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What is a low FODMAP Diet: Who, What, and Why?

Remember the old adage “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”?  Well that may need revamping for those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 20% of Americans suffer from IBS.  That's a whole lotta folks.

Apples are one of the many “healthy” foods that could be causing some of your IBS symptoms like abdominal bloating, diarrhea, gas, and abdominal pain.  Other surprisingly healthy, but high FODMAP foods besides apples include: watermelon, asparagus, onions, garlic, broccoli, wheat products, dairy products containing lactose, and several kinds of beans.  A bit confusing, but worth checking into.

FODMAP is an acronym for a number of carbohydrates and stands for:

Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides And Polyols (a kind of sugar)

A low FODMAP diet is a treatment for IBS, not a weight loss diet.  It is a short-term, temporary way of eating to determine which specific foods may be causing your uncomfortable symptoms.  A low FODMAP diet is actually an “elimination diet”

You eliminate very specific high FODMAP foods from your diet to determine which foods may be causing your symptoms.  Symptoms occur when your body isn’t able to breakdown specific food items.  Then, those undigested carbohydrates act like a sponge absorbing water into your gut which causes bloating and discomfort.

Some of the foods are healthy foods, but ones you may not be able to process well.  Everyone is a little different and what causes bloating in you may not be the culprit for someone else.

After you eliminate the high FODMAP foods, you very slowly and systematically add them back to your diet, one at a time, so you can identify which exact food triggers your symptoms.  This could take up to 6 weeks or longer.

Similar to research showing that gluten is the trigger for celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, carbohydrates that are high FODMAP foods have been identified as the potential source for digestive discomfort.  Researchers at Monash University in Australia were the early trailblazers for FODMAP research and treatment.  They began in 2006 and are still making new high FODMAP food discoveries today.  (Stay up to date with the latest data by using the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App for $9.99.)

We highly recommended that you work with a registered dietitian who is trained in administering a low FODMAP diet protocol.  They can help plan meals to replace the eliminated foods so you can maintain balanced nutrition.  See our list FODMAP Resources including registered dietitians specializing in low FODMAP diets.

If you’re unable to find a registered dietitian or can’t afford the cost, you can try the elimination diet protocol on the Gluten Freedom Project website to give you an idea if eliminating some high FODMAP foods does indeed lessen your symptoms.

Similar to celiac disease, IBS patients may be able to treat or lessen their symptoms with a careful diet, eliminating the need to take medications.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.

— Hippocrates, father of medicine, 431 B.C.