In your search for digestive health, dietary recommendations may be thrown at you from all directions. One of these probably is the low-FODMAP diet.
There are many pros and also cons to this diet, but with the help of registered dietitians specialising in gastroenterology; it can provide a promising path towards digestive comfort and overall wellness (2).
First and foremost: What are FODMAPs?
FODMAPs are a group of short-chain carbohydrates that are notorious for causing digestive distress in sensitive individuals (3). The acronym stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. These complex terms collectively represent a wide range of naturally occurring fermentable carbohydrates found in various foods. Let’s go through them in detail so you can understand what you would be avoiding on this diet.
1. Oligosaccharides: Found in foods like wheat, rye, onions, lentils and garlic; these carbohydrates can ferment in the gut, leading to bloating and discomfort for some (3).
2. Disaccharides: Lactose is an example of a disaccharide found in dairy products; a common culprit for those with lactose intolerance. It can lead to symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhoea (3). Not everyone with gastrointestinal issues should immediately jump to cutting out all lactose products, however. This is where the help of professionals such as Oxford Gastro Dietitians can come in handy.
3. Monosaccharides: Fructose, a monosaccharide, can be problematic for some individuals when not absorbed properly in the small intestine. This can be found in foods like honey, apples, and high-fructose corn syrup (3)
4. Polyols: These are sugar alcohols (often used as sugar-free sweeteners such as sorbitol and mannitol) and also found in some fruits and vegetables (3).
So what are the Pros and Cons to the Low-FODMAP diet?
1. Symptom Relief: Research has shown that for many individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other gastrointestinal disorders, following a low-FODMAP diet can lead to a significant reduction in symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, and altered bowel habits (4).
2. Personalized Approach: The FODMAP diet is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It's highly customisable and can be tailored to an individual's specific sensitivities, allowing for a targeted approach to symptom management (4). For example, some people have problems with lactose, and some do not. If something does not give you problems, we most likely would not recommend you cut it from your diet.
3. Evidence-Based: Unlike many other “fad-diets” or diet regimens for digestive health, the low-FODMAP diet is grounded in scientific research, with numerous studies demonstrating its effectiveness in alleviating digestive discomfort (4).
4. Not a “forever-diet” (this could be a pro or a con!). While the FODMAP diet can provide significant relief for many, it is not a diet that should be followed long-term. (who wants to be on a diet that lasts forever?) This is because of the possible nutrient deficiencies it could cause. It is typically used as a diagnostic tool to identify trigger foods and then gradually reintroduce them (5). At Oxford Gastro Dietitians, we typically recommend it for 4-8 weeks for symptom relief, then we would guide you through a stepwise reintroduction phase.
1. Nutrient Restriction: Eliminating or reducing high-FODMAP foods (or any other foods unnecessarily) may lead to a reduction in important nutrients like fibre, prebiotics, and certain vitamins. This can be mitigated through careful planning and supplementation if needed (5).
2. Complexity: Successfully navigating the FODMAP diet requires meticulous attention to food labels and a good understanding of which foods are high and low in FODMAPs. This can be challenging, especially when dining out or travelling (5). This is why it is so important to do this with the guidance of a professional.
3. Social events can become harder. The low-FODMAP diet is a challenging diet, and many social events can become difficult for you to navigate because these are often associated with food. Not to mention the food fear it could create by prolonged avoidance of certain foods.
The FODMAP diet is a powerful tool in the arsenal of digestive health management, offering relief for those struggling with conditions like IBS (4). Many gastroenterologists and dietitians promote the use of this diet if a patient is struggling with IBS and other simpler lifestyle and dietary changes have failed.
However, it's crucial to approach it with knowledge and guidance, ideally from a registered dietitian specialising in gastroenterology. They can provide personalised advice, help navigate the complexities of the diet, and ensure that all nutritional needs are met.
Remember, the goal of the FODMAP diet is not to eliminate foods forever, but to identify and manage triggers for a happier, healthier digestive system.
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Gut love to you all
Cat & Rosie, Co-Founders of Oxford Gastro Dietitians
2. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD). FODMAP Diet. [https://www.iffgd.org/lower-gi-disorders/irritable-bowel-syndrome/treatment-for-ibs/fodmap-diet.html](https://www.iffgd.org/lower-gi-disorders/irritable-bowel-syndrome/treatment-for-ibs/fodmap-diet.html). Accessed October 14, 2023.
4. Harvard Health Publishing. The lowdown on the low-FODMAP diet. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/ibs-a-low-fodmap-diet-may-help. Accessed October 14, 2023.