If you’ve ever struggled with gut problems, you may have come across the term FODMAPs and The Low Fodmap Diet but what are they, how do they affect your digestive system, and should you be avoiding them?
I have concerns for those who have been advised to follow a low fodmap diet for an extended time after seeing many cases where excessive dietary restriction has led to worse health complications, there is a dark side to this diet.
As a Nutritional Therapist focusing on gut health, I’m here to explain FODMAPs in a way that anyone can grasp and offer insights on how to enhance your gut health while still being able to enjoy a wide variety of foods.
What Are FODMAPs?
FODMAPs, or Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols, might sound complicated, but they are merely types of carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found in many foods. The catch is that for some people, their bodies don’t process FODMAPs well. When these carbs and sugar alcohols aren’t properly absorbed in the small intestine, they can lead to various digestive issues.
Let’s break down the main FODMAP groups for a better understanding of which kinds of food are involved:
- Oligosaccharides: Found in foods like wheat, rye, onions, and garlic.
- Disaccharides: Lactose, the sugar in dairy products, is a well-known example.
- Monosaccharides: Fructose, present in fruits like apples and pears.
- Polyols: These are sugar alcohols found in some fruits, vegetables, and sugar substitutes like xylitol and sorbitol.
Why Can’t I Eat Chickpeas, Garlic, or Apples?
FODMAPs are divided into the four primary categories above made up of short-chain carbohydrates that ferment easily in the gut, often leading to symptoms like bloating and gas. These groups can be further broken down into five smaller sub-groups: lactose, fructans, polyols, fructose, and galactans. This is important for you to know because you may be cutting out too many of these groups that fall under the umbrella term FODMAPs for no reason.
Let’s look at each group and some common examples to see if you’ve restricted or removed any of these foods that you believe are causing your tummy troubles:
- Fructans: Found in wheat, barley, onions, leeks, and garlic.
- Lactose: Lactose is the sugar in dairy products and is present in foods like cream, cow’s milk, and ice cream.
- Fructose: This sugar is found in fruits like apples and pears.
- Polyols: Polyols include foods like mushrooms and sweeteners like xylitol and sorbitol.
- Galactans: Chickpeas, beans, and lentils fall into this category.
Typical higher FODMAP foods contain starch chains that are tough to digest for many of us. If you have a weaker gut or a gut microbe imbalance, you’re more likely to experience a negative side effects of consuming these foods.
Common Triggers for Symptoms
Common foods that can cause symptoms can include apples, garlic, onions, chickpeas, and lentils. However, the list of potential culprits is much more extensive if you generalise by following a “Low fodmap diet”.
Each of these fermentable carbohydrate groups primarily includes plant-based foods, except for some dairy products and we typically consider them all to be healthy additions to our diets. For instance, apples and pears are packed with vitamins, polyphenols that are beneficial to our gut microbes. However, consuming too much of these nutritious and delicious food at one time can lead to bloating and gas due to the fermentation process.
It’s uncommon for someone to react to every single high FODMAP food therefore restriction can lead to making things worse resulting in gut microbiome imbalances and even nutritional deficiencies.
Why Restrictive Diets May Not Be the Answer
In my opinion, the Low FODMAP Diet should only be recommended by a knowledgeable nutrition expert, preferably a gut health specialist who can carefully advise and guide you. There are numerous factors to consider when helping someone navigate FODMAPs, ensuring they don’t experience nutritional deficiencies. Your age, dietary preferences, medications, underlying conditions, and other stressors all play a role.
Symptoms of FODMAP Reactions
Reactions to FODMAPs can result in symptoms like bloating, gas, distension, discomfort, IBS, diarrhoea, and urgency. While these symptoms may make it seem like you should avoid FODMAP-rich foods, they are not the root cause of your gut problems. These foods are good for you and should be a part of a healthy, balanced diet. If you have a gut-related condition, such as IBS or IBD, these foods may be problematic for you in the short-term until your gut environment and health is improved.
Digestive Enzyme Insufficiency
Digestive enzymes are essential for breaking down the food we eat. Your diet has a significant impact on the diversity of your gut microbiome, affecting your tolerance to higher-fibre foods (FODMAPs). If we don’t have enough “power” to break these fibres down it can lead to bloating etc. Digestive insufficiency is increasingly common which can come down to eating habits like eating on the go or can happen after a gut infection or when taking antacid medication. Read more about common problems with digestion here.
Where Did It All Go Wrong?
Our diets have changed drastically over the past 70 years, and we’re experiencing health issues as a result. Our food has shifted from whole, nutrient-dense home-cooked meals to convenient, processed foods introduced in the 1970s and 1980s. Our diet has transformed, but our physiology has remained the same.
Food manufacturers have used more chemicals and preservatives to increase shelf life and profit, causing our gut to weaken. The gut microbiome has shifted in response to our dietary choices, with beneficial species like Lactobacillus often missing and replaced with less helpful species that can increase gut inflammation. The gut microbiome has transitioned into a state making it difficult to tolerate high-fibre foods.
It’s essential to consider the role of your gut health in your overall well-being. Your diet and lifestyle significantly influence your gut microbiome. FODMAPs impact the diversity of your gut bacteria, which play a crucial role in maintaining gut health and conferring numerous health benefits, including your immune health.
Can My Doctor Help?
While gut-related problems are on the rise, conventional medicine often struggles to address these issues. In many cases, GPs may recommend medications and low-fibre diets, including the Low FODMAP Diet. Although these diets can be helpful in the short term, they may worsen the situation in the long run.
Our bodies are naturally designed to tolerate higher-fibre diets. If you’re experiencing issues, the root cause is likely related to your inability to breakdown and digest these foods.
- FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates found in various healthy foods.
- They can trigger digestive symptoms in some individuals.
- Your gut microbiome is crucial for overall health, FODMAPs can influence it.
- Seek guidance from an expert before trying a low FODMAP diet.
If you suspect that FODMAPs are contributing to your gut symptoms it is crucial to get expert help to find the root cause. By working with a Nutrition expert in gut health like me we can identify your specific triggers and create a personalised nutrition plan to ensure you get the right balance of nutrients whilst improving your gut health without making things worse. Contact me today to arrange a free and non-obligatory chat.
Disclaimer: the information provided here is for information purposes only and not designed to treat or diagnose. I do not know your personal circumstances and therefore to get a personalised, bespoke health plan with Evie please get in touch to arrange your private consultation today