Have you seen the phrase “low FODMAP” and been like “what the heck is a FODMAP?” You’re probably not alone. FODMAPs are a rather foreign topic to most people, and today we are going to be answering the question: “What are FODMAPs?”
*Disclaimer: As always, this is general information intended for healthy adults. Your needs may vary based on medical status, lifestyle, or life-stage. Please never replace generalized health information you’ve read online with individualized clinical care.
So, what are FODMAPs?
“FODMAP” stands for fermentable, oligo- di-, mono-saccharides and polyols. These are short-chain carbohydrates, each containing 1-10 sugars, that, when eaten in excess, have the possibility to be osmotically active in the intestines.
In FODMAP-sensitive individuals, FODMAPs may become fermented by bacteria in the intestines, which releases short-chain fatty acids and gases, often leading to bloating and gas. FODMAPs may also draw water to the intestines due to their osmotic activity – meaning they may increase diarrhea.
This may cause some FODMAP-sensitive individuals to have symptoms of functional gut or gastrointestinal disorders like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
What foods contain FODMAPS?
FODMAPs are found in many foods and food groups.
There are four types of FODMAPS:
1.Monosaccharides are made of one (mono) sugars. Fructose is a sugar that is also a FODMAPS.
- Fructose is found in some fruits like cherries, peaches, watermelon, pears, high fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, and more. High fructose corn syrup is found in most commercial non-diet sodas, packaged sweets, and is also found in many condiments like ketchup.
2. Disaccharides are made of two (di) sugars. Lactose is a sugar that is a FODMAP.
- Lactose is found in dairy and dairy-products, including yogurt, pudding, ricotta, etc.
3. Oligosaccharides are made of 3-10 (many = ‘oligo’) sugars. Fructans and galactans are FODMAPS that are oligosaccharides.
- Fructans (fructooligosaccharides) are found in wheat, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, snow peas, shallots, garlic, and onions. It is also found in added fiber sources, like ‘inulin.’
- Galactans (galactooligosaccharides) are found in broccoli, beans, lentils, and legumes (like beans and chickpeas and soy beans).
4. Polyols are sugar alcohols that are FODMAPs.
- Polyols are found in sweeteners including sorbitol, xylitol (which is found in many gums and mints), maltitol, stone fruits like cherries, nectarines, peaches and plums. Sugar alcohols (like sorbitol) are also found in diet sodas and “sugar-free” sweeteners and sweets.
Symptoms of FODMAP sensitivity:
Classic symptoms of FODMAP sensitivity include gas, bloating, abdominal cramping and diarrhea. IBS symptoms may also be associated with FODMAP sensitivity.
Most people who are sensitive to FODMAPs are particularly sensitive to certain FODMAPs.
The Low FODMAP Diet:
FODMAP-sensitive individuals who experience diarrhea, gas, bloating, abdominal pain or cramping, and IBS may experience improvement in symptoms upon decreasing FODMAP consumption.
This is where low FODMAP diets come in. Embarking on a low FODMAP protocol typically occurs in two phases: first, the individual tries to decrease consumption of all FODMAPs for 6-8. While total avoidance of FODMAP-containing foods is unnecessary and nearly impossible, FODMAPs are avoided in large quantities.
So, basically, a person may eat some cherries, but only ½ cup at a time. Or they may strive to eat only ½ cup of FODMAP-rich vegetables at a time (like Brussels sprouts or beets), and round out their servings of veggies with other low-FODMAP veggies (like cucumber and green beans). If there is no improvement in symptoms, patients typically return to a normal diet.
After the low FODMAP adherence phase, if the patient feels improved, they will most often begin to slowly reintroduce FODMAP-rich foods into their diet, trying out different foods from different FODMAP groups, taking note of any potentially triggering foods, and identifying them for future meal planning.
After all foods are reintroduced, patients can begin normal eating, noting which FODMAP-rich foods trigger IBS or GI symptoms, and limiting amounts consumed of those foods.
Some people, after having a break from FODMAPs, may be able to consume all of them without issue; some believe that the gut microbiome may change during a low FODMAP phase, making it easier to digest FODMAPs in the future. More research in this area is needed.
FODMAPs are found in all food groups. It is therefore difficult to avoid FODMAPs and eat a nutritionally adequate diet. Which is why if you are prescribed a low-FODMAP diet, I would suggest working closely with a dietitian to ensure you are eating well!
Low FODMAP diets do have data to support their use; however, they may not work for everyone with GI distress. Whether or not their failure to help people is dependent on the individual’s GI status, or the diet failed to work due to the difficulty to adhere to it properly is not quite clear.
Furthermore, if done incorrectly or for too long, low FODMAP diets may put people are risk of nutritional inadequacy.
As adherence to protocol is difficult, it’s important to talk to your health care provider before trying it. Also, it’s extremely important to rule out other diseases like Crohn’s or Celiacs before trying low FODMAP.
- This is a useful FODMAP food chart.
- The American Academy of Dietetics also has a useful blog post about the low FODMAP diet.
FODMAPs is a funny-sounding acryomn for some sugars (carbs) that cause some people GI distress or IBS symptoms. Low FODMAP diets help some people to relieve these symptoms. But low FODMAP diets are tricky, and if you have a GI issue, see a clinician to rule out other GI issues, and if you do embark on a low FODMAP diet, try to do it with a medical professional’s guidance.
Bonus: My FODMAP story (not that you care)
I have a long history with IBS and have realized I am indeed sensitive to certain FODMAPs, including lactose, and fructans in large amounts.
I was diagnosed with lactose-intolerance as a kid and grew up drinking soy milk, but still would eat yogurt and dairy ice cream. Since going vegan and only eating non-dairy ‘dairy’ products, I have a lot less diarrhea; yay!
But I still deal with some FODMAP-sensitivities. FODMAP-triggers are the reason I only eat about 8 Brussels sprouts at a time, and try to cut myself off after 2 cups of watermelon when I could easily eat a 20 pound melon in one sitting.
Sometimes I still eat large portions of these FODMAP-rich foods and am usually extra bloated (yay for flowy tops!) and a bit uncomfortable after, and will have some mild GI cramping, which to me, isn’t the end of the world.
But this is just me. Everyone is different in terms of digestion health and FODMAP sensitivities. Like I’ve said 1000 times, talk to your healthcare provider if you have GI issues before doing anything!
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