One in five people are thought to suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and one of the most effective ways to ease symptoms, according to health experts, is to alter the food that you eat.
And that’s where the FODMAP diet comes in.
What Is The FODMAP Diet?
FODMAP stands for a group of short-chain carbohydrates: oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols.
Recent research has found that we do not fully digest or absorb these carbohydrates when we eat them and consuming them may worsen symptoms in those with IBS.
“The FODMAP diet is used to help control the symptoms of IBS, such as alternating diarrhoea and constipation and bloating, where first line dietary advice, such as eating regular meals and limiting caffeine, hasn’t worked,” British Dietetic Association spokesperson Chloe Miles tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle.
“Poorly absorbed carbohydrates are found in a range of foods from pulses, sweeteners, various fruits and milk products.”
Nutritionist Karen Poole tells us that foods particularly high in FODMAPs include asparagus, artichokes, onions, leeks, garlic, legumes, pulses, sugar snap pea, beetroot, cabbage, celery, sweetcorn, broccoli, beans, mushrooms, apples, pears, mango, watermelon, nectarines, peaches, plums, cherries, dairy, honey and rye.
But if you suffer from IBS, a health care professional will provide you with a full list of the foods to avoid in your initial consultation.
Miles recommends that a low FODMAP diet should be followed for 4-8 weeks, under the guidance of a FODMAP trained health professional.
“Then the foods should be re-introduced step by step to help the individual identify which foods they are able to tolerate and in what quantity,” she says.
Both Poole and Miles say recommend a low FODMAP diet to some patients, as it has been shown to improve symptoms in those who suffer from IBS.
“If you have a sensitive digestive tract or suffer with IBS then it is likely that FODMAP foods could trigger an attack as they can often cause over fermentation in the small intestine and produce a lot of gas usually resulting in pain, bloating and diarrhoea,” Poole explains.
“The logic behind the practice is that if you restrict certain foods while you are under attack and exclude them for a period of at least six weeks and then re-introduce them in small amounts, then your sensitivity to them could reduce and future discomfort will hopefully be lessened or avoided.”
Like any diet, it is important to consult your GP or another certified health practitioner before changing your eating habits.
While following the FODMAP diet may be useful for people with IBS, Miles says it is not a general “healthy eating” or “weight loss” plan, so you should not embark on it for these purposes.
It is also fairly restrictive and can have a negative impact on an individual’s overall lifestyle, so it will not be suitable for everyone.
“If you do have a clinical diagnosis of IBS, then it is so important to do the FODMAP diet with the help of a FODMAPs trained health professional such as a FODMAP-trained dietitian, to ensure that you are still getting all of the nutrients that you need and that your diet is healthy and balanced,” Miles adds.
“I would be concerned if people stayed on the restriction phase long-term, as there isn’t definitive evidence on what affect this could have on your health.
“I would always encourage people to follow the appropriate advice and re-introduce foods as advised.”
Poole also points out that FODMAP foods do have positive qualities.
She says: “FODMAP foods should not be viewed as dangers to be avoided completely as the main aim of any regime should be to present a balanced healthy diet with wide ranging content and exposure to ensure the best potential for personal vitality and nutrient intake.”