First of all, what is the low-FODMAP diet?
Well, each letter of that acronym stands for a group of foods: the F for fermentable, O for oligosaccharides (wheat, garlic, onion), D for disaccharides (milk, ice cream), M for monosaccharides (apples, pears, honey) and P for polyols.
All of these are sugars in everyday foods but many are poorly absorbed in the small intestine where they hang around fermenting, producing gas and making you bloated.
Researchers believe they’re responsible for the discomfort and bloating of IBS.
Developed at Australia’s Monash University by gastroenterology professor Peter Gibson and dietitian Sue Shepherd over the past decade, this is the first evidence-based diet proven to reduce IBS symptoms, with a success rate of up to 75%.
A low-FODMAP diet is a three-step plan of action.
First, all foods considered high in FODMAPs are removed from the diet for a six to eight week period including garlic, onion, mangoes, peaches, milk, wheat, barley, rye, asparagus, peas, sweetcorn, beans, cashews and jams.
The second stage is reintroduction, where small amounts of high-FODMAP foods are slowly brought back into the diet.
The final stage is maintenance, where the patient learns to avoid the by-now established sensitivity triggers for their gut.
It’s crucial that all parts of the FODMAP diet are guided by a qualified dietitian to avoid nutritional deficiencies and maximise the chances of success.
Emma Hatcher, a FODMAP food blogger, has written The FODMAP Friendly Kitchen, a book containing 100 low-FODMAP recipes to spread greater awareness about the power of changing the food you eat.
It offers inspiration to people depressed by the number of foods suddenly off limits.
“People should visit a GP or gastroenterologist before starting a low- FODMAP diet,” says Emma. “It’s important that they are investigated for coeliac disease or other bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis or bowel tumours before an IBS diagnosis is given.
“Always talk to appropriate medical experts and don’t self-diagnose.
“The evidence for low FODMAPs is only relevant to IBS, and there is not yet anything to link it to other conditions.”
Emma emphasises that would-be FODMAP diets shouldn’t cut out all high-FODMAP groups for longer than eight weeks, a move that could result in nutritional deficiencies if maintained long-term.
Also, Monash University has developed a FODMAP-friendly app to guide people through the intricacies of the eating regime, while Kings College in London has produced a useful booklet that is supplied to dietitians during consultations.