September 26, 2013 10:33 am
Updated: September 27, 2013 10:10 am

Navigating the low-FODMAP diet

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A sensitive digestive system – and the list of “shouldn’t eats” that comes with it – can be a pain. I often grapple with how to eat right for my system without getting swallowed up by food restrictions and feeling like a social outcast.

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It was restriction exhaustion that made me hesitant to do research on the low-FODMAP diet, even though it’s said to be a successful way to manage irritable bowel syndrome. What are FODMAPs? In short, they’re a group of short-chain carbohydrates that are common triggers of bloating, gas and other stomach problems. A 2010 Australian study showed cutting out or restricting these particular carbs was an “effective approach to the management of patients with functional gut symptoms.” The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation also recently created a FODMAPs fact sheet targeted at those with IBS.

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols – a grouping that includes lactose, fructose and sugar alcohols. Certain fruits, vegetables, grains, sugars and other foods that fall under one of these categories are limited on the low-FODMAP diet. As nutritionist Monica Reinagel writes, the diet is effective because “it eliminates several categories of compounds which, together, are responsible for a large share of digestive drama.”

So…let’s talk about the restrictions, shall we? The main “to-avoids” in the low-FODMAP diet include most legumes and dairy products, wheat, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and select fruits and vegetables (broccoli, onions, apples and peaches are a few examples). Some non-gluten grains are allowed, including rice and oats. Lactose-free milk, eggs, maple syrup and olive oil are also on the safe list. (Visit this website for a full list of foods you should limit.)

Similar to an elimination diet, the low-FODMAP diet can be tested for a certain period of time (usually around 4-6 weeks) and foods can be re-introduced slowly to help you determine specific causes of digestive upset.

The good I see in this diet: Research and extensive adoption shows it has been effective for a large number of people with IBS and inflammatory bowel disease. From a personal standpoint, I know my gut feels better when I reduce or eliminate wheat, dairy and sweets. Making a few extra tweaks doesn’t seem so bad – plus, it’s less restrictive than the ever-popular Paleo diet, which doesn’t allow any grains. Another nice thing? The diet focuses on limiting high-FODMAP foods instead of complete elimination.

Have you tried the low-FODMAP diet? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Always consult your doctor before starting a diet or exercise program.

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