FODMAP foods and their effects on gut health

What is a low FODMAP diet, and how does it affect your gut health?

If you’ve been experiencing digestive issues, don’t be surprised to come across the concept of a low FODMAP diet. It is designed to potentially remove problematic foods that cause intestinal bacterial overgrowth, affecting your overall gut health.

Non-digestible carbohydrates promote health due to their effect on our gut microbiota. However, as in any diet, there may be some side effects resulting in gut imbalance. These changes may also lead to other gut-related diseases and risks for other health issues.

It is essential to understand what FODMAP foods are to know what triggers symptoms in your gut. In this day and age, the FODMAP diet is gaining popularity in functional and lifestyle medicine. Thus, if you have gastrointestinal problems, you should be aware of the impact of removing FODMAP foods from your plate.

Cognitive Health and Wellness Institute is on a mission to help people enjoy better food and quality of life. In this article, we hope to help you decide what food to eat, especially if you are on a restrictive diet.

What is FODMAP?

Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. In short, FODMAP. The small intestines absorb these short-chain carbohydrates inadequately. For some people, you’ll notice you experience digestive distress when you eat food with these specific sugars present.

Some of the common symptoms of digestive distress range from constipation, cramping, and diarrhea. One might think these are pretty common manifestations of other gut-related illnesses. But how do we really know it’s from a FODMAP diet?

High FODMAP foods

FODMAPs are osmotically active. These sugars draw water into your intestine and cause gut distention. When your bloodstream doesn’t absorb FODMAPs, they get stuck with most of the gut bacteria in your colon. There, they produce hydrogen, consequently generating more gas. That’s why there’s a feeling of bloating or constipation when this happens.

FODMAP foods to avoid

  • Lactose
    Milk and dairy products
  • Fructans
    Grains – rye, barley, wheat, etc., artichoke, fructo-oligosaccharides in packaged foods
  • Galactans
    Legumes – green pea, chickpea, soybean, lentils
  • Fructose
    Simple sugars, high fructose corn syrups, licorice, molasses, fruit juices
  • Polyols
    Sugar alcohols – sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, isomalt, maltitol; sweeteners, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates

Low FODMAP diet for beginners

Not to state the obvious, but food is the culprit to digestive symptoms. It only makes sense to restrict certain kinds of it to deal with gut issues like IBS or irritable bowel syndrome and SIBO, small intestinal bacterial growth.

A series of studies are still necessary to determine the actual cause of IBS. While they suspect stress to be the perpetrator, proper nutrition may significantly affect its symptoms, such as stomach cramps, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating.

The low FODMAP diet is highly restrictive. Hence, experts suggest that you consult your doctor before diving into this new eating plan, as you’d have to eliminate many foods in the process. Your body would have to adjust. Furthermore, it is not a long-term regimen. It is only a short discovery process to help your body identify which food stirs your gut problems.

How do you do a low FODMAP diet?

  1. Restrict yourself from eating some kinds of food (high FODMAP).
  2. Slowly reintroduce the food you have restricted yourself from, and observe which one brings trouble to your stomach.
  3. Limit or avoid the food you have identified, and enjoy the rest that doesn’t harm your gut. 

The elimination process may take about two to six weeks. Observing this diet will help you reduce the symptoms of SIBO. It will also decrease the high levels of intestinal bacteria that may be abnormally present in your system. You’ll have to dedicate at least three days to add high FODMAP food. Do this one at a time. It is a way for you to discover what prompts the symptoms. Once you come across a high FODMAP food that triggers your symptoms, the long-term solution is to avoid it for good.

What food should you eat under the low FODMAP diet?

Low FODMAP diet

Your meals should be around these low FODMAP foods:

  • Almond milk
  • Meat and eggs
  • Cheeses (cheddar, feta, Camembert, brie)
  • Grains (oats, rice, quinoa)
  • Vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant)
  • Fruits (oranges, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, pineapples)

These are some of the foods that you can expect from this diet. If you have any food sensitivities, it would be best to talk to your doctor before anything else. This diet is not for everyone. So, get a suitable recommendation before the process.

FODMAP food pyramid

A study shows that patients experiencing IBD can benefit from the FODMAP food pyramid. At the very top of the pyramid, there are red and blank markers. Red is for patients experiencing gut-related illnesses like IBS who need more personalized supplementation. On the other hand, blank is an indicator for banned FODMAP foods.

Every day, people who are on a FODMAP diet should eat the following portions:

  • Three portions of carbohydrates
  • Five portions of tolerated fruits and vegetables
  • 125ml portions of yogurt
  • One portion of extra virgin olive oil

On a weekly basis, however, these are the recommended portions in the FODMAP food pyramid:

  • Four portions of fish
  • Three portions of white meat
  • Three portions of eggs
  • Two portions of pureed legumes
  • Two portions of seasoned cheese
  • One portion of red or processed meats

To reiterate the above, this should only be done with guidance from health professionals.

Low FODMAP diet side effects

The Low FODMAP Diet (LFD) is one of the most effective dietary interventions for people with IBS. According to most studies, this investigative process yields at least three out of four efficacy in improving the symptoms of the said condition.

However, this plan also comes with risks. It is crucial to understand its side effects as they could cause nutritional inadequacy and eating disorders if not appropriately observed. Some LFD detractors also believe that this process can dangerously alter the intestinal microbiota and Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA) production in your body. Since there is a restriction, some people may experience excessive weight loss and even reduced calcium, iron, and vitamins, which are the side effects experts warn the public about.

These concerns may happen to people who go for the diet without supervision or advice. Thus, consult a healthcare professional such as a dietician, nutritionist, or gastroenterologist before going on this journey. Seek the help of individuals who have proven expertise in nutritional issues.

FODMAPs for Gut Health

Many of the FODMAP foods mentioned above can easily be incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet. The low FODMAP diet is specifically for people who need dietary changes due to IBS and other functional gut disorders. Hence, you must seek professional help from doctors when you are experiencing symptoms.

Don’t deprive your body of good gut bacteria. Any diet shouldn’t cause an extreme imbalance that could be detrimental to your long-term gut health. Remember that good hydration and a balanced diet help avoid gut-related diseases and other health issues

To better understand what FODMAP foods you can tolerate or not, it may take some experimentation and elimination of certain foods from the FODMAP food pyramid. We cannot stress enough how crucial it is to be guided by nutritionists or registered dietitians before doing this program.

And, bottom line, there are plenty of FODMAP food options out there. If you feel like you won’t eat tasty food anymore, don’t fret. With guidance from your doctor, you’ll find specific types of food that you can still enjoy. For more healthy recipes and ideas, visit this page on the Cognitive Health and Wellness Institute site.