What Is a FODMAP Diet? All You Need to Know

While designed to manage digestive problems, the FODMAP diet has gained popularity beyond its original intent. Find out exactly what the FODMAP diet entails and if it is worth a try!

What Is a FODMAP Diet? All You Need to Know

The FODMAP diet originated in 2005 as a way to help people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). However, the popularity of a FODMAP diet has risen as a diet plan to follow for weight loss or healthy eating in general. 

While following a FODMAP diet can be beneficial for gut health, health experts warrant caution for using a FODMAP diet for other purposes. Read on for all you need to know about what FODMAPs are and what it means to follow a FODMAP diet.

FODMAP Meaning

FODMAP is a long acronym that stands for the following groups of carbohydrates:

Fermentable
Oligosaccharides
Disaccharides
Monosaccharides
And
Polyols

What makes these carbohydrates "problematic" for some with digestive issues is the absorption of these carbohydrates in the small intestine does not happen normally. When these carbs are in the small intestine, they either delay or speed up the time food passes through the gut. They likewise pull in extra water into the digestive tract. 

If these carbohydrates do not get absorbed in the small intestine, they enter the large intestine where they are fermented or broken down from gut bacteria. The end result can manifest in digestive symptoms that include stomach pain, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, and/or constipation.

FODMAP Chart

What foods are considered sources of FODMAPs? There are many foods that fall into the FODMAP category which can make eliminating FODMAP foods difficult. Below is a common FODMAP food list.

Carbohydrate Type

Common Food Sources

Oligosaccharides

Vegetables include onion, garlic, asparagus, broccoli, and artichokes

Wheat-based grains

Legumes

Disaccharides

Dairy

Monosaccharides

Fructose-containing foods, including some fruits and products with honey or high fructose corn syrup

Polyols

Fruits include nectarines, peaches, plums, apples, apricots, watermelon, cherries

Vegetables include cauliflower, mushrooms, and snow peas

Sugar alcohols (sweeteners ending in -ol) 

Some foods contain more than one FODMAP. The Monash University FODMAP Diet App has more examples of foods that may fall into one or several categories. This can be a helpful tool if needing a further breakdown of which foods have low, moderate, or high FODMAP ingredients.

What Is a FODMAP Diet?

Following a FODMAP diet (or a low FODMAP diet) means eliminating either one group or more of FODMAP carbohydrates. While the FODMAP diet has gained popularity as a diet that can produce several health benefits, it is meant to alleviate IBS symptoms and improve gut health.

Truly following the FODMAP diet as it was intended is designed to be a bit tedious and detailed. The diet is meant to rule out foods and types of carbohydrates that are causing gastrointestinal distress. Because of this, it is recommended to consult your healthcare team before starting and work with a dietitian to help adhere to dietary guidelines.

Monash University gives these steps for following a FODMAP diet:

• First, for 2 to 6 weeks, switch out all high FODMAP foods for low FODMAP foods. For example, instead of apples, plums, peaches, or other high FODMAP fruits, choose grapes, strawberries, or oranges. The FODMAP diet app can give further insight and suggestions for the best food swaps.

• The second part of the diet involves reintroducing FODMAPs back into the diet over the course of 8 to 12 weeks. In order to determine which foods are causing gut health issues, they need to be added in ONE FOOD at a time. Adding in one food at a time should be done over three days and increasing food amounts if tolerated. 

• The last step of the diet is customizing food options to eliminate all problematic foods and FODMAPs while enjoying a variety of tolerable foods.

If looking to the FODMAP diet to alleviate symptoms of IBS, it should be noted, according to Monash University, about 75 percent of people with IBS can find relief following a low FODMAP diet. One-fourth of people with IBS may not find relief alone from just modifying their diet. 

FODMAP Diet and Weight Loss

A low FODMAP diet is gaining popularity as a diet that may be helpful for weight loss, relieving acne, and other health problems. However, experts advise a FODMAP diet should not be used for weight loss since it unnecessarily is too restrictive in food choices. This diet cuts out many pre- and probiotic foods as well as foods that provide a natural source of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

According to a 2017 study, healthy gut bacteria levels can negatively be affected by following a low FODMAP diet long-term. There is no benefit, and could potentially be harmful, for following a FODMAP diet if not suffering from IBS, SIBO, or other gut-related disorders. 

If a digestive disorder is suspected, it is best to consult a doctor and dietitian before trying a FODMAP diet.

FODMAP Diet Recap

The FODMAP diet was designed to eliminate sources of carbohydrates that can be problematic for people suffering from IBS, SIBO, or other serious digestive disorders. Research has shown this diet can help manage gut health issues and improve the quality of life for many, but not all, with these disorders.

As the FODMAP diet gains popularity, it can be marketed as a diet good for weight loss or overall health. However, experts caution this diet is not appropriate for those without digestive health concerns and just seeking weight loss. The FODMAP diet is unnecessarily restrictive in otherwise healthy food options.

References:

Starting the fodmap diet. Starting the Low FODMAP Diet - Monash Fodmap. https://www.monashfodmap.com/ibs-central/i-have-ibs/starting-the-low-fodmap-diet/.

Staudacher HM. Nutritional, microbiological, and psychosocial implications of the low FODMAP diet. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Mar;32 Suppl 1:16-19. doi: 10.1111/jgh.13688. PMID: 28244658.

Varney J. The FODMAP diet is everywhere, but researchers warn it's not for weight loss. Published September 1, 2021. https://theconversation.com/the-fodmap-diet-is-everywhere-but-researchers-warn-its-not-for-weight-loss-131550

Veloso HG. FODMAP diet: What you need to know. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/fodmap-diet-what-you-need-to-know.

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