What’s a Low-FODMAP Diet, and How Can It Help Your Digestive Health?

This simple acronym can have big consequences for your digestion.


Developed by researchers at Australia’s Monash University, this eating strategy eliminates a group of potentially troublesome carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols). That list may sound exotic, but these compounds are found in everyday foods that contain lactose, fructose, fructans, galactans and sugar alcohols. Certain fruits, vegetables, dairy products and nuts as well as some breads and snack foods contain large amounts of these natural sugars and are considered high-FODMAP foods.

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A growing body of research suggests that in some people FODMAPs may linger in the digestive system where they feed bad gut bacteria, leading to gastrointestinal problems including abdominal pain, gas, bloating, flatulence, burping, constipation and/ or diarrhea. Saying “no thank you” to high-FODMAP foods can ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gas and other digestive complaints that have no apparent cause or cure, experts say. For this reason, low-FODMAP eating is gaining worldwide interest. Learn the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome you should be on the lookout for.

How a Low-FODMAP Diet Works

FODMAPs seem to cause behind-the-scenes trouble in two ways. First, they draw extra fluid into the digestive system, which can cause diarrhea. Second, undigested and unabsorbed FODMAPs (especially when eaten in large quantities) may stimulate fermentation by bacteria naturally present in the gut. This fermentation—the same process used to make beer and wine—releases gas that can cause bloating, pain and flatulence.

In one study from King’s College London of 82 people with IBS, those who followed a low-FODMAP diet enjoyed significantly more symptom relief than those who followed a standard IBS diet. Eighty-seven percent had less flatulence (compared to 50 percent on the standard diet), 85 percent had less pain (compared to 61 percent on the standard diet) and 82 percent had less bloating (compared to 49 percent on the standard diet).

How to Use a Low-FODMAP Diet

Following a low-FODMAP diet is a two-step process. First, you’ll eliminate all major, high-FODMAP foods for a trial period of six to eight weeks. Such foods include onions, asparagus, mushrooms, apricots, apples, honey, legumes, rye- and wheat-based baked goods, and most dairy products. If your digestive symptoms improve, you will then reintroduce test foods from each FODMAP category one at a time to see which trigger symptoms. Test foods include milk (for lactose), honey (for fructose), wheat bread (for fructans), lentils (for galactans) and apricots or mushrooms (for sugar alcohols).

You may only react to one FODMAP so the goal is to find the food(s) that you should avoid or limit for the long term. If your symptoms do not ease during the trial period, FODMAPs are probably not the cause.

Safety First
It’s wise to work with a dietitian familiar with low-FODMAP diets at first. He or she can help you design a healthy diet during the trial period and, if you find food culprits, suggest alternatives so that you don’t miss out on important nutrients.

How to Start a Low-FODMAP Diet
Read more about this diet strategy on the Monash University website.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest