Belly aching… Are FODMAPs the reason?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be a stressful and embarrassing condition, particularly if intolerable amounts of wind, in either direction, or pain are experienced. IBS covers many symptoms of discomfort, but no physical changes to the structure of the digestive system. Symptoms can include discomfort, bloating, changes in bowel motions, feeling sick, and more. Having an unpredictable digestive system can cause feelings of anxiety – if you don’t know what to eat because it feels like anything can create a problem, it can make food and eating a complicated matter.

FODMAPs is an acronym that has been around for a few years, which describes foods shown by research to be related to an irritable bowel in some sensitive individuals.  FODMAPs are found in carbohydrates, but not all carbohydrates are FODMAPs. Let’s explore.

F – Fermentable
O – Oligosaccharides
D – Disaccharides
M – Monosaccharides
A – and
P – Polyols

These foods are rapidly broken down by bacteria in the bowel and so can produce bountiful gas. They draw water towards themselves, which can contribute to feeling bloated, or needing to rush to the toilet. The monosaccharides, disaccharides, and oligosaccharides is simply referring to the sugars contained in different lengths in carbohydrates. Polyols are sugar alcohols and found in sweeteners and some stone fruit.

Having a diet that is low in foods containing FODMAPs can be a great way to support a happy and healthy digestive system. Some foods might create more problems than others, so working with a practitioner can be helpful to really dial down on the specifics and ensure that a full range of nutrients are consumed within the diet.

Here’s how:

There are plenty of foods that can still be consumed on a low FODMAPs diet. Oils and animal proteins are completely free of FODMAPs.

Some low FODMAPs food options:

  • Unprocessed eggs, meat, poultry and fish
  • Lactose-free dairy products, hard aged cheeses, ghee
  • Almonds, walnuts, macadamia, peanuts, pecans, coconut, rice
  • Gluten-free grains – corn, potato, quinoa, rice, tapioca, buckwheat, millet
  • Bananas, blueberries, cranberries, grapes, honeydew melon, kiwi, lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, passionfruit, pineapple, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, tangerine, grapefruit
  • Alfalfa, bamboo shoots, capsicum, bok choy, carrots, cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, kale, kumara, lettuce, parsnips, pumpkin, potatoes, radishes, seaweed, spinach, squash, tomatoes, turnips, zucchini

Foods that are high in FODMAPS should be avoided. You can try a category at a time for ease, and see if there are particular groups of foods that are better tolerated than others.

Foods containing high FODMAPs:

  • Processed meats or foods with high fructose corn syrup or wheat
  • High-lactose dairy – ice cream, soft cheese, sour cream, milk chocolate, milk
  • Cashews, beans, black eyed peas, lentils, soy milk, pistachios, chickpeas
  • Wheat, barley, rye and products made from these.
  • Apples, apricots, blackberries, boysenberries, canned fruit, dates, fried fruits, guava, mango, nectarines, papaya, peaches, pears, plums, persimmon, prunes, watermelon
  • Artichoke, cauliflower, mushrooms, sugarsnap peas, onions, garlic

If you find eliminating some or all the high FODMAPs foods improves your digestive health, then aim to stick with it until your symptoms improve or resolve. Over the longer term, you can look at reintroducing some of the foods higher in FODMAPs, but monitor your body for changes.