One of the easiest ways to calm your IBS symptoms is to follow a low FODMAP diet. I know, the term "diet" is only normally used to describe a meal plan with the goal of losing weight, but this is a different kind of diet. Instead of following this diet to shed a few pounds, you're going to be adopting it to get rid of your IBS symptoms. That's right, you really can be 100% symptom-free, just by being careful about what you eat!
What does low FODMAP mean?
Did that clear it up? No, I don't imagine it did. Please don't feel overwhelmed! I had the exact same look of confusion on my face the first time I looked up the low FODMAP diet, too. The FODMAP acronym simply stands for a collection of short-chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols which can cause digestive distress.
Some are things quickly broken down by bacteria, some are fructans, some are lactose, some are fructose and some are sugar alcohols. You don't need to totally get what each word means, just understand that in terms of IBS, they're bad things you want to avoid. Therefore a diet low in FODMAPs is a diet low in any foods which contain the above molecules.
What does a low FODMAP diet involve?
A low FODMAP diet is made up of two stages:
- Elimination stage: completely eliminate all foods high in FODMAPS
- Reintroduction stage: gradually reintroduce high FODMAP foods one at a time
The first stage designed to confirm that high FODMAP foods are causing your gut problems. If you cut out everything high in FODMAPs for 6-8 weeks and begin to feel better, you can be pretty certain you've found the cause of your IBS symptoms.
Not everyone is intolerant to all high FODMAP foods. So the second stage is designed to help you find out which foods you can tolerate and in what quantities. It's a lot of work, takes a lot of time and involves a lot of note-keeping, but it's definitely worth it.
Which foods are high in FODMAPs?
There are so many high FODMAP foods that it's almost easier to list the foods that aren't high in FODMAPs!
A little while ago I wrote about common IBS trigger foods to avoid, but other often-used high FODMAP foods include:
Vegetables: Asparagus, cauliflower, mushrooms, peas and sweet potatoes
Fruits: Apples, apricots, avocado, cherries, currants, dates, mangoes, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums and watermelon
Grains and similar: Bread, cakes, cereal, couscous, gnocchi, muffins, noodles, pastries, pasta, spelt flour
Nuts: Almond meal, cashews, pistachios
Condiments and similar: Agave, high fructose corn syrup, hummus, honey, pesto, artificial sweeteners, tahini and tzatziki
For a great list with almost 200 low FODMAP items including specific quantities, sign up for my newsletter. As soon as you do that, I'll email you the printable list for free! It makes a great shopping list and I've got a copy stuck on the side of my fridge for a constant reminder whenever I'm cooking.
How long does a low FODMAP diet last?
The elimination stage of the low FODMAP diet isn't intended to last forever. Depending on how you can react, it can last anywhere from two weeks up to eight weeks. When your IBS symptoms are totally under control, you can slowly start introducing high FODMAP items one by one, a tiny bit at a time.
The reintroduction stage of a low FODMAP diet is longer and more involved. Because there are so many different foods to test and each testing period lasts for one week, it can take months to go through all the high FODMAP foods. It sounds like a huge hassle (and it really is) but it's worth it for the chance to enjoy food again!
Is the low FODMAP diet safe?
Because it's so restrictive, you might be wondering if the low FODMAP diet is safe. And it certainly is. It's the only scientifically-proven diet recommended worldwide to relieve all kinds of gut issues, ranging from IBS to Chron's Disease. Because the diet cuts out so many fruits and vegetables, you need to be extra careful and make sure you get enough fibre, vitamins and minerals. But as long as you do that, a low FODMAP diet is 100% safe.
How do you follow a low FODMAP diet?
Most people recommend you work together with a qualified, experience dietitian to follow a low FODMAP diet. And that's great advice. But, if you don't have the option of consulting a dietitian, there's loads of info online you can use to follow a low FODMAP diet yourself.
I'll stress again: I'm not a dietitian and I have no medical or scientific qualifications. I went through the elimination and reintroduction stages of a low FODMAP diet on my own because my doctor simply couldn't get a referral for me to see a specialist. It was either do it myself or pay a small fortune to see a private specialist.
So if working with a dietitian isn't an option for you, please don't worry. I did the work myself and, with a little bit of help from Colpermin and Buscopan, practically eliminated my symptoms entirely.