The Low-FODMAP diet, created by Sue Shepherd, is designed for people with irritable bowel syndrome. If you’re wondering what that is, answer the following questions:
- Do you experience digestive stress after you eat certain foods?
- Is the discomfort severe?
- Does the discomfort affect your daily activities?
If you answered “yes” to those three questions, you are a potential candidate for the Low-FODMAP diet. I don’t know how much you know about this, but there is a link between digestive disorders and certain foods. We are not all the same. Some of us can’t digest certain foods, and others can. That being said, I’ll try to provide answers to some of the common questions people have about the Low-FODMAP diet. The first thing you need to remember is that the Low-FOODMAP diet is a process, not a list of acceptable products. Now, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of the elimination diet.
What is the Low-FODMAP diet?
Simply put, the Low-FODMAP diet is an elimination diet, aiming to eliminate certain foods from your eating habits. Those foods cause your digestive stress, and the diet creates a temporary eating pattern that will show which foods are problematic for you. Sue Shepard describes the foods you can eat as FODMAPs, which stands for:
- Fermentable: broken down and fermented by bacteria in the bowel
- Oligosaccharides: oligo stands for few and saccharide stands for sugar; oligosaccharides are individual sugars that are tied in a chain
- Disaccharides: Di stands for “two,” meaning these molecules are two sugars joined together
- Monosaccharides: mono stands for single, which means these are single molecule sugars
- Polyols: sugar alcohols that do not lead to intoxication
As you can see, most of the foods on the list are sugars. They belong in the short-chain carbs. When poorly digested, these foods ferment in the large intestine. The process draws in water, producing CO2, hydrogen and methane gas as a result. The end result is bloating, strong pain in the abdomen, and other symptoms.
Foods to avoid
As mentioned, the Low-FODMAP diet aims to eliminate certain foods from your eating habits. Let’s break them down.
- Vegetables and legumes: garlic (completely avoid), onion (completely avoid), artichoke, asparagus, beetroot, black beans, butter beans, baked beans, cauliflower, celery, kidney beans, lima beans, mushrooms, peas, red kidney beans, savoy cabbage, soy beans, scallions, and taro
- Fruits: apples, apricots, avocado, blackberries, cherries, dates, figs, goji berries, grapefruit, guava, mango, nectarines, pineapple, pears, plums, pomegranate, raisins, pear juice, and watermelon
- Meat and poultry: sausages, processed meat, chorizo
- Cereals, grains, pasta, and nuts: breadcrumbs, chocolate chip biscuits, cakes , wheat-based cereal bar, egg noodles, croissants, muffins, pastries, wheat bran, wheat cereals, wheat flour, wheat rolls, over ½ cup cooked wheat pasta, almond meal, amaranth flour, barley, bran cereals, oatmeal bread, roti, cashews, einkorn flour, granary bread, naan, gnocchi, granola bar, muesli cereal, pistachios, rye, spelt flour, and semolina
- Probiotic foods: check for hidden ingredients such as FOS, Inulin, oligofructose
- Dairy foods: buttermilk, cream cheese, Halmouni cheese, ricotta cheese, cream, custard, gelato, ice-cream, kefir, cow milk, goat milk, sheep’s milk, sour cream, Greek yogurt, and evaporated milk
- Drinks: beer (no more than one bottle per day), coconut water, cordial, fruit and herbal teas, fruit juices in large quantities, rum, codas containing HFCS, soy milk, sports drinks, black tea, chai tea, fennel tea, chamomile tea, herbal tea, Oolong tea, and wine (no more than one glass)
Foods to eat
Just as there are foods that you have to avoid or reduce, there are also recommended foods.
- Vegetables and legumes: bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, broccoli (1/2 cup), Brussel sprouts (just one serving of two sprouts), butternut squash (1/4 cup), carrots, celery (less than 5 cm, or 2 inches, of stalk), chick peas (1/4 cup), chives, collard greens, corn (if tolerable in small amounts), cucumber, eggplant, fennel, green beans, green pepper, kale, ginger, leek leaves, butter lettuce, red coral lettuce, rocket lettuce, marrow, lentils in small amounts, olives, parsnip, peas, potato, pumpkin, radish, red peppers, green part of scallions, seaweed, spinach, squash, sun-dried tomatoes, yam, sweet potato, Swiss chard, and zucchini
- Fruits: bananas, blueberries, breadfruit, cranberry, clementine, dragon fruit, grapes, ripe guava, kiwifruit, lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, passion fruit, raspberry, strawberry, and tamarind
- Meats and poultry: beef, chicken, lamb, pork, prosciutto, Quorn, turkey, and cold and deli meats such as ham and turkey breast
- Fish and seafood: canned tuna, cod, haddock, salmon, trout, tuna, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, prawns, and shrimp
- Cereals, breads, nuts, and grains: wheat free breads, gluten free breads, corn bread, oat bread, rice bread, potato flour bread, almonds (15 max), savory biscuit, brazil nuts, bulgur, buckwheat, brown rice, whole grain rice, chestnuts, corncakes, cornflakes (1/2 cup), coconut milk, coconut cream, corn tortillas, plain crackers, hazelnuts (15 max), macadamia nuts, mixed nuts, oats, oatcakes, oatmeal (1/2 cup), peanuts, pecans (15 max), pine nuts (15 max), polenta, popcorn, porridge, pretzels, quinoa, rice bran, rice crackers, rice flour, chia seeds, poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and walnuts
- Dairy products: butter, brie cheese, cheddar cheese, camembert cheese, feta cheese, mozzarella, Parmesan, Swiss cheese, cottage cheese, dairy free chocolate pudding, eggs, almond milk, hemp milk, oat milk, rice milk, lactose free milk, soy protein, tempeh, tofu, whipped cream, and lactose-free yogurt
How does it work?
Now that we have the general list of foods that you should avoid and foods that you should eat, let’s talk how the diet works. Bear in mind, there are lots of herbs, condiments and others foods that are limited as well. But a nutritionist will provide you with the list, and it’s also included in the book. This was just a general list so you have an idea.
One thing to note: the Low-FODMAP diet is extremely restrictive, and there are certain food groups that are completely eliminated.
The idea is that you restrict all FODMAPs at once. This way, you eliminate all of the problems in your body and allow your gut bacteria to work its magic and correct imbalances, healing your gut as a result.
The diet works for three to eight weeks, depending on how you respond to the treatment. This phase is known as the elimination phase, and it works in a similar way to the original elimination diet. Sometimes, a period shorter than three weeks can work.
After the elimination phase, the next step is the reintroduction plan. At this point, you introduce one FODMAP type at a time, and see which group triggers your symptoms. People usually start with fructose (the simple type of sugar), and then move onto lactose and so on. Once you introduce all food types, you’ll find out what works for you, and what doesn’t. And while the diet is very similar to the general elimination diet, it is extremely important that you consult with a physician before trying it out.
A one-day example
To get a better sense of what your day will look like, let’s take a look at a one-day example of the Low-FODMAP diet.
For breakfast, you can prepare a peanut butter and banana smoothie. Use lactose-free milk and make sure to omit peanuts. You can prepare a large bowl of the smoothie and store several servings in the fridge.
For lunch, try pumpkin and carrot risotto. Again, this is another meal you can prepare ahead and in batches.
And for dinner, I recommend quinoa-crusted chicken Parmesan and brown rice. You can also add a serving of vegetables from the list of allowed veggies.
If you feel hungry in between breakfast, lunch and dinner, grab a snack of walnuts or macadamias. Just remember, no more than 30g (about 1/8 cup).
Five mistakes and how to avoid them
There are challenges whenever you’re starting a new diet. You need to adjust to new eating habits, a new lifestyle, and much more. And often, people fall into habits that are hard to get out of. So, what are some of the common mistakes people do when trying the Low-FODMAP diet? Here are five:
- Starting without medical advice. Primary, the Low-FODMAP diet is designed for people with irritable bowel syndrome. However, you can do it no matter what. The important aspect is to consult your doctor before starting the diet. Not everyone is a good candidates for an elimination diet.
- Throwing fiber out of the door. One of the keys to success for the Low-FODMAP diet is limiting your fiber intake. But therein lies the challenge. Some people completely forget about fiber intake, or they consume too little of it. Fiber is an important part of your diet, and you need to source it, Low-FODMAP diet or not. Great sources include fruits and veggies, legumes, small servings of nuts, and grains. A nutritionist will help you balance your fiber intake and follow the Low-FODMAP diet.
- Changing everything at once is one of the most common mistakes. When you do an elimination diet, like the Low-FODMAP diet, you need to eliminate one thing at a time. You cannot change your diet, your supplements, and your medications all at the same time. You need to find out what works, and what doesn’t.
- Having high expectations. With every diet you start, it’s important to have realistic expectations. I’m not saying you should keep your expectations low, but be realistic. If you expect everything to be perfect within weeks, you’ll be disappointed.
- Overlimiting the diet. For example, when it comes to dairy products, lactose is the only one that’s forbidden. Other dairy products can be used, as long as they belong in the Low-FODMAP diet list. One example would be lactose-free yogurt or low-lactose cheeses.
Most of the time, when you are cooking at home, you’ll be fine. However, problems occur once you go out for dinner or lunch. Here are a few quick tips how to make your dining part of your Low-FODMAP diet.
- Ask for gluten-free bread
- Ask for cereals made from oats
- When ordering coffee or tea, ask for lactose-free milk
- Look for smoothies made from lactose-free milk
- When ordering a salad, look for a Low-FODMAP salad, made with olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon, seeds, and nuts
- When ordering meat and fish dishes, look for plain dishes, without gravies and sauces
- A great starter is cucumber and carrot sticks
- When traveling, fill one thermos with lactose-free milk to add to your oats