Could the Low-FODMAP Diet Transform Your Digestion?

By Danielle Capalino, MSPH, RD

If you’ve been searching for solutions to tummy troubles, you may have come across the term FODMAP and wondered what it meant.

The acronym FODMAP stands for (a mouthful!) fermentable oligo- di- mono- saccharides and polyols. Stay with me for a moment—you don’t have to memorize that.

FODMAPs are difficult to digest carbohydrates that can cause a slew of gastrointestinal symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation in the millions of people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

The amazing thing about this unpronounceable scientific food term? Studies show that up to 75% of IBS sufferers find relief when following a low-FODMAP diet.

In my new book, Healthy Gut, Flat Stomach: The Fast and Easy Low-FODMAP Diet Plan, I go deeper into the science behind those results, outline exactly how to follow a low-FODMAP diet, and provide delicious FODMAP-free recipes. Here, I’m sharing a few FODMAP facts to get you started.

The FODMAP Basics

Who came up with this name? The low-FODMAP diet was created by dietitians and doctors at Monash University in Australia, and has made its way around the globe because it really works. It has become a staple of my practice, and I love guiding my clients through this process because it can change their lives.
There are five categories of foods that are considered FODMAPs: lactose, fructose, galactooligosaccharides, fructans, and polyols. Through undertaking an elimination diet, you may find that you have a sensitivity to one, some, or all of these categories.

Lactose is a sugar naturally found in milk. You may have heard the term “lactose intolerant” before. Not all dairy is created equal, and some people with lactose intolerance are fine eating hard aged cheeses, butter, and yogurt.

Fructose is a sugar naturally found in fruits. While all fruits have sugar, it only becomes a problem in those who are sensitive when the amount of fructose is greater than the amount of glucose in a given item. Examples of high-fructose fruits are apples, pears, and mangos. Examples of low-fructose fruits are bananas, oranges, and blueberries.

Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) are carbohydrates found primarily in beans.

Fructans are carbohydrates found in a variety of foods including wheat, onions, and garlic. Though wheat is high in fructans, fructans are NOT related to gluten (which is a protein), they just happen to exist in many of the same foods.

Polyols are sugar alcohols that appear in the diet naturally in certain fruits, as well as in artificial sweeteners. Naturally, polyols are in stone fruits like prunes (which is why prunes help with constipation), snow peas, and mushrooms. Polyols are also the reason why eating many sugar-free candies send people running to the bathroom.

The low-FODMAP diet works in three phases. You start with an elimination diet in which you remove all of the high-FODMAP foods from your diet. Once you have removed those foods for about two weeks (although the time can vary), you evaluate your symptoms.

The second phase is what I call the testing phase, where you get to determine the foods that were causing you distress. Finally, you end up in the personalization phase with a diet that is customized to you.

Of course, there’s a lot more involved in all of those phases, but even just being able to identify a FODMAP could nudge you one step closer to having a happy, humming digestive system.

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(Image: Shutterstock)

About Danielle Capalino, MSPH, RD
Danielle Capalino, MSPH, RD, is a registered dietitian in New York City who provides nutritional counseling on digestive health. She is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and is Nutritious Life Certified.

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