Can a low FODMAP diet relieve painful digestive health issues?

For those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), daily meals can be a struggle. IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder that causes abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. With up to 45 million Americans affected, discovering a diet that helps reduce uncomfortable symptoms can be a relief.

The low FODMAP diet emerged in popularity over the past few years, assisting many in discovering which foods trigger sensitivities. But why should you consider it and how does it work?

Here’s what you need to know:

What are FODMAPs?

FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are a collection of carbohydrates (sugars) present in many additives and foods. The gut often has trouble absorbing FODMAPs, triggering symptoms in people who struggle with IBS.

How do they affect digestion?

What we eat can stimulate our innate immune system to produce symptoms of GI intolerance. Foods with FODMAPs (like cheese, wheat, milk and certain fruits) can often result in poor absorption in the small intestine, fermentation that leads to gas production, distention of the gastrointestinal system and diarrhea. A diet low in FODMAPs may improve symptoms and beneficially alter the gut microbiome, which is crucial for digestive health.

How do I start?

Ideally, you should work with a gastroenterologist and dietician to implement this diet. You will typically eliminate foods that are high in FODMAPs, then slowly reintroduce foods to see what is tolerated (or not) over the course of 3-6 months. This approach is tailored to each patient.

What are some examples of high FODMAP foods?

A few common foods that are high in FODMAPs are garlic, pastas, onions, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cottage cheese, cream cheese and milk. Find a full list here and talk with your gastroenterologist or nutritionist about substitutes that are safe for your GI system.

Keep in mind that the low FODMAP diet is not a long-term solution. The enduring effects of this diet are not known, and patients often struggle to adhere to the stringent requirements. Instead, view it as a path to identifying foods that trigger symptoms and adjust your meal choices accordingly.  

Need a gastroenterologist? Make an appointment with a gastroenterologist near you.