Low-FODMAP Diet for IBS

The connection between FODMAPs and IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common gastrointestinal condition many adults suffer.

IBS makes a person’s gastrointestinal system, usually the small and large intestines, very sensitive, resulting in symptoms like diarrhoea, bloating, excessive gas and abdominal pain.

FODMAP means Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.

The gastrointestinal symptoms mentioned could be caused due to the small intestine’s inability to absorb these short-chain carbohydrates.

These symptoms may occur when the FODMAPs, instead of being absorbed into the small intestines, make their way further into the intestines where your gut microbiome lives.

When the bacteria in the gut microbiome start to use these sugars for energy, they release hydrogen gas and trigger other gastrointestinal symptoms in people with IBS.

FODMAPs are also osmotically active, meaning they can draw in water from your bloodstream and into the intestines, causing diarrhoea.

FODMAPs could worsen existing symptoms for those with IBS, making day-to-day activities very difficult.

FODMAPs may exist in these foods:

  • Wheat, legumes and certain vegetables may contain oligosaccharides.
  • Lactose is a common disaccharide found in milk or yoghurt.
  • Fructose is a monosaccharide found mainly in fruits and vegetables.
  • Artificial sweeteners and some fruits like blackberries may contain polyols.

These sugars are very common in the food we eat every day and for a person with IBS, a diet involving these foods may trigger their IBS symptoms. Fortunately, a person can enjoy a steady diet by following a low FODMAP diet for IBS.

Low FODMAP diet for IBS: What to eat 

Low FODMAP diets are ideal for reducing symptoms of IBS in the long run.

Since there is no direct diagnosis or cure for IBS, this diet may give patients some relief. It has been observed that about 75% of patients have benefited after following this diet plan.

Some IBS patients were even reported to have high energy levels when following the diet, though this claim is still under research.

Before we go deeper into the low FODMAP diet plan, it should be noted that FODMAPs cannot be eliminated from your diet completely.

The diet mainly focuses on reducing the amount of FODMAPs you consume to reduce IBS symptoms and help maintain a healthy diet.

Different people also react to FODMAPs differently, so everyone trying out this diet plan may need their low FODMAP diet tailored to suit them.

Here’s a list of low-FODMAP foods to include in your diet:

Meat, eggs and fish: These foods are ideal as long as you use very few ingredients containing FODMAPs when preparing them.

Seeds and nuts: Peanuts, almonds, and sesame seeds are great though nuts like cashews and pistachios, which are high in FODMAPs, should be avoided.

Sweeteners: Natural sweeteners like honey and molasses are better alternatives to regular sugar and artificial sweeteners should be avoided since they may contain polyols.

Low lactose dairy products: All dairy products naturally have lactose but some have a lower lactose content, namely hard cheese, kefir (a beverage made of animal milk and fermented with kefir grains), camel milk and probiotic yoghurts and for patients with lactose intolerance, soy milk or almond milk may be viable options.

Oils and fats: All oils and fats are relatively low in FODMAPs, especially olive oil and coconut oil, making them safe for IBS patients (excessive consumption is not recommended).

Grain: Tapioca, corn and quinoa are good for IBS patients.

Before adding any of these foods to your new diet, please speak with a dietitian or a gastrointestinal specialist.

Making your low FODMAP diet plan

The first step to creating your diet plan is to get a proper diagnosis; your gastrointestinal problems after eating certain foods may also be due to other conditions like food allergies.

Once you’ve confirmed your gastrointestinal symptoms are caused by IBS it’s time to start working on your diet plan.

Step 1: Avoiding food that triggers IBS symptoms

First, you need to identify which foods have FODMAPs and avoid eating them for at least six weeks. For this step, you will need a gastrointestinal specialist to guide and help you identify which food you need to avoid.

If your condition improves during these six weeks, you will know that you are indeed sensitive to FODMAPs.

Step 2: Reintroducing the food you avoided

This step comes after your symptoms have calmed down over a few weeks. You start reintroducing the foods you avoided back into your system, under your doctor’s supervision and guidance. Doing this may enable you to pinpoint which foods you’re sensitive to.

You may only react to one or two FODMAPs—it’s not likely that a person may be sensitive to all FODMAPs.

Step 3: Making your unique diet plan

Once you’ve discovered which FODMAPs you’re sensitive to, you can start making a list of the food you can eat.

Despite these foods being relatively low in FODMAPs, the way you prepare them is important—you should try to use as few ingredients containing FODMAPs as possible.

After sorting out your low FODMAP diet, you should work on a meal plan.

Who should follow the low FODMAP diet?

This diet is suitable for adults suffering from IBS; research on low FODMAP diets for children with IBS symptoms is very limited so having your children take up this diet plan should only be considered after speaking to a pediatrician.

Also, this diet is a very involved process, so it should not be practised if you are going through a stressful time or if you’re travelling.

Low FODMAP diet for IBS—simple relief for a common problem

Even though IBS is not curable at this point in medical science, it’s a condition that may be kept under control so that you can go about your daily life, and a low FODMAP diet is a simple and effective way to keep your IBS symptoms in check.


Suhirdan Vivekanandarajah
Suhirdan Vivekanandarajahhttp://sydneygutclinic.com
Dr Suhirdan Vivekanandarajah is a gastroenterologist and hepatologist based in Sydney. He leads a team of talented gastroenterologists at the Sydney Gut Clinic and specialises in clinical and interventional gastroenterology. Learn more about him here.
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