What is FODMAP?
- 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. These digestive symptoms are typically referred to as irritable bowel syndrome.
- 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 trigger IBS symptoms.
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 harmless 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. We will also dive in on which foods are considered low FODMAP foods and which foods are considered high FODMAP foods. Hopefully, this information will help you decide whether the low FODMAP diet is right for you and help you manage your digestive symptoms.
As you may know, the low FODMAP diet has gained popularity for its impressive ability to help people with uncomfortable digestive symptoms caused by gastrointestinal disorders 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 irritable bowel syndrome. Since high FODMAP foods are seemingly everywhere, is it possible to eliminate them altogether?
In this guide, we’ll go over all these potentially problematic high FODMAP foods to help you decide whether a low FODMAP meal plan may be right for you. If you have already been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and frequently experience IBS symptoms then we highly suggest you consider the low FODMAP diet. Figuring out which foods you commonly eat are high FODMAP foods and low FODMAP foods will greatly improve your quality of life. The only way to accurately identify which foods trigger your digestive symptoms is to complete the low FODMAP diet.
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. This extra water is what causes abdominal pain and discomfort along with other gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. To avoid these symptoms and manage irritable bowel syndrome, you must figure out which low FODMAP foods you can eat by completing the low FODMAP diet.
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. This is typically what is happening in someone's digestive system is they have irritable bowel syndrome.
The problem is, many FODMAPs are ideal for these hungry bacteria. As the bacteria rapidly consume and ferment 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. People with chronic digestive health conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth may also experience similar GI symptoms when eating high FODMAP foods. 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, which can trigger IBS 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.
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.
What is a Low FODMAP diet?
So now that you understand how high FODMAP foods can affect your digestive health and cause IBS symptoms, 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 low FODMAP diet takes around eight weeks and requires you to eliminate high FODMAP foods and reintroduce them in the following phases:
- Elimination Phase: During the elimination phase of 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 Phase: 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 that trigger symptoms.
- Personalization Phase: 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 the low FODMAP diet is not right for everyone.
Though they’re helpful for those with gluten sensitivities, the low FODMAP diet 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 health 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 such as the low FODMAP diet.
Try Low FODMAP Diet 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 determine if FODMAPs are playing a role in your GI symptoms and discover which foods are causing your digestive issues so you can eliminate them from your diet. 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 and entrée without worry.
The Low FODMAP diet can be difficult, but ModifyHealth makes it easy with fully prepared, Low FODMAP meals and optional Dietitian support. If you have irritable bowel syndrome or a different gastrointestinal disorder then the Low FODMAP diet is something that can help improve your quality of life. People who follow the Low FODMAP diet typically see results in as little as 2 weeks and 80% of people who complete the FODMAP elimination diet report long-term benefits.