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Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
October 30, 2017

Are FODMAPs a roadmap for better digestion?

Bloating, gas, and diarrhea—digestive issues of any type aren't fun, and they can be regular occurrences for individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or irritable bowel-like symptoms. IBS symptoms often come and go—even when eating (mostly) healthy foods—making it difficult to determine what foods are the culprits and avoid them. This is where the FODMAP diet approach may help.

What are FODMAPs?

The acronym FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols—which, in simpler terms, is a list of short-chain carbohydrates that aren't digested well by the small intestine. Because they aren't broken down and absorbed like other digestible carbohydrates, they get pushed through to the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria. This fermentation causes the colon to absorb more water and create more gas than normal which results in bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation, and/or diarrhea.

What foods contain FODMAPs?

FODMAPs are found in many common foods like apples, broccoli, beans, onions, wheat, and dairy products. What can be frustrating though is that while it's easy to identify foods high in sodium or iron, it's almost impossible to identify which foods contain high levels of FOPMAPs without memorizing a list.

Check out the four categories of FODMAPs below with common foods they're found in. You'll see some foods are even contain more than one kind of FODMAP.

  • Oligosaccharides (fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides): in foods such as wheat, rye, peaches, beans, watermelon, onion, and garlic
  • Disaccharides (lactose): in foods such as milks, yogurts, cheese, and ice cream
  • Monosaccharides (excess fructose): in foods such as apples, cherries, mangoes, pears, peaches, large quantities of dried fruit or fruit juice, artichokes, sugar snap peas, and added sugars like honey, agave nectar, and high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Polyols (sorbitol and mannitol): in foods such as apples, apricots, blackberries, nectarines, watermelon, apple juice, cauliflower, and snow peas

The FODMAP diet approach

Typically, a very strict elimination diet of all FODMAPs is followed for 6 to 8 weeks. Then, certain FODMAP foods are reintroduced to the diet and watched for symptoms. It's through this process that you may identify which foods cause you GI distress. It's recommended that the diet protocol be directed by a registered dietitian who specializes in FODMAPs to avoid nutrient deficiencies and also identify how strict the initial diet elimination needs to be to get accurate results.

The FODMAP diet is designed to be a temporary eating plan, and it's important to note that since most FODMAPs are nutrient-dense foods, they shouldn't be avoided or limited going forward unless identified as a problem food for you.

Who might benefit

Many individuals with IBS show significant improvement of symptoms once they identify and avoid problematic FODMAPs, but even individuals who have mild, unidentifiable digestive issues may benefit too. If you have periodic, yet ongoing bloating or gas that you can't attribute to diet or lifestyle, then identifying FODMAPs may help. In fact, FODMAPs may actually be the real culprit behind annoying GI issues, not a gluten sensitivity which many like to blame. The FODMOPs elimination diet is not meant to be a long-term or weight loss diet since it tends to be low in many nutrients like calcium and fiber, but when protocol is followed, it can be a good identification tool of problematic foods.