Nearly one in every ten people lives with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS manifests itself in symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and other digestive issues whenever they eat triggering foods.
The problem is that people rarely know the exact food or ingredient that is causing their IBS symptoms. Further, IBS symptoms can arise at any stage of life. This has spawned a variety of diets, such as gluten-free and paleo diets, aimed at least in part at controlling potential causes of these IBS symptoms.
One diet that has gained traction this past decade is the low-FODMAP diet, which has been found to provide relief for nearly 86% of people with IBS. I’ve been following a low-FODMAP diet since 2016, and have found significant relief for my symptoms and a greater sense of peace knowing that I can more confidently find foods that work with my body.
There is a lot of confusion around a low-FODMAP diet, so I want to provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about FODMAPs. Leave a comment if there are any other questions you’d like answered and I’ll continue adding to this post.
If you’re already versed in the basics of FODMAPs, you may want to skip ahead and explore whether a low-FODMAP diet is right for you. I’ve written a post specifically on how to get started on a low FODMAP diet. Then, read on for which foods you can eat on the low-FODMAP diet.
What is a FODMAP?
FODMAP is an acronym that stands for “Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols.” These are types of carbohydrates that are resistant to digestion and can cause irritation when consumed.
Some of the common FODMAPs include:
- Fructose, or sugar, which is present in many fruits and vegetables, as well as table sugar and most sweeteners
- Lactose, a carb found in dairy products
- Fructans, which are malabsorbed because our bodies lack an enzyme to break them down. Wheat and onions are primary sources of fructans for most people
- Galactans, which our bodies also cannot break down and are commonly found in beans and lentils
- Polyols, or sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, and mannitol, found in some fruits, vegetables, and even mints or gum
What happens when you consume FODMAPs?
When you eat food with FODMAPs, those carbs pass through your intestines undigested. When the carbs reach your colon, the bacteria in your gut use the FODMAPs as fuel, but release hydrogen in the process. Hydrogen can cause bloating, gas, cramps, pain, and constipation for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). FODMAPs are also known to draw and hold excess fluid when passing through your intestine, potentially causing diarrhea (IBS-D). The effects of FODMAPS are cumulative, meaning you can have a reaction from eating too many FODMAPs, even if each portion is considered to be a low-FODMAP serving.
What does low FODMAP mean, and what is a low-FODMAP diet?
If something is low FODMAP, that means it has minimal amounts of carbs in the FODMAP categories when eaten in a specific serving size. A low-FODMAP diet is one that limits—but doesn’t necessarily eliminate—the amount of FODMAPs you consume.
Does a low-FODMAP diet remove all forms of FODMAPs?
Each person will react differently to each FODMAP carb, and the sensitivities to each are highly subjective. A low-FODMAP diet first removes all high-FODMAP foods from your diet to then slowly reintroduce them to assess which FODMAPs are most triggering. It’s a detailed process but well worth the effort to better understand your body.
What foods contain FODMAPs?
Foods are typically classified as FODMAP-free, low-FODMAP, or high-FODMAP. On a low-FODMAP diet, the goal is to reduce or eliminate your use of high-FODMAP foods and substitute those with FODMAP-free and low-FODMAP alternates.
I’ve written a more detailed post on what foods you can eat on a low-FODMAP diet, but here are some common high-FODMAP foods that should generally be avoided:
- Specific vegetables and legumes, including garlic, onions, artichoke, most beans, scallions, mushrooms, and pickled vegetables
- Fruits that are high in fructose, including some types of apples, very ripe bananas, blackberries, cherries, pears, raisins, and watermelon
- Certain grains and wheat-containing bread, including biscuits, cakes, wheat flour, rye, and granola bars
- Many nuts and seeds, including cashews and pistachios
- Dairy products that contain lactose, including soft cheese, custard, milk, kefir, sour cream, and yogurt
Are FODMAPs the same as gluten?
Gluten sensitivity is caused by a reaction to the protein found in wheat-based foods. FODMAPs, on the other hand, involves the carbohydrates in wheat. As such, some people who experience gluten intolerance or live with Celiac’s disease could also benefit from a low FODMAP diet. But, not all FODMAP-friendly foods are gluten-free.
Are FODMAPs involved in a Paleo diet?
A paleo diet centers around foods that might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, which spanned approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. Paleo foods could have been obtained by hunting and gathering, like lean meats, fish, vegetables, and fruits. There is some low-FODMAP overlap in a paleo diet, including avoidance of grains, legumes, dairy products, and refined sugars. But a paleo diet does not inherently limit FODMAPs.