Debating Diets: What is the low-FODMAP diet?

Thinking about starting a new diet? While the amount of information available can be overwhelming, it’s possible to find a diet that is safe, suitable and effective for your lifestyle.

Ann McMeans, senior registered dietitian with Baylor College of Medicine, discusses what you need to know about the low-FODMAP diet.

Q: What is the low-FODMAP diet and how does it work?

A: Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, or FODMAPs, are a group of carbohydrates that may not be absorbed completely in the gut and can cause symptoms – including pain, gas, or  bloating –  in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The low-FODMAP diet is implemented in three phases:

  • In the first phase, FODMAPs are completely restricted over three to eight weeks.
  • In the second phase, specific FODMAP-containing foods are reintroduced gradually to determine which high-FODMAP foods need to continue to be avoided.
  • The final phase is a personalized, long-term maintenance phase based on the results of the elimination and re-introduction phase.
Salmon is a popular seafood dish that can be incorporated into a low-FODMAP diet.
Q: What are the recommended foods? Discouraged foods?

A:  FODMAPs are found in a wide range of foods, such as some fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, nuts, legumes and sweets.

Examples of high-FODMAP foods are apples, pears, watermelon, beans, garlic, onion, milk, foods high in wheat like bread (this is not a gluten-free diet), breaded and marinated meats, high fructose corn syrup, and honey.

Low-FODMAP foods include plain meats, fish, chicken, grapes, cantaloupe, green beans, carrots, rice, corn flakes, lactose-free milk, and small amounts of some cheeses.

Q: What are the nutritional benefits of this diet?

A:  There are no direct nutritional benefits, although people do tend to indirectly change their eating habits to include healthier, fresh foods and reduce less healthy alternatives such as fast food and sodas.

Q: How can this diet benefit those with irritable bowel syndrome?

A: It can reduce pain, gas, bloating and other symptoms in some people with IBS. However, not all people with IBS benefit from a low-FODMAP diet.

Q: Who should avoid this diet?

A: People who do not have symptoms of IBS. The diet should be used with caution in those who are already underweight or are already heavily restricting their diet.

Q: What else should people know before considering this diet?

A: This is a restriction diet and you need guidance to make sure it is balanced. Those considering the diet should talk to their doctor and meet with a registered dietitian or nutritionist to receive personalized FODMAP diet recommendations.

 Additional Resources

 What is intuitive eating?

Check out more from the Debating Diets series.

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