If you’ve ever suffered from bloating or abdominal pain (we’re talking about chronic aching—not the kind of cramp you get after inhaling a heaping plate of double-chocolate pancakes for breakfast), then you’ve then you’ve probably heard about the low FODMAP diet. But what exactly is it? And is it worth a try? Here’s the scoop.
What is it? The low FODMAP diet was developed by Australian researchers in 2005 and aims to reduce or eliminate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by cutting out certain carbohydrates for a period of time. In order to follow the diet properly, you’ll need to work with a doctor or dietician to guide you through the different phases of the diet—elimination, reintroduction and personalization (aka the “modified low-FODMAP diet” phase).
And what the heck are FODMAPs? It’s an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (try saying that three times fast). FODMAPs refer to types of carbohydrates that can be difficult to digest for some people, thereby causing unpleasant symptoms like bloating and discomfort. Foods that are high in FODMAPs include wheat, rye, garlic, onions, most legumes (like black beans and peas), fructose (found in honey and many fruits) and lactose.
So, what can I eat? Low FODMAP foods include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and wheat-free grains like oats and quinoa. Some dairy (like hard cheeses) and certain fruits (like bananas and berries) are also OK. Get a full list of low and high FODMAP foods here.
How does the diet work? First, you'll cut out high FODMAP foods. Then (usually around three to eight weeks later), you’ll slowly reintroduce these foods one at a time, making sure to take note of any nasty symptoms. Once you figure out which ingredients are triggers for you, you can then personalize your diet to balance your gut. (The process is basically the same as an elimination diet.)
And is it effective? Researchers seem to think so. One study found that up to 86 percent of those who follow a low FODMAP diet notice a significant improvement in IBS symptoms, such as bloating, gas, constipation and abdominal pain. There is also some evidence to suggest that the diet could be useful for those suffering with other types of digestive problems—just make sure you’re working with a professional. (A dietician can also help you come up with some delicious carb substitutions for when those cravings strike—zoodles, anyone?)