Will Avoiding Carbs Called "FODMAPs" Ease IBS?

Got digestion problems like irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, or gas? A "low-FODMAP" diet might help.

Never heard of FODMAPs? They are a type of carb. But this is not your typical low-carb diet.

The diet only limits carbs that are "fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols." No wonder they came up with a nickname!

For most people, FODMAPs are not a problem unless you eat too much of them. But some people are sensitive to them.

FODMAPs draw water into your digestive tract, which could make you bloated. If you eat too much of them, they can hang around in your gut and ferment.

These types of carbs are FODMAPs:

  • Fructose: Fruits, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, agave
  • Lactose: Dairy
  • Fructans: Wheat, onions, garlic
  • Galactans: Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and soybeans
  • Polyols: Sugar alcohols and fruits that have pits or seeds, such as apples, avocados, cherries, figs, peaches, or plums

Avoiding FODMAPs doesn’t help everyone. But in a study published in the journal Gastroenterology, about 3 out of 4 people with IBS had their symptoms ease right away after starting a low-FODMAP diet and felt the most relief after 7 days or more on the plan.

Remember, FODMAPs aren't bad. Many foods that are rich in them encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut.

Trying a Low-FODMAP Diet

If you have gas, bloating, belly pain, diarrhea, or constipation, you might consider nixing all five forms of FODMAP carbs (lactose, fructose, fructans, sugar alcohols, and galactans) for up to 4 weeks to see if that helps. If FODMAPs are the culprit, you’ll probably start to feel better quickly.

You'll have many foods you can eat on this diet, but there's a steep learning curve about which foods are high in FODMAPs and what you could choose instead.

For example, these foods are high in FODMAPs:

  • Anything made with wheat, barley, or rye
  • Apples
  • Artichokes
  • Artificial sweeteners like in chewing gum
  • Beans
  • Cashews
  • Cauliflower
  • Dried fruits
  • Garlic and onions
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Ice cream
  • Mushrooms
  • Pistachios
  • Watermelon

Low-FODMAP foods include:

  • Almond, coconut, rice, and soy milks
  • Bananas
  • Bell peppers
  • Blueberries
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Oats
  • Potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens
  • Tangerines
  • Tomatoes

There are many other foods on the high and low lists. So it's a good idea to work with a gastroenterologist and a dietitian who can help you limit FODMAPs with a balanced diet that meets all your nutritional needs.

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Giving Foods Another Chance

Once your tummy calms down, you can bring back foods one at a time at a rate of one item per week. You might discover that you’re only sensitive to one or two FODMAP carbs, not all of them.

For instance, maybe dairy is a problem, but grains are OK for you. Or maybe you have trouble digesting high-FODMAP fruits or vegetables, but nothing else is a problem.

The goal is to figure out what foods trigger your digestive problems and create a diet that gives you all the nutrients you need but only includes the FODMAPs you can handle.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 24, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

Halmos, E. Gastroenterology, 2014.

Stanford Digestive Health Center Nutrition Services.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, creator of the Nutrition Diva podcast, Baltimore.

Kathy Barco, RD, LD, CNSC, outpatient clinical dietitian, Cleveland Clinic, Ohio.

Gina Sam, MD, MPH, director, Mount Sinai Gastrointestinal Motility Center; assistant professor of medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

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