Optimized digestion is a hot topic right now, and for good reason: it makes for a speedy metabolism, a healthy immune system, and can even regulate inflammation. And obviously, we're all about optimization. So, we've done the research, and it looks like a low-FODMAP diet could be a key to alleviating digestive woes like abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea.
Not quite sure what FODMAPs are, or how to avoid them? We break it down for you in this quick read...
What are FODMAPs?
FODMAP is an acronym that stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Quite the mouthful, right? Simply put, FODMAPs are small carbohydrates that our bodies do not absorb well. Because of this, they can sometimes trigger gastrointestinal (a.k.a. "GI" or "digestive") upset. The most common FODMAPs include:
- Fructose: sugar in fruits and veggies
- Lactose: sugar found in dairy products
- Fructans: carbohydrate found mostly in grains
- Galactans: complex carbohydrate in legumes
- Polyols: sugar alcohols, (ex. xylitol, sorbitol), found in gum, sugar-free candy, and dried fruit
Why do they trigger GI upset?
Because FODMAPs are poorly absorbed in our small intestine, they travel in their undigested state into the large intestine. Once there, they are eaten and fermented by friendly bacteria.
And do you know what the main product of fermentation is? Gas.
When everything is operating smoothly in your large intestine, the bacteria there produce methane gas. But when these bacteria feed on FODMAPs, they produce hydrogen gas.1 This hydrogen is capable of being converted into sulfides (a very smelly gas), or even entering the bloodstream, in which case it travels to your lungs and exits as a burp.
Additionally, FODMAPs have an effect on fluid balance (a.k.a. "osmotic pressure") in your large intestine, which causes it to retain excess water.2 In combination with hydrogen gas, this triggers GI symptoms like gas, bloating, stomach cramps, and bowel movements.
Here's a helpful list of common foods and their FODMAP status.2 Where do your problem foods land?
How to properly implement a low-FODMAP diet:
A low FODMAP diet starts out with a 4-8 week period of removing all high FODMAP foods from your diet; this can help you assess whether they are in fact the source of your GI upset. Then, after complete elimination, FODMAP foods are slowly reintroduced to the diet one at a time, while keeping an eye on GI symptoms.3 If a food does cause unpleasant side effects, it's reremoved from the diet, and once the GI upset dies down, the process is repeated with something new.
Most people will find that they do not need to eliminate all FODMAP foods, but rather, just a few that trigger unpleasant symptoms. The FODMAP diet is not one that is meant to be followed forever, but rather, one that will help you understand which foods may be causing you discomfort and which foods you tolerate well.
We recommend consulting a dietitian (we have two on staff!) to help you fully understand the nuances of the diet and help you develop a personalized, well balanced, sustainable nutrition plan.
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Some other blog posts we think you'll love:
- 1. Ong DK1, Mitchell SB, Barrett JS, Shepherd SJ, Irving PM, Biesiekierski JR, Smith S, Gibson PR, Muir JG. “Manipulation of dietary short chain carbohydrates alters the pattern of gas production and genesis of symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome.” J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010 Aug;25(8):1366-73.
- 2. Gibson P, Shephard S. “Evidence-based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms: The FODMAP approach.” J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010 Feb;25(2):252-8.
- 3. Staudacher HM, Whelan K.”The low FODMAP diet: recent advances in understanding its mechanisms and efficacy in IBS.” Gut. 2017 Aug;66(8):1517-1527.