What the F is a FODMAP?

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NOTE: The information provided in this post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor or GI specialist. If you suspect any of these symptoms, make an appointment with a healthcare professional first to rule out certain diagnoses. If you do require a special diet, make sure to work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (like me!) who can coordinate with your doctor to help manage your condition with a nutrition plan.

Perhaps you’ve seen the word on social media feeds. Or in the news. Or have seen packaging calling out “FODMAP-Friendly Food!”. And your first thought is, “Do I have FODMAP?” Before jumping to conclusions or making Pinterest boards of FODMAP recipes, let’s first get the facts straight about what the heck IS a FODMAP.

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharaides, and Polyols. Dietitian say what?!  These scary words are carbohydrate structures making up common food items we eat, but some bodies have difficulty breaking down.  Your intestines may get pretty angry for daring expose them to such foods.

FODMAP definition

Click to view FODMAP definitions

Let’s look at FODMAPs in more relatable terms. I’m assuming you don’t like every single person you meet.  You do your best to tolerate those people, but prefer they not be in your space. For one reason or another, that person bothers you. You notice how much better you feel when you eliminate your exposure to that person or encounter them in short time spans.

The same happens to certain foods in our bodies. No matter how hard you may try or like certain food items, your stomach and intestines have a different perception and will rebel. This condition is most commonly referred to as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS was previously only related to stress, but recent research has found diet playing a major role in intestinal discomfort.  Common IBS symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain/discomfort
  • Bloating
  • Gas/flatuance
  • Changes in bowel movements to diarrhea or constipation

No BS When It Come to IBS & FODMAPs

Almost two-thirds of IBS patients report their symptoms are food-related. The intestines are unable to break down or absorb these small molecule-sized carbohydrates. This often leads to excessive fluid and gas build up which in return results in bloating, abdominal pain, and distention. The mechanisms of IBS are still unclear, but new research has shown that dietary interventions may be beneficial for those suffering with these symptoms. Lately there has been much attention to the FODMAP diet, with an Elimination Diet being the starting point.

In simplest terms, the FODMAP Elimination Diet removes common trigger foods that can cause IBS symptoms. First a food diary should be kept to note when discomfort occurs. Then bring that journal to the GI doctor and RD to note foods commonly eaten at the time when symptoms occur. Those foods will then completely be removed from the diet for a certain period of them (typically a month), then slowly reintroduced one by one to note if and when symptoms occur.

FODMAP Elimination Diets need to be conducted under the care of a GI specialist and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist trained in administering this type of diet, which is why it’s crucial not to self-diagnose and attempt to DIY.  Eliminating major food groups can lead to nutrient deficiencies. RDNs can ensure nutrients are being met from other sources.

One thing to be very clear: FODMAP and gluten-free are NOT interchangeable terms.  Yes, the gluten-containing foods of wheat, rye, and barley are considered high-FODMAP foods. But non-gluten containing foods including certain fruits, vegetables, and legumes are also considered high FODMAP.

FODMAP FoodsCLICK to enlarge FODMAP handout

FODMAP for One

What happens when one member of a relationship is required to make a major dietary change?  The other doesn’t necessarily have to “suffer” with them, but they do need to be supportive.  For someone newly diagnosed with IBS, there is going to be a few months of determining the major causes of distress.  Here are some tips how couples can manage IBS together when one member is diagnosed:

  1. Be patient – it’s better to take the time to figure out trigger foods than continue having them just to appease a significant other
  2. Determine how recipes can be adjusted or prepared separately to accommodate foods that need to be eliminated (either temporarily or permanently)
  3. Find restaurants that can accommodate special requests and alterations to dishes
  4. Keep a list of top trigger foods posted on the fridge and on each others’ smartphones so the other will know what to be mindful of when it comes to grocery shopping and preparing meals
  5. Keep names of food products and photos of packaging handy for foods that are tolerable to ensure safe foods are purchased and to reduce lengthy trips to the grocery store
  6. Learn how to read food labels to identify trigger foods by meeting with a RDN together.
  7. Schedule a grocery store tour with a dietitian to help ID products that are safe during the Elimination Diet phase and once triggers are determined
  8. The Significant Other without IBS should be respectful when consuming trigger foods in front of the other – especially if they were a favorite prior to diagnosis

Helpful FODMAP Resources

Websites

Apps

Books

CLICK HERE for FODMAP resources, including food checklists and grocery lists, from FODMAP expert dietitian Kate Scarlata RDN

Are you familiar with FODMAPs?

Do you or your significant other have to limit certain foods? 

Share your experience and favorite low-FODMAP recipes in the Comments below!

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3966170/

http://www.ibsdiets.org/fodmap-diet/what-are-fodmaps/

http://www.ibsdiets.org/fodmap-diet/fodmap-food-list/

Content researched by Rachel Rovner, Dietetic Intern

FODMAP

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