Digestive disturbances seem to be on the rise. The reasons are diverse but the most of these disorders turn out to be food related. Fermentation of undigested foods leads to formation of gases, which lead to indigestion and associated symptoms, IBS ((irritable bowel syndrome) or inflammatory bowel disease.
Recognising this, researchers at The Monash University in Melbourne coined the term ‘Fodmap’ — Fermentable-oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols — to describe a group of poorly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates (sugars). However, not all carbohydrates in our diets are included in fodmaps.
A low FODMAP diet is a relatively new approach to managing gastrointestinal disorders and is slowly gaining recognition as an effective diet for managing 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 six-eight 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 six-eight 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 percent of patients with IBS achieved relief after following a low FODMAP diet.
Fermentable: the process through which gut bacteria break down undigested carbohydrate to produce gases
Oligo-saccarides: include Fructo-oligosaccharides (Fructans) and Galacto-oligosaccharides (Galactans). Fructans are found in wheat, rye, onions and garlic, while galactans are found in legumes/pulses
Di-saccharides: carbohydrates which include two units of monosaccharides
Mono-saccharides: the most basic carbohydrates, including galactose, fructose
Polyols: include sugar polyols and are found in some fruits and vegetables. Also used as artificial sweeteners in sugar-free mints/gums.
Tips for a low FODMAP diet
* Follow the diet for six 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 and avoid foods made with high FODMAPs. However, a food could be an overall low FODMAP food if a high FODMAP food listed as the last ingredient
* Buy -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
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: “To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.”