Beans, cashews, blackberries, cauliflower and apples are loaded with fiber, antioxidants and nutrients. But if you’re sensitive to FODMAPs, certain super-healthy foods can wreak havoc on your gut — and an apple a day may not keep the doctor away. You’ve probably heard of the low-FODMAP diet as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gut issues. Here’s what you need to know.
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols — short-chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols. Found in a wide variety of foods, they’re not fully digested and absorbed by some people, especially those who have IBS or other digestive problems. In the colon, gut bacteria feed on these undigested sugars, releasing gasses that lead to bloating, cramping, stomach pain, constipation, gas and flatulence. FODMAPs may also have an osmotic effect, meaning they draw water into the intestines, causing loose stools.
A number of studies show the effectiveness of a low-FODMAP diet for reducing abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea in people with IBS. In some research, up to 75% of people with IBS reported relief from symptoms, and other studies suggest a low-FODMAP diet is more effective than standard dietary interventions for controlling IBS. Besides IBS, a low-FODMAP diet can also benefit other gastrointestinal disorders, including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
While a low-FODMAP plan can significantly ease IBS and IBD, it’s not a cure. FODMAPs themselves aren’t the root cause. Other factors — such as stress, overeating, eating too quickly, certain medications and hormonal influences — can trigger symptoms. And it’s not a magic bullet for all belly woes. Unless you’ve been diagnosed with IBS or IBD, a low-FODMAP diet may do more harm than good, masking underlying issues and delaying treatment. And restricting legumes, fruits and many vegetables can adversely impact the number and diversity of gut microbiota, leading to imbalances in the healthy bacteria and further digestive problems.
If you think you’d like to try a low-FODMAP plan, keep in mind that discovering which foods work for you can be a months-long process, so you’ll want to make sure you’re doing it right. This simple guide for what to eat and what to avoid can help you minimize adverse effects and maximize results.
How to Do It Right
The low-FODMAP diet is (or should be) a three-stage process. In the first phase, high-FODMAP foods are eliminated to ease gastrointestinal distress. In the second phase, some FODMAP foods are slowly and systematically reintroduced to determine which ones trigger symptoms. Ideally, you’ll work with a nutritionist to help you with the reintroduction phase, which usually takes six to eight weeks. The third phase aims to personalize the diet, reintroducing as many foods as possible, while avoiding FODMAPs that exacerbate discomfort. Check out the Monash University FODMAP Diet app for more info. Here’s how it works:
What to Eat, What to Avoid
The FODMAP diet is definitely restrictive in its initial phases. But there’s still plenty you can eat.
|Beans and Legumes||Small amounts of canned chickpeas and lentils (canned beans are generally lower in FODMAPs). Soaking dried beans overnight then draining and rinsing well before cooking also reduces FODMAP content.||Kidney beans, black beans, split peas, hummus and most legumes.|
|Fruits||Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapefruit, grapes, kiwi, cantaloupe, oranges, lemons, limes.||Apples, pears, cherries, mangos, figs, watermelon, dried fruit, blackberries, peaches, prunes, plums.|
|Vegetables||Spinach, kale, chard, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, parsnips, sweet potatoes, radishes, squash, turnips, zucchini.||Garlic, onions, artichokes, cauliflower, mushrooms, peas, celery, leeks, cabbage, shallots, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, fennel.|
|Dairy||Hard and aged cheeses like cheddar, Parmesan, blue cheese, Havarti and Swiss in moderation; smaller amounts of cottage cheese, ricotta, cream cheese, feta and Colby may be safe.||Milk, yogurt, soft cheeses, ice cream, sour cream, processed cheese foods and spreads, whey protein (unless it’s labeled lactose-free).|
|Grains||Rice, quinoa, corn, oats, tapioca.||Barley, rye, wheat.|
|Meat, Eggs and Plant-Based Protein||Chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, fish, shellfish, eggs; firm tofu, tempeh and edamame in moderation.||Soybeans, silken tofu, textured soy protein.|
|Nuts and Seeds||Almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds.||Cashews, pistachios.|
|Herbs and Spices||Most fresh and dried herbs and spices, including rosemary, basil, tarragon, parsley, ginger, chives.||Garlic, onions, seasoning blends that contain high-FODMAP ingredients.|
|Fats and Oils||Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, butter, most other oils and fats in moderation.||Oil-based condiments and salad dressings that may contain high-FODMAP ingredients like garlic.|
|Sweeteners||Cane sugar, stevia; small quantities of coconut sugar, maple syrup and brown sugar.||Honey, molasses, high-fructose corn syrup, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, sorbitol.|
|Beverages||Water, coffee, tea, some fruit and vegetable juices; small amounts of red or white wine.||Beer, fortified wines like sherry and port, milk, soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.|
Phase 1: Elimination
Most plans eliminate all high-FODMAP foods for three to eight weeks. It’s important to be rigorous; the diet likely won’t work if you’re eliminating some, but not all, high-FODMAP foods. You may feel relief in as little as a week (though it can take the full eight weeks for symptoms to ease).
Phase 2: Reintroduction
Once your digestive symptoms have eased, some FODMAP foods are slowly and systematically reintroduced. Few people are sensitive to all FODMAPs, so adding foods one at a time, in small amounts, allows you to identify what you can tolerate and in what quantity.
Phase 3: Personalization
This step involves creating a long-term, personalized plan that reintroduces safe foods identified in phase two. The goal is to eat a wide variety of foods, to maximize fiber intake and avoid trigger foods. FODMAP tolerance can change over time, so monitor symptoms and revise as needed.
Low-FODMAP Supplements: What You Need to Know
If you’re following a low-FODMAP diet, the right supplements can make up for missing nutrients and ease digestive issues. But sneaky FODMAPs in vitamins, minerals, probiotics, fiber and other supplements can sabotage your digestive system. Chewable tablets, gummies or powders are the most suspect; many contain high-FODMAP ingredients, like fruit or vegetable powders for taste, and fructose or sugar alcohols for sweetness. Pills and capsules may be laced with maltitol, mannitol and other troublesome ingredients. And even supplements formulated for digestive health, like probiotics or fiber, may contain hidden FODMAPs.
For the safest supplementing, check with your doctor or nutritionist, and look for FODMAP Friendly Certified versions. Enhance your diet, ease digestion and support your gut, with these three low-FODMAP essentials.
Balanced intestinal bacteria is essential for gut and digestive health — but if you’re following a low-FODMAP diet, you may be lacking in certain strains, especially Bifidobacterium. The right probiotic supplement can restore missing bugs, and research suggests probiotics can enhance the barrier function of the stomach and intestines, support digestive enzymes, protect against inflammation and improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The problem: many probiotic supplements contain added prebiotics designed to feed beneficial bugs — great for people with robust guts. But most are in the form of inulin, chicory root or galacto- and fructo-oligosaccharides (GOS and FOS), all high in FODMAPs, which can cause gas, bloating, and significant digestive distress.
Choose probiotics carefully; select one with a wide variety of strains, especially Bifidobacterium, and be sure it’s free from added prebiotics, inulin, chicory root, GOS and FOS.
Because low-FODMAP diets restrict or eliminate some fiber-rich foods, you may be lacking fiber. But amping up fiber from supplements can do more harm than good; in people with IBS or other digestive disturbances, fiber fermentation in the gut can trigger gas, bloating, and pain and wreak havoc on your healing digestive system. Chewable tablets, gummies and flavored fiber supplements are likely to contain high-FODMAP sweeteners, and many have added prebiotics, especially inulin and chicory fiber.
It’s best to get fiber from your diet—but if you do use a supplement, choose an unflavored, unsweetened version. Psyllium, methylcellulose, partially hydrogenated guar gum (PHGG), sterculia (karaya) gum or acacia fiber are considered safe.
If you have IBS, SIBO or other gastrointestinal issues, you may be deficient in enzymes needed to break down certain foods. The right digestive enzyme can enhance nutrient absorption and significantly improve the digestibility of foods, especially important in the reintroduction and personalization phases, as you’re adding back legumes, dairy and other high-FODMAP foods. And research suggests enzyme supplements ease symptoms and improve quality of life in people with inflammatory bowel disease and IBS.
Look for a broad-spectrum supplement, especially one with alpha-galactosidase, an enzyme that helps break down oligosaccharides in legumes, peas, cabbage, cashews and other foods. A supplement with lactase can help digest lactose from dairy, and xylose isomerase breaks down fructose in fruits and vegetables. Some brands contain mannitol, sorbitol and other high- FODMAP ingredients; read labels and choose a low-FODMAP version.
Explore more about the low-FODMAP diet, foods and lifestyle:
- Is Keto Good or Bad for Your Gut?
- 8 Reasons You Need to Eat More Beans
- Glucose vs Fructose: What’s the Difference?
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