FODMAPs and IBS: What’s the deal?

You may have heard of FODMAPs in the media, and thought to yourself, what on earth is a ‘fod-map’ (or ‘food-map as a friend called it!)? And what does it have to do with your gut?

What are FODMAPs?

FODMAPs were discovered by Sue Shepherd, and the research team at Monash University have been leading the way in research relating to IBS, and the role that FODMAPs plays in symptoms.

FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. When these carbohydrates are poorly absorbed in the small intestine increased water can be drawn into the gut. This can result in diarrhoea in some people, whilst for others, the carbohydrates travel to the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria, producing gas. This gas can lead to symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including bloating, constipation, flatulence, pain and nausea. Common high FODMAP foods include garlic, onion, apples, milk, mushrooms, bread and chickpeas (among a whole range of others).

Who needs to worry about them and why?

Are you sick of feeling embarrassed in meetings because you need to pass wind? Looking like you are 3 months pregnant (but you aren’t)? Or needing to know where every bathroom nearby is, just in case you need to make an emergency stop? If this sounds like you, you may be suffering from IBS.

At present, approximately one in seven Australians suffer from this difficult condition. IBS can be defined through symptoms of cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, wind, constipation and diarrhea. It is a chronic condition, meaning long term management is required, though symptoms and severity often change over time. Symptoms can often worsen in times of stress. Research indicates that following a low FODMAP diet is the most effective way of managing IBS, with three in four people finding an improvement in symptoms.

What is the process?

Through reducing consumption of high FODMAP foods, symptoms of IBS can clear up in a matter of weeks. This is referred to as following a low FODMAP diet. It is important to remember that a strict low FODMAP diet is a diagnostic tool; it is not recommended to be stuck to long term. Once it has been determined that FODMAPs are causing grief, moving through a series of food challenges is essential, to help determine which FODMAPs are an individuals’ triggers.

Why not just stay low FODMAP?

Most people do not react to all the high FODMAP groups of foods. Identifying these means that we can re-introduce the groups of foods that weren’t a problem, then determine tolerance levels of those that were. This is recommended for the following reasons:

  • Most people with IBS can maintain good symptom control with reintroduction of some high FODMAP foods. This makes it easier to make informed choices when not in control of food choices, and better management of symptoms on a daily basis.
  • Avoiding unnecessary restrictions helps to ensure a nutritionally adequate diet.
  • Many high FODMAP foods are also high in prebiotics. These provide food for the healthy bacteria that are found in your gut. Long term avoidance of these may affect the health of your microbiome.

What if a low FODMAP diet doesn’t work?

Other things can trigger symptoms of IBS. These include fatty foods, spicy foods and caffeine. Stress also plays a key role in symptom management; managing stress levels regularly helps with reducing symptoms.

 

If you are suffering from IBS, trialling a low FODMAP diet may be a life changer for you.

First published in Medibank’s be. magazine.

Additional reading:

Monash University: Low FODMAP diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

 

Written by Chloe McLeod, Accredited Practising Dietitian. Chloe is the Director of The FODMAP Challenge, www.fodmapchallenge.com.

Check out The FODMAP Challenge via Facebook: @TheFodmapChallenge.

 

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