The low down on the low FODMAP diet

Friday, 1 June 2018

Are you suffering from gas, bloating and pain? If so, you are not alone. One in seven adults are affected by the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) but did you know your dietitian may be able to help? A dietitian can take you through the low FODMAP diet step-by-step while also ensuring you are getting a good mix of nutrients to support good health.

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Although it is a mouthful to say it basically identifies certain types of fermentable carbohydrates found in foods such as wheat, apples and onions. Usually these fermentable carbohydrates have beneficial effects on our gut health and beyond. However because they are poorly absorbed in the bowel some people may find they cause the uncomfortable symptoms of IBS. If this is the case a low FODMAP diet may help but it is essential to do so with the guidance of an accredited practising dietitian.

A low FODMAP diet involves two phases. The first phase excludes FODMAP rich foods from your diet for a period of time. It is important during this stage to include healthy low FODMAP foods from all the core food groups to keep your nutrition up. Your dietitian can advise you on this. The second phase includes introducing FODMAP rich foods back into your diet slowly, one at a time and monitoring symptoms. From this it is hoped that you will be able to identify which foods in particular cause your symptoms and which do not. To help you do this it is generally recommended that you keep a ‘symptom diary’ a few days prior to starting the diet as well as through out.

FODMAP foods are added into the diet one at a time and depending on what FODMAP group they belong to e.g. Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. A maximum of one food is added back each week and they are included in the usual amount you would eat. If a food is tolerated it can be introduced back into the diet while still keeping an eye on your symptoms. If a food is not tolerated it is generally recommended to trial a smaller amount or try another food from the same FODMAP group. It is also possible to re-try that food you could not tolerate further down the track as your tolerance to FODMAPs may change over time.

If you are following a low FODMAP diet and your symptoms have not improved after six to eight weeks it is not recommended to continue. The fermentable carbohydrates removed from the diet are important for maintaining the balance of healthy gut bacteria. Instead discuss with your doctor or dietitian alternative options that may help bring relief to your IBS.

If your IBS symptoms are only mild to start with you might like to try some of these simple steps prior to a low FODMAP diet:

  • Limit fatty foods, caffeine and alcohol
  • Avoid over-eating at one time, eating regular balanced meals will help with this
  • Eat slowly

In many cases IBS may be triggered or made worse by stress. If this is the case stress management strategies and further guidance from your health professional team may also help.

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