Do you suffer from chronic digestive complaints such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), bloating, diarrhea, gas, excessive burping, abdominal pain, or constipation? There’s a good chance that a diet low in FODMAPs may provide relief. So, what is a FODMAP? Let’s get right to it.
On the surface, Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, and Mono-saccharides And Polyols (FODMAPs) are a classification of foods that make you thankful for acronyms. All joking aside, FODMAPs are sugars, sugar alcohols, and non-digestible fibers that occur naturally in foods and — in some circumstances — cause gut disruption.
When FODMAPs Aren’t Friendly
FODMAP sugars require certain digestive enzymes to break down adequately and the absence of these enzymes can be problematic. The sugar alcohols — that second group I mentioned — pull water into the digestive tract from surrounding tissue. And the non-digestible fibers are broken down by your gut bacteria through fermentation which produces carbon dioxide in your intestines.
For a lot of people, none of this is an issue. Like most things in the nutrition world, FODMAPs are a spectrum disorder; you fall somewhere on the scale between full tolerance and full intolerance. This is yet another reason why cookie cutter approaches to nutrition fail miserably.
If you happen to be someone who is sensitive to FODMAPs, then a more nuanced approach to eating is required for relief. It’s important to note that unlike with gluten, it’s not necessary to be FODMAP-free. A diet that’s simply low in FODMAPs will often get the job done.
Could FODMAP Intolerance Be a Symptom?
An obvious question for someone intolerant to FODMAPs would be, “Why am I intolerant and not the next girl?”
It’s possible that some differences in gut function contribute to FODMAP intolerance. Whether or not those differences have a permanent solution is another question altogether.
If you suffer from IBS you’re almost certainly FODMAP intolerant, but FODMAPs do not cause IBS. SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) can contribute to both IBS and FODMAP intolerance symptoms. Healing the SIBO may relieve some IBS and FODMAP intolerance symptoms, but there’s still a lot of controversy surrounding the treatments for SIBO.
Lastly, stress — both physical and emotional — are contributing factors to both IBS and FODMAP intolerance. The causation here is thought to be the link between stress and it’s confirmed ability to alter gut flora and inhibit gut function.
Avoiding FODMAP Foods
The bad news here is that FODMAPs are in a wide variety of foods. Dairy, fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, sweeteners, and additives are all categories that contain FODMAP foods. Not all foods in these categories are affected, so you’ll have to learn which specific foods to avoid.
If you’re eating according to the Total Body Reboot framework then you’re naturally cutting out most sources of FODMAPs with the exception of some of the vegetable-based FODMAPs, at which point you can make some substitutions and you’re good to go.
IBSgroup.org has a great FODMAP visual guide that you can use to determine which foods to stay away from. However, I highly recommend you only use that as a “what not to eat” guide and not a “what to eat” guide as they place things like gluten free bread, cereal products, oats, unhealthy substitutes and other ANTI foods in the suitable column.
I recently released a free PDF — Complete Guide to Real Food (PDF) — that is far more suitable for answering both questions of what to eat and what not to eat. It denotes which foods are FODMAPs as well as pointing out nightshades, goitrogens, and which foods should be purchased organic rather than conventional.
Do you have an intolerance to FODMAPs that you’ve been working on? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Also, feel free to post specific questions regarding FODMAPs in the comments and I’ll work to answer those as well.
Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s helped tens of thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and now offers all of his signature programs through a “pay what you want” model.