What is the fodmaps diet? Hailed as the answer to serious bloating issues it could become more popular that being ‘gluten-free’.
One woman who strongly belives in avoiding ‘high FODMAP foods’ (more on this later) is Oregon based Michelle Middleton.
She posts regularly about her extreme bloating on her Instagram with images like this…
When I say I’m bloated… I’m bloated. I do these bloat posts every now and then but people still get surprised at how big my belly gets. Yes I get bloated and it happens when I eat certain foods. I pretty much know which foods are going to do it (high FODMAP) but sometimes I will eat it anyways. Like earlier I had Greek yogurt and I got bloated within a few minutes but the bloat only lasted for a few hours and now I’m back to normal. The foods that make me the most bloated are yogurts, protein powders, apples, pears, watermelon, broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus.
Dec 10, 2017 at 12:17am PST
WH investigates – what is the fodmap diet and should you try it?
On the roller coaster trajectory of rising-and-falling trends, ـgluten-free is currently sharing a happy plateau somewhere alongside ‘Burberry print’. As part of a free-from industry that is worth around £500million in the UK alone (up to £7billion in the US where one in three people claim to be gluten abstainers), it’s survived the wonky path of early adoption followed by mainstream fervour followed by inevitable backlash.
Now we seem to be in a steady state of resigned acceptance: no it’s not always a bad idea. Yes, we know it really does suit some people. But there’s still an outside chance we’re going to judge you for it.
“Have you seen that cartoon?” laughs gastroenterologist Dr Peter Gibson, a world authority in gut health, referencing a sketch first published in The New Yorker last year. “It’s a woman opposite her bored-looking dining companion and underneath it says, ‘I’ve only been gluten-free for a week, but I’m already really annoying’.”
Yep, even the man who’s dedicated his career to researching coeliac disease (the bona fide gluten allergy) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is in on the joke.
The main reason people get so irked by intolerance claimees is that – aside from being nightmare dinner guests – they also tend to be serious self-diagnosers.
Peas: A High Fodmap Food
“Our research actually indicates that most people who have self-reported gluten senstivity do not actually have one – only a minority do. The situation isn’t yes or no – but it’s not as common as many believe,” Gibson says.
The problem is, one woman’s carb bloat is another’s intolerance. Indeed terms like IBS, sensitivity and intolerance are quite broad concepts – ones that are easy to misuse and abuse. Or in Jennifer Lawrence’s words they become the ‘new, cool eating disorder’; an in-vogue way to calorie swerve or at least a cult claim that sits nicely alongside your green juice and smoothie bowl.
But recently, we’ve noticed the bread basket refuseniks and ingredient checkers aren’t citing gluten. Instead the word being mouthed to waitresses, suggested to GPs and written across wellness blogs is the slightly less catchy ‘Fodmap’.
READ: WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH FOOD INTOLERANCES
What Is The Foodmaps Diet?
The acronym stands for – and head’s up, it’s a mouthful – fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are present in everything from classic gut offenders dairy and bread to healthy favourites like avocado, cashews and even coconut water.
According the Kings College London – the resource the NHS will direct you to – this is the basic outline of high FODMAP foods:
- Oligo-saccharides: e.g. fructans (found in wheat, rye and some vegetables) and galacto-oligosaccharides (found in pulses and legumes)
- Di-saccharides: e.g. lactose (found in mammalian milk)
- Mono-saccharides: e.g. free fructose (found in honey, some fruit and fruit juices)
- Polyols: e.g. sorbitol and mannitol (found in some fruits and vegetables).
Over the past couple of years they’ve slowly poked their way into the wellness lexicon following research published, mainly by Gibson and his team at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
In fact, leading the research at Monash, he found a diet low in Fodmaps helped relieve IBS symptoms in 70% of sufferers.
The Bulletproof Diet author Dave Asprey has talked about these carbohydrates on his podcast, and US celebrity doctor/presenter Dr Oz (the Oprah of the health world) devoted an episode of his TV show to cutting out Fodmaps to reduce gastrointestinal discomfort – billed as ‘The New Gluten Diagnosis’.
So why do they matter? These prebiotic compounds are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and so pass undigested into the colon, where they are rapidly fermented by colonic bacteria.
This is a totally natural process, but if you’re prone to those IBS-type symptoms, the gas produced by these little critters burning through the Fodmaps in your diet can cause a world of tummy trouble simply because, scientists believe, you’ve got a bowel that’s physiologically more sensitive to being stretched.
“Additionally, colonic bacteria in people with IBS may react differently to certain types of food, increasing the amount of gas produced and water content in the colon,” says Dr Majella O’Keeffe, dietitian and post-doctoral research associate at King’s College London, who is investigating the effects of Fodmaps.
Stress can make matter worse too.
Courgettes: A Low Fodmap Food
READ: 3 SUCESSFUL WAYS TO DEAL WITH IBS
So, Should You Be Blaming Gluten Or Fodmaps?
And here’s the interesting bit – rather than simply being the latest intolerance to lay claim to, they may have been at the route of those self-diagnosed conditions all along. Foods like pasta, cereals and biscuits made from wheat that have been seen as big gluten culprits also contain Fodmap compounds.
“When we began testing IBS sufferers, many of whom had diagnosed themselves as gluten intolerant, we found that they didn’t react to carbohydrate-depleted wheat, even though it still contained gluten,” Gibson explains.
And so the Fodmap-free movement has begun. Gibson and his colleagues have created and app, and the offshoot cookery book The Low Fodmap Diet Cookbook (written by dietitian Dr Sue Shepherd, who was part of Gibson’s team that developed the low-Fodmap approach), was published early this year.
In the US and Australia – always one step ahead in the health-food revolution – you’ll find Fodmap-free products, including soups, sauces, ready meals and protein bars.
In 2014, the UK free-from market grew by 15% year-on-year – so will Fodmaps be the future of the free-from aisle? Will we see restaurants offering Fodmap-free alternatives?
Because if the statistics tell us anything, it’s that there’s a public appetite for restrictive diets.
“The problem with a lot of restrictive diets is people use them with the misbelief that it’s going to solve all their problems,” says Gibson.
“Whether it’s gluten or Fodmaps, we don’t want people to stop consuming something because they think it’s going to be healthier. It’s not always the case.”
“There are a lot of things that can be made low Fodmap that are nutritionally bad, but if brands write ‘low Fodmap’ on them, it gives them a sort of credibility as a healthy food,” Gibson continues.
“We’ve learnt a lot from the gluten-free explosion and we’re trying to avoid too much of the exploitation of consumers for commercial gain.”
Gibson is not selling the low Fodmap diet as a lifestyle choice (in fact, he’s also researching the benefits of a diet high in prebiotics) and is quick to point out that it’s simply unnecessary for anyone who doesn’t suffer from IBS.
But then, once upon a time, the same was said for gluten. Yet it’s transcended the IBS community, becoming wellness mantra, a shortcut to a flatter belly and catalyst to health utopia.
Croissants: A High Fodmap Food
READ: 4 GLUTEN-FREE INGREDIENTS THAT SABOTAGE WEIGHTLOSS
How Can You Tell If Your Fodmap Intolerant?
Similarly to non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, there is no definitive diagnosis process for a Fodmap-intolerance.
“At the moment, there is no clinically diagnostic test for Fodmap sensitivity,” explains O’Keeffe. Instead, it involves an elimination diet and then gradual reintroduction of various high-Fodmap foods to identify individual triggers and work out tolerance thresholds.
So far, so much scope for self-diagnosis.
“Remember though, this isn’t as simple as just cutting out one thing, you’re cutting out a huge variety of foods, many of which, like apples, garlic and broccoli, are low calorie and very healthy,” Gibson says.
His point – this isn’t exactly going to appeal to the carb-swervers the way that gluten does. In fact, the list of what to restrict runs across all of the food groups, from fruit and vegetables to health alternatives like agave syrup to hidden ingredients like the soy flour used in many crisps, sausages and protein bars.
It’s enough to make a person nostalgic for the comparatively simple task of cutting out gluten.
READ: VEGAN, GLUTEN-, NUT- AND DAIRY-FREE SKINCARE – HEALTH TRIBES REJOICE!
Also, Fodmaps are growing in notoriety at a time when gut health – and the associated benefits of prebiotic foods – have become a major area of scientific research.
Prebiotics feed the bacteria in the gut, creating a diverse ecosystem of microflora. Sounds gross, but is a good thing.
An increasing breadth of research shows that gut diversity is linked to everything from immunity and metabolism to clear skin and mental health.
“Prebiotics are mostly Fodmaps, so the theoretical risk is that by eliminating them or cutting down on them significantly, you’re going to create an environment in your bowel where you won’t have as many health-promoting microbiota,” Gibson warns.
So if someone mentions they’re thinking of going Fodmap-free, do them a favour and encourage them to see their GP, who can first rule out a condition like coeliac disease and point them in the direction of a dietitian to supervise the tricky elimination stage. Also, do yourself a favour and cross them off that dinner party invite list.
So now you know about Fodmaps, here are some other pointers on how to be kind to your bowel: What Food To Eat To Ease IBS