FODMAP: What you need to know

Do you suffer from a nervy or unsettled tummy? Do you have trouble digesting certain foods but are unsure what to eat and what to avoid? You may benefit from a low-FODMAP diet 

Something to eat – Fish
Something to eat – Oranges
Something to avoid – cauliflower

This isn’t generally a topic we talk about easily, but chances are many of us will develop some form of digestive problem such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) atsome point in our lives. IBS is not a disease – it’s a number of symptoms that occur together, including chronic diarrhoea, stomach cramping and bloating. Related conditions include coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s disease.

In Australia, one in seven adults suffers from IBS – but numbers could be higher, given the fact that the typical symptoms aren’t readily discussed or admitted to. It’s been estimated that IBS affects 15-20 percent of people in the US and Europe, and Southern Cross Healthcare suggests a similar rate of occurrence exists in New Zealand.

For those with IBS, eating and the period of time following meals can at times be difficult and uncomfortable. While the causes of these chronic digestive distress syndromes are still largely unknown, there is a lot of attention being given to how a person’s diet may help alleviate symptoms. In particular, doctors from Monash University in Melbourne have developed the low-FODMAP diet – a clinically proven dietary management system.

What is a FODMAP?

The term FODMAP is an acronym for certain short-chain carbohydrates that are difficult for the body to absorb. They include Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols (related sugar alcohols). 

These carbohydrates are commonly found in the modern Western diet and have been linked to IBS and other gastrointestinal disorders. Common examples of foods containing short-chain carbohydrates include onions, wheat, many flours, lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans, cow’s milk, honey, apples, asparagus, apricots, nectarines, prunes, cauliflower and mushrooms. Limiting these FODMAPs from the diet can have a beneficial effect. 

How do low-FODMAP diets work? 

Dietitian and nutritionist, Dr Sue Shepherd, began experimenting with the low-FODMAP diet in 1999 as a means to relieve the symptoms of those suffering from coeliac disease. Typical symptoms of this condition include gas, bloating, pain and discomfort, diarrhoea and constipation. After promising study results, Dr Shepherd joined forces with Professor Peter Gibson to conduct further studies, and applying their findings, they achieved a reduction in symptoms by 75 percent of subjects with IBS.

A low-FODMAP diet isn’t recommended by experts as a sustainable long-term diet, but rather as an effective method for identifying personal triggers and helping to manage symptoms. Typically, a low-FODMAP diet encourages complete elimination of FODMAP-containing foods for a period of time, followed by their slow reintroduction. Some FODMAP foods can be more troublesome than others, so an elimination diet and reintroduction plan can help pinpoint problem foods. This allows sufferers to gauge personal tolerances and triggers that can be managed long term.

Which foods contain FODMAPs? 

Unfortunately for IBS sufferers, FODMAPs are found in a wide range of everyday foods, including garlic, chickpeas, watermelons, cashews, avocados, pears, cherries, corn syrup and more. However, just because a low-FODMAP diet involves cutting out many pantry staples, it doesn’t mean you can’t also enjoy delicious meals. Understanding what you can and can’t have, being prepared and exploring new recipes can put the pleasure back into eating. Finding ways to recreate favourite meals can also provide a solution for those who feel that they’ve been sentenced to a life of bland meals. 

For more information, advice, and recipes, see The Quiet Gut Cookbook: 135 low-FODMAP recipes to soothe symptoms of IBS, IBD and celiac disease. By Exisle Publishing 2015, $25 

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