- There’s a great deal of buzz around the low FODMAPs diet, an elimination diet that restricts various types of sugar molecules that are difficult for some people to digest
- The low FODMAPs diet is said to alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation
- The diet is incredibly restrictive, but it’s only meant to be temporary
If you spend a lot of time on health and wellness websites, you’ve probably read a thing or two about the low FODMAPs diet. Some people claim the diet can alleviate the symptoms of intestinal bowel syndrome (IBS), including gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. But what exactly is a low FODMAPs diet, and for that matter…
What are FODMAPS, anyway?
Basically, the term FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Essentially, these are food molecules that are fermentable and poorly absorbed in the gut, explains Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition. They’re most often found in stone fruits, added sweeteners, legumes, and dairy products. For some people, eating these foods can lead to intestinal discomfort.
“Because FODMAPS are poorly absorbed in the intestine, they draw extra water into the intestine and are rapidly fermented by bacteria in the bowel. This can create excessive gas, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea,” explains Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color.
There’s some overlap between a low FODMAPs diet and a gluten-free diet, but a low FODMAPs diet doesn’t prohibit you from eating gluten full-stop. That said, gluten-free products are typically lower in fructans and oligosaccharides, which makes them good options for people interested in trying out the diet.
What foods do you need to avoid on a low FODMAPs diet?
If you choose to go on the low FODMAPs diet, you’ll want to cut out most dairy products, as many people have difficulty digesting lactose. Fresh stone fruits, such as peaches, plums, and cherries, are high in polyols, a.k.a the “P” in FODMAP, so those are also a no-no. (You can eat other fruits, like pomegranates and grapefruit, in moderation.)
You’ll also want to cut out wheat, garlic, and onion, which contain fructans and can cause stomach irritation. The same goes for anything with high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweetener, which also tends to contain high amounts of fructose.
Cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli, artichokes, and peas, can also cause gas, so while you don’t have to cut those out entirely, you may want to eat them in moderation. And while beans and legumes are generally pretty good for you, because they provide fiber and protein, the old playground dictum about how they make you fart is actually true, so you’ll want to avoid eating those, too.
That all sounds pretty tough. So what, exactly, is OK to eat on a low FODMAPs diet?
Hmmm, I dunno. Like, water? Popcorn, maybe?
In all seriousness, though: while a low FODMAPs diet is only meant to be temporary (more on that later), it is pretty restrictive — which is why Axe suggests not going on the diet unless you have symptoms of IBS or are experiencing other digestion issues. “It can be tricky for some individuals to feel free to eat a variety of healthy foods and get sufficient nutrients while on the diet because the guidelines can be complicated,” he says.
But if you do have a history of digestion issues and want to give the diet a shot, there’s actually a ton you can eat and enjoy.
Nuts, certain types of grains, lean proteins, and other fruits and vegetables are OK to eat. “Eggs with a slice of sourdough bread or steel-cut oats sweetened with maple syrup and blueberries are great breakfast options for the low FODMAP diet,” says Axe. “You can also eat wild-caught fish seasoned with lemon juice, along with quinoa for dinner.”
In terms of snack foods, “pecans (no more than 10 halves), goat cheese [which is lower in lactose than other types of cheese], and grapes (no more than one cup) make a hearty, low FODMAP-friendly snack,” Axe says. You’ll also want to stock up on condiments and seasonings to really make the flavors in the proteins you’re cooking pop. (For more information on what is and isn’t OK to eat, here’s a complete list.)
How long should you be on the low FODMAPs diet?
Going on a low FODMAPs diet is not supposed to be a permanent dietary change. Ideally, you should only be doing the elimination phase of the low FODMAPs diet for about two to six weeks. “Often, the body will adjust after several days of the new diet,” says Axe.
After a few weeks, you should “gradually reintroduce some of the foods into your diet, keeping tracks of any symptoms that arise when they’re added back in. A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) can help design a diet that helps avoid FODMAPS while ensuring that an individual is still getting all of the nutrients they need to be healthy,” says Largeman-Roth.
Are there any side effects I should know about?
Some people may experience temporary constipation when beginning a low FODMAP diet because of decreased fiber intake, says Largeman-Roth. If this happens to you, you should eat a wider range of low-FODMAP foods, not just a few of the same foods over and over again. If you’re still encountering pooping problems, ask your dietician for suggestions on how to eat a more fibrous diet that’s still low in FODMAPs.
So, should you try it? If you experience long-term digestive issues, it may be worth a shot. Just keep in mind that it’s only temporary. “In my experience, many people who exclude all of the offending foods are able to reintroduce many of them over time, while still keeping their symptoms under control,” Largeman-Roth says.