Everything you need to know about FODMAPs

What’s the deal with FODMAPs?
The last few years have seen FODMAPs hurtling out of obscurity into the Diet World limelight. Most people will know someone who’s ‘doing’ FODMAPs but most people would also struggle to tell you what the heck a FODMAP even was. That is, unless they’ve had a FODMAP-er over for dinner…

History of FODMAPs
The low FODMAP diet was developed by a research team from Monash University in Australia. The theory is that restricting certain fermentable carbohydrates and sugar alcohols can improve the gastrointestinal symptoms of some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Go on then, what’s a FODMAP?
Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides And Polyols.
The saccharides are fermentable carbohydrates and the polyols are sugar alcohols, these are usually found as sweeteners – like the xylitol in your chewing gum.
Our bodies can’t digest FODMAPs and certain IBS symptoms are thought to come from them fermenting in our gut.. This process produces gas, bloating and can draw water into our gut which can worsen any IBS-associated pain and diarrhoea.

What’s involved?
There are 3 phases:

  1. An initial phase of cutting out foods that are high in FODMAPs. If symptoms don’t improve after the initial ~4 weeks of exclusion – then FODMAPs isn’t likely to work.
  2. Working with a dietitian, a carefully phased reintroduction of certain FODMAP containing foods and detailed monitoring of symptoms.
  3. Working with a dietitian, development of a personalised long-term diet plan containing foods that don’t worsen symptoms, or are tolerable in small amounts. This will be different for everyone on FODMAPs.

The exclusion phase of FODMAPs is not recommended long term. It’s a tricky, restrictive plan to undertake alone and there’s a real risk of becoming malnourished. It may also have a nasty effect on your gut health – as FODMAPs are found in foods that help to keep our microbiota happy.
That’s why it should be conducted with a specialist Dietitian. Dietitians will tailor nutrition advice to work for you and your lifestyle, help you to figure out what’s worsening your symptoms and ensure that you’re getting what you need from your diet.

How effective is it?
In trials, FODMAPs has been shown to be very effective in treating abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhoea in IBS sufferers. If followed correctly, it can make a real difference to people’s lives but it’s not a magic bullet and it won’t help everyone.
The importance of the link between our gut and our brain is being researched extensively. There was also some interesting research that came out last year which showed that yoga could be equally as effective as FODMAPs in treating IBS symptoms. Future treatments for IBS may help us to fine-tune treatments without resorting to extreme elimination diets.

Is FODMAPs for you?
If you think you’re concerned about any unusual gastrointestinal symptoms, first go and speak to your GP and ensure you rule out any other underlying causes for your symptoms. If you do receive an IBS diagnosis you should ask your GP for a referral to a dietitian who will go through your diet history and lifestyle with you. FODMAPs is an extreme undertaking to help manage IBS and there are many other things that your dietitian can suggest you try first. If these don’t work then they may work with you to see if FODMAPs is a good fit.
It’s also worth noting that though there are many people touting it as a cure-all for every ailment, FODMAPs has only been extensively trialled and recommended for treating IBS symptoms.
Needlessly excluding lots of foods isn’t healthy and you might even do yourself some damage. If in doubt, always ask your GP, dietitian or other healthcare professional.

To learn more about FODMAPs, visit: www.monash.edu

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