa flakes with strawberries, flax and cashew milk or almond milk with stevia
- Salad with tempeh and cucumbers, herbs, sprouts and carrots with tahini dressing and pumpkin seeds
What to do if you are sensitive to FODMAPs:
Some people will find they tolerate FODMAP-rich foods in very small quantities. Others may find they don’t tolerate any foods high in FODMAPs, so adjust your diet to fit your needs if you suspect FODMAPs are an issue.
It is also important to take a probiotic and avoid fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, since cabbage is very high in FODMAPs and adding wild fermented foods can sometimes make bloating worse. You’ll want to take a probiotic without inulin, wheat, gluten, FOS (a fermentable sugar) or dairy to be safe.
The best way to start is simply building your menu based on foods that are low in FODMAPs. It’s very easy to do. You can now download an app that will tell you what to look for at the store and how to cook and prepare dishes that are low in FODMAPs. The app was designed by The Monash University, the leading and most respected university for its studies and success with the FODMAPs diet. You can download and learn more about the app on iTunes or for Android.
You can also check out online sources regarding the FODMAPs diet. It has become widely accepted and is undergoing more and more research due to its effectiveness at treating IBS and other gastrointestinal problems. It is easier than ever to find help.
Here are some sources you may enjoy:
There are also many blogs that include FODMAPs recipes and diet tips.
Have you tried the FODMAPs diet? What are some healthy meal ideas using low FODMAP foods?