Should you go ‘low-FODMAP’?

20 October 2015 by
First published: 27 October 2015

You may be wondering: ‘what on earth is a FODMAP’? But if you suffer from IBS, or regular bloating, wind, constipation or diarrhoea, this could be the solution you’ve been waiting for.

The low-FODMAP diet steers clear of foods that are fermentable carbohydrates, which contain oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, as they can cause changes in fluid content and bacterial fermentation in the colon, leading to an unhappy gut in some people.

The philosophy behind low-FODMAP goes well beyond the typical treatment for IBS, which involves identifying trigger foods and cutting them out of the diet. ‘Health hallowing of foods is not what we’re about. The last thing we want is for FODMAP to become the next gluten-free,’ says gastroenterologist Dr Peter Gibson, who developed the diet. ‘We want simple and convenient solutions to incredibly complex problems. Low-FODMAP isn’t just another one-size fits all restrictive diet.’

Instead, low-FODMAP programmes are about helping to reintroduce sensitive foods in a way that works for people with digestion disorders. And the risk of developing eating disorders and unhealthy obsessions with food purity is also relatively low, according to Dr Gibson. ‘At least 75% of people who respond very nicely to the diet do not stick to it strictly once they learn about their own tolerances to different foods,’ he says.


Is low-FODMAP for me ?

‘It’s worth considering reducing FODMAPs when one has been chronically affected for at least six months and has had symptoms for at least three months a year,’ says Dr Gibson. ‘The best way is to consult a dietician, make sure you’re not coeliac and then self-experiment with light FODMAPs to see whether it alleviates symptoms and if it doesn’t, then it’s not the way to go.’

Products that are low in FODMAPs have already hit a few stores in Australia and new ranges are coming out in January in the USA, but Dr Gibson is keen to stress that the diet shouldn’t follow in the footsteps of previous ‘free-from’ diets and ranges, with endless ranges of special foods.

‘Lots of things can be made low FODMAP yet are nutritionally bad. The food follows certain rules, it has to be balanced in sugar and fat content,’ he explains. ‘There are some products where gluten is substituted by very high amounts of either one or both, and that’s something we would never want our name associated with. We’ve learned a lot from the gluten-free explosion and we’re not very keen on supermarkets having aisles where the foods are all labelled like they’re good for you – like gluten-free is.’

In fact, studies have observed nutritional deficiencies (in essential minerals like iron, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate and vitamin A) in some people who follow gluten-free diets that are particularly low in fibre. And if you’re following the low-FODMAP diet recklessly you could create an environment in your bowel where you won’t have as many health-promoting macrobiotics, giving you a bacteria imbalance. ‘We have a responsibility towards people for our products to live up to decent nutritional standards by constantly testing our products with trained dieticians,’ shares Dr Gibson.

For now, the low-FODMAP diet is being seen as a more efficient and cheaper way to relieve the bloating and fatigue associated with sensitive bowel conditions. ‘Until now we’ve had very poor ways of treating irritable bowels,’ says Dr Gibson. ‘Before 2008, people used lactose-free diets or a combination of low-FODMAP diets. It’s only since 2013 (when a number of studies were done on gluten-sensitive people) that the concept really took off and self-directed therapy has gained awareness. We’re seeing positive responses among health professionals.’

If you think the low-FODMAP diet may be for you, consult your GP to find out.