Digestive disturbances seem to be on the rise, with people particularly complaining of bloating, flatulence, hyperacidity and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
The reasons are diverse but the most common causes of these are food related. Fermentation of undigested foods leads to formation of gases, which in turn leads to indigestion and other associated symptoms, IBS or inflammatory bowel disease.
Recognising this, researchers at The Monash University in Melbourne have coined a new term called ‘FODMAP – Fermentable-oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols.
FODMAP refers to a group of poorly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates (sugars). Not all carbohydrates in our diets, however, are included in FODMAPs.
FODMAP stands for (F) Fermentable, the process through which gut bacteria break down undigested carbohydrate to produce gases (hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide); (O) Oligo-saccarides include Fructo-oligosaccharides (Fructans) and Galacto-oligosaccharides (Galactans). Fructans are found in wheat, rye, onions and garlic. Wheat and wheat products such as pasta, bread, cereals, crackers and biscuits are a major source of fructans and Galactans are found in legumes/pulses such as chickpeas, beans and lentils; (D) Di-saccharides are carbohydrates which include two units of monosaccharides, for example: sucrose, lactose. Lactose is found in milk, yoghurt and cheese, and anything made from these, (M) Mono-saccharides are the most basic carbohydrates and include galactose, fructose, which is found in honey, apples; (A) and (P) Polyols which include sugar polyols (sorbitol, mannitol) are found in some fruits and vegetables and are used as artificial sweeteners in sugar-free mints/gums.
The low Fodmap diet is a relatively new approach to manage gastrointestinal disorders and is slowly gaining recognition as an effective diet to manage manage IBS, inflammatory bowel disease, bloating or flatulence. The aim of the diet is to identify which FODMAP foods, if any, cause symptoms. It involves restricting certain foods for up to 6-8 weeks, and then re-introducing them systematically back into the diet through ‘food challenges’ to identify any trigger foods. The low FODMAP diet is not a “No FODMAP diet”, as some FODMAPs are important for gut health. Nor is it a “lifetime diet.” After the 6-8 weeks, many people can return to their usual diet with just a few high FODMAP foods that need to be avoided or consumed in small amounts.
A recent review published in 2013 in the Journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice reported that nearly 86% of patients with IBS achieved relief of overall gastrointestinal symptoms and, more specifically, bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain, and altered bowel habit after following a low FODMAP diet.
Remember, there is no substitute to eating healthy and an active lifestyle. Before, you embark on any elimination, its advisable to consult a your health care professional.
Tips for low FODMAP diet:
> Follow the diet for 6 weeks. After this, add high FODMAP foods one at a time back into the diet in small amounts to identify foods that could be “triggers” to your symptoms.
> Limit foods that trigger your symptoms.
> Read food labels. Avoid foods made with high FODMAPs such as high FODMAP fruits, HFCS, honey, wheat, soy, etc. However, a food could be an overall low FODMAP food if a high FODMAP food listed as the last ingredient.
> Buy gluten free grains as they are wheat free. However, you do not need to follow a 100% gluten free diet as the focus is on FODMAPs, not gluten. Look for gluten free grains made with low FODMAPs, such as potato, quinoa, rice or corn.