So many diets, so little clarity. The low FODMAP diet is among them – it’s been knocked back and forth like a ping pong ball lately, with the most recent study suggesting it does little to help people with irritable bowel syndrome.
This most recent study hardly settles the debate whether the low FODMAP diet actually helps patients with IBS. It’s just the most recent in an ongoing discussion of which foods are prone to aggravate IBS symptoms.
With IBS affecting roughly one in five Americans, and women being especially hit by irritable bowel syndrome, any movement should be seen as progress, even if we’re short on answers.
Still, there’s enough here to spark some interest. Elements of the low FODMAP diet appear to at least help short-term symptoms of IBS. While it may not offer ongoing relief, you may want to experiment with the low FODMAP diet – with your doctor’s supervision – and make it part of a broad approach to manage this ailment.
FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrate. Don’t worry too much if you’re not familiar with that term – it stands for ‘fermentable oligo, di-monosaccharides and polyols’. You likely don’t need to know that unless you’re a dietician, or eat too many of them.
Sample FODMAPs include:
Fructose: That’s fruit, honey, high fructose corn syrup and agave
Fructans: Wheat, garlic, onions
Galactans: Legumes, like beans, lentils and soybeans
Polyols: These include sugar alcohols and fruits with pits or seeds, like apples, avocados, cherries, figs, peaches and plums
FODMAPs are not a problem for most people unless they eat them in high quantities, in which case they can linger and ferment in the gut. As well, some people are sensitive to FODMAPs because they draw water into the digestive tract. This can lead to bloating, and hence the interest in the low FODMAP diet, particularly to people with irritable bowel syndrome.
A low FODMAP diet indeed seems to bring relief from irritable bowel syndrome. A study published in the journal Gastroenterology found that three out of four IBS patients who tried the diet had fewer symptoms after seven days.
The relief didn’t last permanently, but the results suggest that limiting FODMAPs and reintroducing them one at a time might help reduce IBS symptoms. People with IBS tend to have food sensitivities. It might be that IBS patients may be allergic to one or two FODMAPs, and yet others are fine.
The low FODMAP diet is no silver bullet, but it can’t hurt to dabble in it for a few weeks, and then try each food again, with a week for each item. You may find that dairy is a problem for example, yet you’re fine with wheat.
Try the low FODMAP diet and you’re more likely to find the foods that your gut doesn’t like.
The flip side to that argument. The low FODMAP diet does not appear to help ongoing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, according to a study published in August this year, which found it did little to help patients with IBS.
Researchers came to this conclusion after they analyzed published studies on the diet. And they found that some factors of the low FODMAP diet were most likely suitable for IBS patients with little success for other treatments. Yet they found little evidence that the diet worked collectively; claims that the low FODMAP diet helped IBS were based on a few, short-term and generally weak studies, say researchers.
Those studies appear to stem from the belief that certain carbs are poorly absorbed by the small intestine, which could make IBS worse. The trouble with this logic is there’s nothing to base it on. We have scant evidence this is true, and while the Gastroenterology study suggests it may help with short-term IBS symptoms, you’ll likely have better luck if you take a broad approach to the ailment.
The perfect IBS diet is the one that doesn’t turn your stomach. That’s likely a combination of elements from the low FODMAD diet and other food plans along with the basics of good living. Drink plenty of water and get your exercise. Reduce caffeine and watch your symptoms.
This is going to take a while. Try the low FODMAP diet and then reintroduce a FODMAP carb back in your diet at one per week. Think years – try it along with other IBS diet plans that we’ll discuss shortly. Keep a food journal too, and experiment with the following diets that may eventually lead to your own customized IBS solution. Pick and choose from the:
High-Fiber Diet – Fiber is usually a good thing because it adds bulk to your stool. That means easier passage, along with other health benefits that keep piling up. The average health adult should get 20 to 35 grams a day, though most only get 5 to 14. Switch to soluble fibers from fruits and vegetables rather than grains if bloating is an issue.
Low-Fiber Diet – Try the high-fiber diet first, but if you find gas and diarrhea get worse, try a low-fiber diet of insoluble fibers, like whole grains, nuts, tomato and broccoli.
Gluten-Free Diet – Gluten is a protein found in pastas and bread. While it’s fine for most people, it can damage the intestines in folks who are gluten intolerant or with celiac disease – both of which may trigger IBS symptoms. Try life without barley, rye and wheat for a while, to see if your gut feels better. Or try their gluten-free alternatives.
Elimination Diet – Your perfect IBS diet will be a little trial and error. Some of they may come from the Elimination diet, which eliminates certain foods for a specific time. The International Foundation For Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders recommends starting with chocolate, coffee, nuts and insoluble fibers. Don’t limit yourself though – try this with any foods you think may hurt your gut, and do it for at least 12 weeks.
Low Fat Diet – High fat foods get you in trouble a thousand different ways, from obesity to risk of diabetes and heart disease. But they’re brutal on folks with IBS because they’re typically low in fiber, especially if you’ve got ‘mixed IBS’, which alternates between constipation and diarrhea. Swap fried foods and animal fats for lean meats, fruits, grains, vegetables and low-fat dairy to see if it helps.
Coming full circle. Should you try the low FODMAP diet? Your answer, it probably can’t hurt, if you’ve tried other IBS diets with little success. Be realistic though – it’s not going to miraclously heal your body. You’ll likely have more, lasting success when you listen to your body, with an IBS diet crafted by experimenting with the food plans listed here in this article.
And it goes without saying, you should speak with your doctor before any kind of radical diet change.
So yes, the low FODMAP diet may be worth pursuing. Just remember where it fits in the grand scheme of things. Keep a food journal, and watch your symptoms. Chances are you’ll learn more about, and to live with that thing called your gut.