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Can a Low FODMAP Diet Help with IBS?

If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), you’re not alone. It’s estimated that up to 15% of the world’s population is affected by the condition [2], while many more may be silent sufferers who don’t have a diagnosis.

IBS is a chronic disorder of the gastrointestinal tract that causes abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits; and it tends to be divided into three different categories: IBS-C (IBS with constipation), IBS-D (IBS with diarrhoea) and IBS-M (IBS with both constipation and diarrhoea).

The challenge with diagnosing and treating IBS is that the causes are not fully understood, while it being classified as a syndrome basically means that it’s a collection of symptoms rather than a diagnosed ‘disease’ like other intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis.

The FODMAP Diet and IBS – Does it Help?

One of the diets that have been shown to be effective in managing IBS symptoms is the Low FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols, a collection of carbohydrates that are not well absorbed in the small intestine and can be fermented by gut bacteria, leading to gas and bloating [2].

The Low FODMAP diet is an elimination diet that involves avoiding foods high in FODMAP for a period of time, typically 2-6 weeks, to identify trigger foods that exacerbate IBS symptoms [2]. After the elimination period, FODMAP foods are gradually reintroduced to identify which foods are problematic and which can be safely consumed [2].

A Low FODMAP diet has been shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms of IBS in many studies. A systematic review of 22 randomised controlled trials found that a Low FODMAP diet was effective in reducing IBS symptoms in 50-80% of participants [3]. The same review found that the Low FODMAP diet was more effective than traditional IBS dietary advice.

A Low FODMAP diet can be challenging to follow as many high FODMAP foods are common in the Western diet, including wheat, dairy, and onions. However, with the help of a health coach or a nutritionist, it is possible to identify low FODMAP alternatives and create delicious, healthy meals [2].

If you suffer from IBS, it may be worth considering a Low FODMAP diet under the guidance of a health professional. While it may be challenging to follow initially, many people find that the benefits are worth it. With the right support and guidance, a Low FODMAP diet can help you manage your IBS symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Low FODMAP IBS Food Lists:

Vegetables

  • Carrots
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Eggplant
  • Bell peppers,
  • Tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • Potatoes (without skin)

Fruits

  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Grapes
  • Honeydew
  • Kiwi
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Orange
  • Pineapple
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

Proteins

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh

Grains

  • Rice
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Corn
  • Gluten-free bread and pasta
  • Cereals made from rice or corn

Dairy alternatives:

  • Lactose-free milk
  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Lactose-free yogurt

Fats

  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Avocado
  • Butter

High FODMAP Foods List:

  • Vegetables
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Asparagus
  • Artichokes
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Beans

Fruits

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Cherries
  • Mangoes
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Watermelon

Proteins

  • Processed meats like sausages and salami
  • Some types of legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans

Grains

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Products made from these grains like bread, pasta, and cereal

Dairy

  • Milk
  • Ice cream
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt made from cow’s milk

Sweeteners

  • Honey
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Artificial sweeteners like sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol.

Keep in mind that the Low FODMAPS diet is an elimination diet and should be undertaken under the guidance of a health professional.

Tips for staring a Low FODMAP Diet for IBS Symptoms

Embarking on a Low FODMAP  diet can be a transformative step towards managing digestive discomfort and improving overall gut health. Here are four essential tips to guide you as you start your Low FODMAP journey:

Educate Yourself on High and Low FODMAP Foods:

Before diving into the Low FODMAP diet, take the time to familiarise yourself with the foods that are high and low in FODMAPs. High FODMAP foods include certain fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and sweeteners that can trigger symptoms in sensitive individuals. Low FODMAP alternatives are generally better tolerated. Resources such as the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet app can be invaluable for accurate and up-to-date information.

Start with a Elimination Phase:

The Low FODMAP diet typically involves two phases: elimination and reintroduction. Begin with the elimination phase, where you restrict high FODMAP foods for a specific duration, usually 2-6 weeks. This helps identify whether FODMAPs are contributing to your symptoms. During this phase, focus on incorporating low FODMAP foods into your diet and pay attention to how your body responds.

Gradual Reintroduction and Personalisation:

After the elimination phase, gradually reintroduce specific FODMAP groups one at a time to identify which ones trigger symptoms. This phase is crucial for personalising your diet and expanding your food choices while still managing digestive symptoms. Keep a food and symptom diary to track your reactions and consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to guide you through this process.

Balance Your Diet with Nutrient-Rich Alternatives:

While following a Low FODMAP diet, it’s essential to ensure that you’re still getting a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet. Substitute high FODMAP foods with low FODMAP alternatives that provide similar nutritional value. For example, choose quinoa or rice instead of wheat-based grains, and opt for lactose-free or lactose-reduced dairy products. Incorporate a variety of low FODMAP fruits, vegetables, and proteins to maintain a diverse and healthy diet.

Remember, the Low FODMAP diet is a tool to help manage symptoms, and it’s crucial to work with a healthcare professional throughout the process. They can provide personalised guidance and help you navigate the complexities of the diet for your specific needs and goals.

References:

Canavan, C., West, J., & Card, T. (2014). The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome. Clinical epidemiology, 6, 71-80. doi: 10.2147/CLEP.S40245

Gibson, P. R., & Shepherd, S. J. (2010). Evidence-based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms: The FODMAP approach. Journal of gastrointestinal and liver diseases, 19(2), 137-146.

Halmos, E. P., Power, V. A., Shepherd, S. J., Gibson, P. R., & Muir, J. G. (2014). A diet low in FODMAPs reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology, 146(1), 67-75.e5. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2013.09.046

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