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How The Low FODMAP Diet Can Help IBS Sufferers

Anyone suffering from IBS will know how unpredictable the condition can be. When you’re first diagnosed with IBS, you may have no idea exactly what triggers your symptoms. For a lot of people, triggers can be psychological. People can experience flare-ups when they are under a lot of stress or anxious about something.

Certain foods contain groups of carbohydrates that can cause IBS symptoms. These carbohydrates are known as FODMAPs.

What are FODMAPs?

The word FODMAP is an acronym used to describe the kinds of carbohydrates that can cause IBS symptoms. It stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols.

These carbohydrates are either hard to digest or are completely indigestible. The bacteria present in the digestive system ferment these carbohydrates, causing gas which stretches the bowel and causes the pain and bloating we associate with IBS. This can also cause water to move in or out of the lower digestive system, resulting in diarrhoea or constipation.

FODMAPs are present in a range of foods, as shown in the table below.

Examples of high FODMAP foods

How the low FODMAP diet can help IBS sufferers

What is the low FODMAP diet?

The low FODMAP diet was created by the Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, where a lot of research into IBS has been carried out. They recommend that if you have been diagnosed with IBS, you should try the low FODMAP diet to work out if any of the high FODMAP foods (such as those in the table above) trigger your symptoms. By working this out, you can eliminate them from your diet and likely experience a big improvement in your IBS symptoms from day to day.

Tolerance for FODMAPs varies considerably from person to person. Whilst one person may have just one trigger food, someone else might have a couple. It’s also possible that eating a meal containing several high FODMAP foods might cause IBS symptoms, even if none of the foods had been identified as triggers by themselves.

How does the low FODMAP diet work?

Because the low FODMAP diet can be complicated, it’s easier to carry it out under the supervision of a dietician.

There are three stages to it:

  1. The elimination phase: This is when all high FODMAP foods are cut out of the diet for a period of several weeks. 3 out of 4 people generally find their symptoms improve during this stage, which usually indicates that at least one high FODMAP food is one of their triggers.

  2. The reintroduction phase: Gradually reintroduce the high FODMAP foods one at a time and keep track of when symptoms arise. This should give you an idea of what foods trigger your IBS symptoms.

  3. The adapted diet: When you’ve figured out what food triggers you have, you should be able to reintroduce many of the other high FODMAP foods back into your diet. Your dietician will put together a diet plan that suits your situation and triggers.

The low FODMAP diet isn’t designed for long-term use. For a balanced diet, you need to incorporate some high FODMAP foods into your diet. The idea is that you follow the low FODMAP diet until you figure out what foods trigger your IBS symptoms, then you gradually reintroduce the other high FODMAP foods back into your general diet. When you’re finished with the diet, you should only be cutting out your trigger foods. Other than that, you can mostly eat as you used to.

You can read more about the diet on the Monash FODMAP website.

Preparing for the low FODMAP diet

The first step to preparing for the low FODMAP diet is to ensure you actually have IBS. You should have been diagnosed with this condition by a doctor to rule out any underlying conditions such as coeliac disease or other general food intolerances.

The next thing to bear in mind is that there are a lot of foods that are restricted when you are following a low FODMAP diet. For this reason, it’s much easier to plan your meals out in advance. Prepare a meal plan for the week before you go grocery shopping, then you know exactly what food you need to buy.  

Lastly, it’s important to stick to the diet and see it through. It might seem like a lot of effort and it might not be very enjoyable to restrict your diet, but it’s worth it in the long run. If you can put your finger on something that you know is triggering your IBS symptoms, you’ll feel a lot more confident about controlling it in the future.