About a year ago, I began following the Low-FODMAP Diet. While most people have heard of other named diets – Paleo, Mediterranean, Ketogenic, Whole30 – I find that there are few people who are familiar with the Low-FODMAP diet. That’s always surprising to me because it was developed in 1999 at Monash University in Australia and it is a diet that is recommended for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS. In fact it has been shown to help at least three out of four people with IBS (and IBS is a condition that affects 15% of the population). By the way – may I just mention - that as a sufferer of IBS, I would really love it if we could just re-name this disease. For example, we could name it after one of the celebrities who has it, such as Tyra Banks, Jenny McCarthy, John F. Kennedy or Cybil Shephard. Yes, we could call it the Tyra Banks disease. Isn’t that much prettier than “Irritable Bowel Syndrome?”
FODMAPS are a group of naturally occurring sugars that are not absorbed in the small intestine. They travel down to the large intestine and ferment there, resulting in gas, bloating, pain and a lot of other unpleasant side effects. So what does the acronym FODMAP stand for exactly?
F - Fermentable
O – Oligosaccharides
D – Disaccharides
M – Monosaccharides
A and P – And Polyols
You can see why an acronym was a necessity here. The key to the diet is to avoid foods which are high in FODMAPS. In fact, it is recommended that you eliminate them from your diet altogether for about six weeks and then work with a dietitian to re-introduce them.
So, what are some of these High FODMAP foods to avoid? Here are just a few:
- Foods high in lactose (cow’s milk, many cheeses, ice cream)
- Foods with excess fructose (asparagus, apples, pears, watermelon, high fructose corn syrup, honey, run, agave nectar)
- Foods with high fructans (garlic, onion, leeks, scallions, onion powder, garlic powder, kidney beans, ripe bananas, wheat, soy milk, black beans, chamomile tea)
- Foods with high polyols (cauliflower, mushrooms, blackberries, sorbitol, xylitol, prunes)
Are you asking yourself what you can eat yet? The list is actually long and plentiful. There are many wonderful fruits, veggies, gluten-free grains, nuts, proteins, herbs, legumes, coffee, tea, dark chocolate and wine (thank goodness!) You can find many lists on low-FODMAP websites. I highly recommend the Kate Scarlatta blog. She is a Boston-based Registered Dietitian and New York Times best-selling author. I love her low-FODMAP Grocery Shopping List and her recipes too.
When I tell people that I am on the Low-FODMAP diet, these are the questions they ask me.
Q: Who recommended the Low-FODMAP diet to you?
A: First, my primary care physician. Then, my GI specialist, who diagnosed me with IBS, I mean, the Tyra Banks disease. I was familiar with it because I have a close friend who has Crohn’s disease and we had explored components of the diet together. I have been on the diet for approximately one year.
Q. Has the Low-FODMAP diet helped your IBS symptoms?
A: YES! It has helped tremendously. I used to have eight bad stomach days out of every ten days. Now that number is about one out of ten.
Q. Is it hard to follow?
A. Yes and No. I was already gluten-free and almost completely dairy-free when I started the diet. My diet was also primarily comprised of unprocessed foods. All of that helped. It also helped that I had a background in nutrition. Like many diets, it is easy to follow when you are eating on your own and eating in your own home. It gets much harder when you are traveling, eating in restaurants, or at a dinner party.
Q. Where do you go for recipes?
A. I have a couple of cookbooks written by the diet’s founder, Sue Shepherd, Ph D. And I have found some great recipes just from searching through Instagram, Pinterest and other Internet resources. There are a lot of FODMAP foodies out there! I’ve also developed some of my own recipes. I now make some of our family favorites without garlic and onion, for example. My husband and kids have been amazingly accommodating. That’s not to say they don’t love a good meal full of gluten, dairy, garlic, onions and all the rest when I’m not around!
Q. How do you handle eating out?
A. I’ve found that garlic and onion are big triggers for my stomach and gluten is also, so I tell my server that I’m allergic to garlic, onion, scallion, and gluten. And then we take it from there. Sometimes I’m always having the salad with grilled salmon. But I’ve also had chefs make me some exceptionally creative dishes too. I find that these days servers are incredibly well-educated about allergies and intolerances. Also, we have found the restaurants that handle it best – and that’s where we tend to go.
Q. Is it hard to follow when you are traveling?
A. Yes! The problem is that the staples you need are more likely to be found in a grocery store, not in an airport or other convenience location. For example, when I want yogurt, I want non-fat, plain Greek yogurt. But it’s hard to find that in a single-serve size in an airport or in your hotel’s little snack market. You are more likely to find yogurt that already has fruit in it – and, unless it’s labeled, you don’t know what kind of sweeteners might be in there. So, I pack a lot of almonds!
Q. What do you do when you are going to someone else’s house to eat?
A. I try to bring one dish that is low-FODMAP. During the busy holiday season, when we had a lot of Christmas parties on weekend nights, I knew that I would be heading into houses where I would be out of luck at the buffet tables. So, I would make an omelet (like the one pictured) and eat ahead. At least I knew that I wouldn’t be hungry.
Q. Have you lost weight?
A. No – I remained about the same. It’s not necessarily a weight-loss plan. You will eat very cleanly though.
Q. What has been the most surprising thing you have learned?
A. There is high fructose corn syrup in everything. Everything! It’s even in Nyquil! It is in so many processed foods in the United States. Oh – there is also garlic and onion in everything.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about the low-FODMAP diet?
A. Yes! If your stomach hurts- if you experience bloating and discomfort, gassiness, or anything else that makes you miserable, don’t try to fix it on your own. See your doctor and ask to see a GI specialist. There are things you can do to feel better and it is so worth it!
For More Information on IBS or the Low-FODMAP diet: