- FODMAPs are poorly absorbed, highly fermentable sugars that don’t completely digest in the small intestine, leading to abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea.
- A low-FODMAP diet can help eliminate symptoms associated with functional abdominal pain and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
- When you follow an 8-week low FODMAP elimination and reintroduction protocol you’ll be able to zero-in on which FODMAPs are your biggest triggers.
We all know that certain foods can wreak havoc on the gut, including dairy and gluten, but you might be surprised to learn that there are some seemingly innocuous yet deeply destructive dietary staples lurking in your meals. Garlic, apples, and brussels sprouts—they all seem perfectly healthy and beneficial, but they’re actually common triggers associated with functional abdominal pain and irritable bowel syndrome. In this guide, we’re going over all these sneaky ingredients, which fall into a category of foods known as FODMAPs.
As you may know, the low-FODMAP diet has gained popularity for its impressive ability to help people with digestive issues find relief. The Low-FODMAP program is based on Monash University’s research, which indicates that up to 75 percent of people feel better when using a low-FODMAP diet to treat symptoms of IBS. But, since the foods within this category are seemingly everywhere, is it possible to eliminate them altogether? In this guide, we’ll go over all these potentially problematic foods to help you decide whether a low-FODMAP meal plan may be right for you.
What Does FODMAP Stand for?
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols, which are types of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that are slowly absorbed or poorly digested. When FODMAPs arrive at the small intestine, they have not been broken down and digested as well as non-FODMAP foods. Due to the poor absorption, FODMAPs draw in water to help aid in digestion and absorption. Although, this extra water leads to pain and discomfort.
Why Are FODMAPs Problematic?
As FODMAPs move from the small intestine to the large intestine (colon), they bring along water. This excess water contributes to a feeling of fullness and bloating. This then contributes to diarrhea. At the same time, these foods are being fermented, which leads to gas. That’s because the gut bacteria is working overtime to help break down carbohydrates and aid in absorption.
The problem is, many FODMAPs are the ideal for these hungry bacteria. As the bacteria rapidly consumes and ferments these FODMAPs, it produces gas causing your stomach distention (stretching). As the intestines expand, the nerves throughout your digestive system send pain signals to the brain, which is why you may feel like you have a stomach ache after consuming these foods.
It’s important to note that FODMAP foods are not a problem for many people. It’s generally only people who suffer from existing bowel disorders, such as IBS or functional abdominal pain, who find them difficult to digest. Though it’s not entirely understood why this is, researchers believe it’s because people with these conditions have more sensitivity in the digestive tract or the immune system, resulting in more intense symptoms.
F Is for Fermentable
The F in FODMAP stands for fermentable. Unlike the rest of the acronym, the F does not represent a type of sugar. Instead, it serves as a descriptor of the letters that follow—O, D, M and P. This category encompasses the rapidly fermentable foods that quickly break down when they come into contact with the bacteria and enzymes within the gut. This is a recipe for gassiness!
Since we know that eating fermented foods is good for us, it may be confusing to learn that some kinds of fermentation can actually worsen our digestive health. Indeed, fermentation is a natural part of the digestive system that is actually beneficial. The process is designed to break down carbohydrates that can be used for energy and release important nutrients, such as fatty acids and lactic acid. In other words, it’s the microbial flora and their fermentation process that actually helps us digest nutrients and put them to good use throughout the body.
But fermentation at the wrong speed and in the wrong place can cause serious issues. The problems come when the body breaks down and ferments foods too early or too quickly, sometimes beginning in the small intestine. While one of the large intestine’s core functions is to ferment food, the small intestine wasn’t designed for this, which is where the problems arise. Fermentation continues to occur in the large intestine, leading to stomach pain, bloating and gassiness. Indeed, fermentation is the most productive source of intestinal gas.
O Is for OLIGOSACCHARIDES (Fructans and Galactans)
Now for the first carb in the lineup: Oligosaccharides. These are compounds that contain between two and 10 different forms of sugars, with two of the most problematic being short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides (fructans) and galacto-oligosaccharides (galactans or GOS), which are poorly absorbed in the human digestive tract.
Like fermented foods, there’s a good side and a bad side to these sugars. They contain a lot of dietary fiber, which is good, but they also feed the bacteria, leading to gas, diarrhea and discomfort, which is bad. Oligosaccharides can be broken down into two categories: fructans and galactans.
- Fructans—Fructans are a dietary fiber made up of the monosaccharide fructose. This category includes foods such as alliums (garlic and onions), cruciferous vegetables (arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower) and breads.
- Galactans—Galactans or galacto-oligosaccharides are short-chain carbohydrates that are made up of galactose and glucose joined together. They are found in beans, peas, lentils and some root vegetables.
D Is for DISACCHARIDES (Lactose)
Disaccharides are among the most triggering kinds of carbohydrates for many people with digestive issues. They are a class of sugars containing two monosaccharide residues, and include the highly fermentable sugars found in milk and dairy, called lactose. This category comprises mostly dairy products, such as milk-based foods and soft cheeses.
If you’ve ever noticed that you get a stomach ache and diarrhea after enjoying a delicious bowl of ice cream, then disaccharides may be one of your biggest triggers. Luckily, this isn’t the worst trigger to have, since—thanks to the massive prevalence of those with lactose intolerance and sensitivities—there are so many excellent dairy alternatives out there!*
Some of the disaccharides to avoid in the FODMAP diet include:
- Milk (from cows, goats and sheep)
- Evaporated milk
- Condensed milk
- Ice cream and other dairy-based desserts
- Ricotta cheese
- Cottage cheese
- Cream cheese
*Just be careful because some of the milk alternatives are actually high in FODMAPs, including soy milk made from soybeans. Look for FODMAP-friendly milks made from soy protein extract, almond milk and hemp milk.
M Is for MONOSACCHARIDES (Fructose)
Monosaccharides are the FODMAP carbohydrate most responsible for causing digestive duress after consuming fruits. Otherwise known as simple sugars, monosaccharides are a class of sugars that can’t be hydrolyzed to create a simpler sugar. The monosaccharides that ferment quickly can be problematic for those of us with gut sensitivities. Fructose is one of the most common triggers of severe IBS symptoms, and research shows that fructose intolerance is majorly on the rise, affecting as many as one in 20,000 people worldwide.
Highly fermentable monosaccharides include fruit sugar (fructose), which is especially prevalent in fruit favorites like watermelons, apples, honey and high-fructose corn syrup. They are also found in certain vegetables, including broccoli, asparagus and artichoke.
Some of the monosaccharides to avoid in the FODMAP diet include:
A Is for AND...
P Is for POLYOLS (Sorbitol and Mannitol)
The final category in the FODMAP diet is polyols, otherwise known as sugar alcohols. Similar to monosaccharides, polyols are found in a wide variety of fruits, including apples, peaches and avocados. They are also added to certain foods as sweeteners, like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and maltitol. This may explain why you experience diarrhea or excessive gas after eating sugar-free candies (such as sugar-free gummy bears), which tend to be packed with these alternative sweeteners.
Some of the polyols to avoid in the FODMAP diet include:
What Is a Low-FODMAP Diet?
So now that you understand how FODMAP foods can affect your digestive health, you can see why it could be beneficial to eliminate them from your diet. But, of course, complete FODMAP elimination would be extremely challenging and unrealistic since these foods seem to be found in just about everything! As a result, a low-FODMAP diet is meant to be temporary. With ModifyHealth, the process takes around eight weeks and requires you to eliminate foods and reintroduce them in the following phases:
- Elimination: For two to three weeks, you will swap high-FODMAP foods for low-FODMAP alternatives. This is extremely simple with our low-FODMAP meal plans.
- Reintroduction: During the next six weeks, you will systematically re-introduce higher FODMAP foods under the guidance of a dietitian. This will help you learn the specific foods and categories of foods which trigger your symptoms.
- Personalization: During this phase, you will expand your diet and learn how to enjoy many more foods. Rather than maintaining a strict low-FODMAP diet, you’ll be able to create a balance between FODMAP foods that are well-tolerated by you and those that are not.
Should You Try a Low-FODMAP Diet?
Because of the fact that so many people tend to have sensitivities with the foods that fall under the above categories, this kind of elimination diet can help you create an impactful IBS diet plan that can seriously enhance your digestive health and, as a result, your overall quality of life. But, like every elimination diet, it can bring some significant changes in your overall health, which means it’s not right for everyone.
Though they’re helpful for those with gluten sensitivities, FODMAP elimination diets may not be the best course of action for those with Celiac disease, as they aim to eliminate glucose, not gluten, so they may still include trigger foods. However, they can work well for people with non-Celiac gluten sensitivity because they may be the FODMAPs in wheat that are triggering this sensitivity. It’s also not the right course of action for people with eating disorders and those who are underweight.
If you have pre-existing conditions or believe you may have an undiagnosed condition related to your digestive health, it’s a good idea to speak with your physician before starting any elimination diet.
Try Low-FODMAP Meal Delivery
The easiest way to try a low-FODMAP diet is to sign up for the Low-FODMAP Program from ModifyHealth. This allows you to discover which foods are causing your digestive issues so you can eliminate them yourself in the future. If you already know which FODMAPs are your main triggers or simply want to cut back on them as much as possible, you can order low-FODMAP meals so you can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner without worry.