Last Updated: 5th October 2016
What is the FODMAP diet? You’ve heard people talking about it and they’ve suggested it to you. Now you need to find out more about it and decide if it really is worth trying. Will it really offer weight loss and health benefits?
FODMAPs diet is something commonly suggested to those with IBS problems. It focuses on foods that are good for the gut and won’t cause flare-ups. This can help to reduce swelling, offer weight loss benefits and help you feel healthier and happier within yourself.
Here’s a look at the FODMAP diet, with everything you need to know to help you decide if it’s right for you.
What Is The FODMAP Diet?
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After creating a special form of fructose malabsorption, Sue Shepherd started to research the low FODMAP diet with a team of specialists. She realised that foods that were low in FODMAPs wouldn’t trigger IBS symptoms as much as those that were high in them. It meant that those who suffered from IBS and similar conditions could manage their illness or ailment through a change in the diet.
It has since become a widely accepted diet amongst dieticians when they have patients with celiac disease, IBS or similar chronic conditions.
FODMAPs are found in all the foods we eat. The acronym stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. The only thing you need to know about the scientific terms is that they are molecules in food that the small intestine can struggle to digest. They will move into the large intestine, and become sources of food for the bacteria that lives there.
The bacteria using the food source makes it worse, and this leads to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). The condition includes bloating, nausea, pain and changes to stools. There are other gastrointestinal symptoms and it can make weight loss much harder. After all, if you’re not feeling well, you won’t always think about the food you are eating.
How Can I Tell I Have A Diet High In FODMAPs?
It’s not just IBS sufferers who can benefit from a low FODMAP diet. Anyone can switch to it, or at least follow some of the techniques to help create a healthier lifestyle. Many people will have a diet that is high in FODMAPs without initially realising. Just how do you know from the way your body acts?
The main way is through what your body is telling you. Your stool consistency and toilet habits may change. Foods that are high in FODMAPs will make it harder or easier to pass stools, and you could end up with both diarrhoea and constipation intermittently with each other.
This is because the bacteria buildup in your gut is causing problems and makes it harder for your bowels to work properly. Just taking laxatives or eating more fibre isn’t going to help the situation. You need to get the bowels working properly again.
You may also often suffer from bloating. This can be painful, but in many cases, it is just annoying. You feel uncomfortable, and may not be able to fit in your normal clothes. There are times that it also causes weight gain, as you may retain water at the same time.
Gas is another symptom of a high FODMAP diet. This doesn’t just become annoying, but it can be embarrassing depending on where you are.
How Can You Follow The Low FODMAPs Diet?
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Now that you know what the diet is, it’s time to look at following it. Before you do that, you need to know the types of foods that you want to avoid. The following list isn’t extensive, but a look at where the highest level of FODMAPs will be found in the average diet. As with any diet, the list can change as more research goes into food, the way it reacts in the body and how beneficial certain ingredients are.
Foods that are high in fructose will be taken off the diet. These include the likes of apples, mangoes and pears, along with some of the other sweeter fruits. Honey and corn syrup that comes in the high fructose varieties will also need to be avoided.
You’ll also need to switch out the artichokes, leeks, onions, shallots and garlic for alternatives. Don’t worry, your meals don’t have to be bland as there are some great options out there instead. Barley and rye are two other ingredients to leave off your shopping list.
Wheat is one that should be eaten in a smaller amount. You don’t need to cut it out completely, but certainly cut it down because it is harder for the small intestine to digest.
It’s not just IBS sufferers who can benefit from the low FODMAP diet. Those who are lactose intolerant will also find their lives are made easier. That’s because foods that are high in lactose are removed from the diet, including unripe soft cheeses, yoghurts, ice cream and milk. Dair desserts and even evaporated or condensed milk will be off the shopping list.
You may be surprised to hear that legume beans are also high in FODMAPs. These include kidney and baked beans. Chickpeas and lentils will also need to be reconsidered.
Anything that is high in polyols will also need to be removed from the list. This includes many fibre-friendly fruits, like prunes and apricots. Plums and nectarines will also need to be switched to other foods.
It can seem like a restrictive diet, but it’s worth remembering that this isn’t just for weight loss. In fact, the primary focus of the FODMAP diet is to focus on a healthier lifestyle. The aim is to get rid of the IBS symptoms that are plaguing your life. You’re not cutting everything out completely, and cutting down on some ingredients.
Helps With All Severities
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Some treatments will only help IBS sufferers with certain severities of the condition. This is not the case with this diet. It is suitable for all types of sufferers to deal with, same for other conditions like gluten or lactose intolerances or those with celiac disease.
The benefit is that this is a long-term and practical solution. There is no need to take medication, and you can prevent flare-ups of the condition naturally. You’re giving the digestive tract the best chance to fight against the bacteria residing in there.
A FODMAP diet occasionally helps people who suffer from sleeping habits overcome their stop snoring devices.
Following the diet can also be used in conjunction with other treatment methods. There are some who find they need cognitive behaviour therapy or drug therapy to help manage their condition because it is so bad. This will also depend on the type of condition you are battling with. Since the change in diet is all natural, it will not do any other harm to the body when working with other methods of treatment.
It is worth pointing out that IBS isn’t caused by the diet, but can be aggravated by it. This is why it is worth making a change to your lifestyle to minimise the chance of flare-ups.
Can A Low FODMAP Diet Help With Weight Loss?
There will be some people keen to follow the diet to lose weight. There is a common misconception that all bread and pasta cause weight gain. This isn’t the case, but it will depend on the way that the body handles those foods. If you do have a gluten intolerance or a difficulty handling certain ingredients, then you will find bloating and water retention make it harder to lose weight.
The benefit of this diet is that it makes you think more about the foods that you’re eating. It also helps you focus more on protein and fibre, so you feel fuller for longer.
Friends may suggest the FODMAPs diet for weight loss. It is important to discuss this with a professional to make sure it won’t do any harm to a naturally healthy digestive tract.
Splitting The Diet Into Two Phases
Cutting things out isn’t going to be forever. The first six to eight weeks are the hardest part for those new to FODMAPs. This is the stage where all the food needs to be restricted, so you give your gut the chance to clean out and the symptoms from a recent flare-up to subside. Your body gets the chance of a fresh start so your dietician can determine whether you can start adding in ingredients again.
The second phase is the most personalised of the two. Your dietitian will look at your intolerances and conditions. For an IBS sufferer, there may be more foods back on the unrestricted list than for someone who has celiac disease or is lactose intolerant.
Your dietician will help you decide whether foods should be added to your allowed list again, and also the amounts that you should try. It can be a trial and error process, and you should only do this gradually. This is why having a dietician when following the low FODMAP diet is so important.
Can You Still Eat Fruit And Vegetables?
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There were a lot of fruits and vegetables on the list of the foods to avoid. It’s understandable that you’re starting to worry about whether you can continue eating them or not.
The answer to this really depends on the type of fruit and vegetables. Bananas are still on the allowed list, and definitely, something to add to your daily diet. Berries are also perfectly acceptable, as they are not as high in fructose as many people would believe. This includes blueberries, raspberries and even strawberries.
For pineapple and melon fans, there is excellent news. Both of these fruits—and all types of melons—are allowed on the list. They are great on a morning mixed with some banana to give you a healthy and filling start to the day.
Citrus fruit fans, lemons, limes and oranges are all allowed on the diet. This is great news considering how beneficial the fruits are to the health. It’s worth having a glass of water with a slice of lemon to start your day. It makes you more productive and helps to cleanse your system before you get stuck into work.
Vegetables are also allowed, especially when it comes to those dark green, leafy vegetables. It’s time to start adding kale and spinach into all of your meals. Not only are they low in FODMAPs, but they are also high in various vitamins and minerals that the body needs to remain healthy. You can also benefit from seaweed, just to give you something different for the day.
Wondering what you can have with your Sunday roast? Parsnips, carrots and cabbage, are all perfectly fine for the diet. You can also try oriental dishes with the likes of bok choy, water chestnuts and bean sprouts. While you initially may feel that the low FODMAP diet is restrictive, it soon becomes clear that you will create dishes that you’ve never tried before!
What About The Seasonings?
All this is great for the fruit and vegetables, but what about seasonings? After all, garlic and tomato paste are off the menu.
Well, there are lots of options available on the new food list. Any dressing, jam and jelly that is made with foods on the low FODMAPs list is perfectly fine to eat. This includes the likes of strawberry jellies and some salad dressings. It is worth making your own, so you know that they will be suitable for your health.
You can also still eat onion or garlic oil. This can give you some of the flavourings without all the badness to your gut. Just use in moderate amounts, because you really won’t need that much. Pepper, salt and other herbs make great options, too. You’ll soon find that you don’t even remember what foods were like without those that are currently off the menu.
Margarine and mayonnaise are allowed on the diet. It is often worth making your home mayonnaise, so you can limit the ingredients. When you do buy it, you’ll have to watch out for those made from high FODMAP ingredients.
Now wondering what you can have in place of honey? Don’t worry because maple syrup is on the list. This is lower in fructose than honey and tastes delicious. And for those who love to try something oriental, soy sauce is on the allowed condiments list.
Meat, Fish And Poultry All Allowed
Meat lovers will enjoy this diet, because all your main meats, poultry and fishes are all allowed. They are all low in FODMAPs and are excellent to start off your meals. You will find that most of your homemade dinners are easily adaptable to the FODMAPs diet.
Eggs are also allowed, which is great as they are an excellent source of protein. Their good news about eggs is that they are also full of good cholesterol, especially the egg whites.
For those who don’t eat meat, your substitutes will be allowed. Tofu is definitely one to consider. You will need to watch out for some that are made from high FODMAP ingredients.
Can You Eat Any Grains?
There is the worry that grains are completely taken out of the diet. Many of these are excellent sources of carbohydrates, so people don’t want to get rid of them completely. The good news is that some are still allowed and oatmeal is definitely on the list for the porridge fans. Just switch your honey to maple syrup!
Whole grains that are made the gluten free way can be added to the diet. There are now lots of these in grocery stores, whether you want bread, pasta or even biscuits. They can be a little more expensive, but it is worth it to get that healthy lifestyle and trouble-free tummy.
Quinoa is also a great option for the diet and works with salads, soups and many other meals to bulk them out. You can also add popcorn to have that treat with your family movie.
The main things you want to cut out are anything made with rye or barley. These are the two ingredients that contain gluten, which is one of the biggest contenders for IBS triggers.
Getting Dairy On Your Diet
The one question people have is how to get dairy onto their diet. They worry that they won’t get enough calcium.
One of the first things to note is that you don’t need dairy to get calcium. Your leafy greens are full of this mineral, so there is definitely no need to panic. In fact, spinach and kale can have more than you would get from yoghurts and cheese!
Lactose-free dairy is the one to focus on for this diet. This often means getting rid of the sugars rather than the other healthy ingredients within the foods. You could also consider low-lactose foods, especially when it comes to creams, cheeses and milk.
There are soy versions, but you will need to watch out for these. Soya milk is high in FODMAPs, so should be avoided. However, almond and coconut milk make great alternatives and many people find interesting ways to cook with them. They add a little more flavour to your breakfasts and can even make delicious desserts.
You Can Have Dessert!
While mentioning healthy desserts, it is worth making the note that they are still allowed. This isn’t about cutting out everything that you love. It’s all about creating a healthier diet for your gut.
Any desserts that are made from foods on the low FODMAP diet list are allowed. You can make your own to ensure you do only eat the best ones. When you’re out, find out how the desserts are made and look for the healthier alternatives on menus.
Avoid making desserts with high FODMAPs, even just one or two. You don’t want to suffer for it the next day.
What About The Green Smoothies?
Smoothies and juices are still good for the diet, but you should have them in moderation. When making them, ensure you use foods that are low in FODMAPs. Your green smoothies will be among the best options, especially if you add in a banana.
Watch out for the fruit juices. The problem with juicing is that you remove the pulp (where the fibre is). The drink will sugar much quicker than if you were going to eat the fruit whole.
The experts recommend to keeping your juices and smoothies to just half a cup at once. This is a good practice to be in to avoid overeating fruit and vegetables; yes, you can have too much of a good thing!
Water remains the best option when it comes to drinks. You can always add a slice of lemon as mentioned above. Tea and coffee are still allowed, and some alcoholic beverages can drink.
The drinks off the list are any of those made from high FODMAP foods. You’ll also want to avoid fortified wines and sherry!
Eating Foods In Moderation
Like with any healthy and balanced diet, you should eat things in moderation. This is more important with the FODMAPs diet, especially when it comes to some fruits and vegetables. While some are low, when eaten in high amounts they can trigger IBS symptoms.
Cherries, banana chips, avocados and grapefruits are all foods that you’ll want to limit. You should also watch out for hazelnuts and almonds in high amounts.
Simple Tips To Make Following The Low FODMAP Diet Easier
There is nothing more daunting that completely changing your lifestyle. The way you eat becomes a habit, and you may feel disappointed that you have to cut out some of your favourite foods. While you know it’s the best for your health, it doesn’t make it that much easier when it comes to actually doing it.
When you start, make sure you write out a full grocery list. Look for recipe ideas before you start, so you know which ingredients you will need and get some meals to look forward to throughout the week. From there, you can do your shop and stick religiously to your list. If it’s not on there, you really don’t need it. This is key to start because you’ll be getting used to the foods on the banned list. Don’t be afraid to look at new recipe ideas. This is good to do on a regular basis, so you don’t get bored with your new diet.
As you develop an understanding of the diet and the types of foods to avoid, you can start learning how to read the food labels. You’ll know the types of foods to watch out for, including honey, milk and gluten.
Search out the diary-free and gluten-free sections in your grocery store. This will help you to avoid the main sections, so you don’t look at all the stuff you aren’t allowed at the moment. Don’t make it harder for yourself when you can avoid it.
If you really struggle, there’s nothing wrong with an online shop. This does make it harder for reading labels, but if you have a list of fresh food, you can make it easier on yourself to start with.
Some people on the FODMAP diet do complain of constipation. This can be due to not getting enough fibre in your diet, so it’s worth getting some oats. These are great for porridge, can make up desserts and also work well for quick meals to help get your bowels moving again. Also, don’t forget the water!
Good luck with the FODMAPs diet. It will help your IBS symptoms and is also great for other, similar conditions. Some of your favourite foods may be on the list, but there are plenty of alternatives. Don’t look at the foods that you can’t have and instead, focus on those that will help you battle your IBS symptoms. You’ll soon find that there are plenty of choices out there and there are lots of new recipes to try out. It’s time to help your tummy and give you the best start in life.
Just remember that the results of these diets are not temporary. Being able to keep up with it in the long run will improve your health immensely. Since there are different alternatives to your favorite foods, you won’t have to sacrifice much in order to stay healthy.
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