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October 3, 2022 • read
Low FODMAP diet: benefits and food list
Having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder that affects the gastrointestinal tract, can interfere with your everyday life. It often causes pain, discomfort, and constant trips to the washroom. And, IBS may be even worse if you aren’t sure which foods are causing your stomach to react.
While there’s no cure for IBS, there are changes you can make to help reduce your symptoms, including the low FODMAP diet. Before making any changes to your eating habits, however, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider to make sure it’s right for you.
Maple is a virtual care platform with Canadian-licensed doctors and healthcare providers, including dietitians. A dietitian can help you get on the right track to gut health and minimize your IBS symptoms by creating a custom meal plan to suit your lifestyle.
If you’ve heard about the low FODMAP diet but don’t know what it is or how it works, we’ll break it down for you.
What is the low FODMAP diet?
“FODMAP” stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. While these words might look long and complicated, they’re simply short-chain carbohydrates, or “sugars”, found in certain foods, like fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk products, and sweeteners. People with IBS, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or other bowel disorders often have difficulty tolerating high FODMAP foods since they’re fermented by intestinal bacteria and poorly absorbed by the small intestine.
The full low FODMAP diet is an elimination diet that helps you figure out which FODMAP foods you can handle, and which ones you can’t, by helping to regulate gut microbiota and improve IBS symptoms. To begin, record a log of your normal diet for three days leading up to the start of the elimination. Then you’ll eliminate high FODMAP foods over the course of two to six weeks. Remember that replacing high FODMAP foods with healthy alternatives is important to ensure a balanced diet.
When this is complete, you’ll slowly introduce one high FODMAP food into your diet at a time, increasing the amount of that food over a three-day period. Keep track of each food and symptoms as they arise in your food log. The reintroduction of high FODMAP foods typically takes between eight to 12 weeks. Once complete, you should have a good view of which foods exacerbate your symptoms.
What are the symptoms of FODMAP intolerance?
Common digestive symptoms of FODMAP intolerance include gas, abdominal pain, distention, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and pain after consuming high FODMAP foods. But there are actually two processes that can occur when you eat FODMAP foods, triggering these symptoms:
1. FODMAPs are fermented by gut bacteria, which creates gas, distention, bloating, and cramping.
2. FODMAPS are highly osmotic, meaning they pull water from the body into the small and large bowel, which can cause diarrhea.
It can take anywhere between six to 24 hours before FODMAP foods ferment in the colon, causing those uncomfortable symptoms we mentioned above. But if you’re convinced that you feel symptoms right away, it may be something else known as the gastro-colic reflex.
Since the food you’ve already eaten sits in your digestive system for about 24 hours, the gastro-colic reflex kicks when you eat again to move that older food along into the colon, prompting the pressing feeling to have a bowel movement.
This can make it difficult to figure out which foods are problematic for your gut, so it’s beneficial to keep a food and symptom journal handy to be aware of what you’re eating, feeling, and when.
What foods must be avoided on a low FODMAP diet?
The high FODMAP foods list is pretty long, but it’s worth avoiding these items if you discover they’re causing those awful symptoms. Keep in mind that there’s the full low FODMAP elimination diet — which we’ve been talking about — and a simplified approach for those with mild IBS symptoms.
The simplified approach means replacing specific high FODMAP foods you eat often and feel trigger your symptoms with low FODMAP foods for two to six weeks — it’s not a full elimination diet. If there’s an improvement after a few weeks, you can re-introduce the problematic foods in controlled portions or stop eating them temporarily to help keep your symptoms under control.
On top of that, certain foods considered high FODMAP can actually be low FODMAP when you stick to a suggested serving size, and vice versa. If this sounds confusing, support from a dietitian would be beneficial to help you discover which of these diets to follow and all of the serving sizes and foods that come with it.
For now, here’s a general overview of high FODMAP foods. The list includes but isn’t limited to:
- Dried fruits like apricots and raisins
- Cottage cheese
- Fizzy drinks with high-fructose corn syrup or crystalline fructose
- Apple juice
If that long list has you wanting to pull the chute, don’t worry. There are many low FODMAP alternatives you can still eat.
What foods can you eat on a low FODMAP diet?
Below is a list of foods you can eat that don’t typically cause painful stomach issues. We say “typically” because it’s not a guarantee that this diet will work for everyone with IBS, but it has been shown to help many. The low FODMAP foods list includes but isn’t limited to:
- Bok choy
- Lactose-free milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt
- Hard or aged cheeses
- Gluten-free products — check the label first to make sure there aren’t additional high-FODMAP ingredients
- Sesame seeds
- Filtered coffee
- Green, black, and peppermint tea
- Granulated sugar
- Brown sugar
Don’t forget that meat, fish, poultry, and eggs are all safe for a low FODMAP diet plan — just beware of processed or marinated meats as they may contain high FODMAP ingredients, like garlic or onion.
What are the benefits of a low FODMAP diet?
When you hear the term “diet” you might automatically think of its effects on losing weight. But a low FODMAP diet is a serious lifestyle change, specifically designed to help those affected by digestive disorders— mainly IBS — that can really make a difference in their lives.
Research shows that removing high FODMAP foods from one’s diet can improve the painful symptoms of IBS. It can also improve quality of life, psychological behaviour including anxiety, and even work performance for those with IBS who have to deal with diarrhea.
And, for other conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) including ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, fibromyalgia, and Celiac disease, a low FODMAP diet may also have a positive effect on alleviating functional gastrointestinal symptoms.
What are some tips for people starting a low FODMAP diet?
Now that you know what the low FODMAP diet entails, here are a few things you can do to make the process easier.
1. Keep a list handy of all low and high FODMAP foods. Whether this is on your phone or a printed-out piece of paper on the fridge, it’s extremely helpful. FODMAP food lists are long, as you’ve discovered already, so you don’t want to put in all that effort of getting started and potentially eating the wrong thing.
2. Don’t think about how many foods you “can’t” eat — look at it as “I’m going to find out what’s adding to my stomach troubles.” Yes, a low FODMAP diet is limiting, but there are still plenty of foods you can eat, and it’ll be worth it in the long run to pinpoint which foods cause your symptoms.
3. Continue eating a healthy, well-balanced diet by supplementing your meals with foods that aren’t high FODMAP. Choose nutrient-rich “safe foods” like beef, chicken, fish, eggs, almond milk, quinoa, eggplants, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, and nuts and seeds, to name a few.
4. Plan ahead if you’re going to a restaurant. This can be a difficult transition at first, but looking at the menu online and calling the restaurant could save you a lot of pain later, and there may be hidden high FODMAP ingredients in a dish that you need to know about.
5. Start your low FODMAP diet meal plan under the supervision of a dietitian. There’s so much to know from beginning to end, including what your individual body needs and can tolerate. A dietitian can guide you through the entire process with a customized meal plan to make sure you’re also getting all of the nutrients you need.
Whether you have IBS or other gut health issues and want to try the low FODMAP diet for bloating, constipation, and more, Maple can help. Maple gives you access to Canadian-licensed doctors and healthcare providers from the comfort of your home. Just pick an appointment time that works for you, and you can see the healthcare provider online.
Maple’s dietitians are registered healthcare providers who can assess, diagnose, and treat nutritional and digestive concerns. They’ll help you navigate the low FODMAP diet, coaching you through what to eat and what to avoid, and provide a customized low FODMAP meal plan that fits your lifestyle.
If you’ve been worried about your gut health and want to try another route, a naturopathic doctor can help. Naturopathic doctors use natural therapies to diagnose, prevent, and treat illnesses holistically, including digestive issues.
Don’t live your life in pain, or in constant fear of what’s going to wreak havoc on your stomach. Whether you go the low FODMAP diet route or want to seek help another way to get your gut health and your life back, today’s the day to start.
This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.