The Diet for Those With IBS
Those of you who know about the low-FODMAP diet for IBS already know how restrictive it can be. Especially at the beginning, when you see the small list of ingredients you can have, and a much longer list of ingredients you can’t have.
It was an utter nightmare for me because I had the responsibility (and still do) of cooking for my partner who has severe IBS and other digestive disorders. It is ten times harder when you don’t have the proper guidance there to help you. This is why we hired a certified dietitian to come to our house to help shed some light on the subject. Naturally, I would like to share this information with others.
In this article, you'll learn:
- What is a low-FODMAP diet?
- What you can eat on the diet
- What you should avoid on the diet
- What to expect while on it
- Precautions: read the labels
- About keeping a food diary
What is a Low-FODMAP Diet?
In simple English: there are certain foods safe to consume if you are prone to IBS and others proven to make symptoms a lot worse.
What are the culprits? Food and drink rich in simple carbohydrates. Also known as:
- Fermentable foods
Foods high in FODMAPs are more difficult for the body to digest and absorb. As a consequence, you can become bloated, uncomfortable, and downright miserable. In fact, High FODMAP foods don't just affect IBS sufferers, they are generally more difficult for human beings to digest. Fortunately, students at the Monash University in Melbourne knew this — there, the low-FODMAP diet was born.
I admit that I had no intention of doing the FODMAP diet initially, but I did so out of moral support for my partner. I don't have any major digestive problems similar to his, but I too have noticed huge improvements in my health by following this diet. I even discovered I had an allergy to dairy by cutting it out of my diet for two weeks!
Takeaway: If you do suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a low FODMAP diet could be a good place to start.
How the Low-FODMAP Diet Works
Since everybody is unique, it is impossible to pinpoint the root cause of IBS in everyone. One person may have a severe reaction to milk and another can handle milk but not wheat or eggs. The aim is to find out what is causing the problems for you as an individual. That is where the low-FODMAP diet comes in.
You basically strip your diet down to the absolute bare bones — foods that are low in simple carbohydrates to be more precise.
- Simple carbohydrates means no wheat, gluten, or lactose to start.
- You also have to cut out anything artificial and heavily processed
- Even some fruits and vegetables should be avoided due to their gas-producing qualities (think brussels sprouts for obvious reasons — I don’t think I need to tell you why).
FODMAP Food Charts
There are many useful FODMAP food charts you can download from the internet, which clearly outline the foods and beverages you can consume and the ones you can't on the low-FODMAP diet. These charts are great to use as reference material — I pin them up all around the house and carry one in my handbag in case I need to buy some last minute ingredients whilst I am out.
I will list some of the more common food items that you can and can't have below.
What You Can Eat on the Low-FODMAP Diet
|Vegetables||Fruits||Meats/Seafood||Dairy or Dairy-Related||Drinks|
Cold cuts (bologna, etc.)
Fruit juices from the safe fruits
Fruit teas (make sure there's no apple)
Malt drinks (i.e. Ovaltine)
What to Avoid on a Low-FODMAP Diet
|Vegetables||Fruits||Dairy or Dairy-Related||Drinks|
Milk or white chocolate
What to Expect During the Diet
What should you expect while on the low-FODMAP diet? Here are some common effects and what you should anticipate your plan to look like, including a general timeframe:
- Reduced bloating and better digestion. Over the next few days and weeks, your body will no longer have to battle with poor digestion and bloating on a daily basis. Instead, your body has the chance to repair itself.
- Food cravings. We crave what we can't have, right? My partner found food cravings the hardest aspect of the diet – he craved everything he was not allowed to eat! Hopefully, your hard work will be rewarded by reduced discomfort in the long run. In that sense, it is truly worth trying.
- Two weeks for results. According to our dietitian, it takes around two weeks to start noticing decent results from the diet. Bear in mind that it can take a while for old waste to be removed by the body completely. I can vouch for this because my boyfriend was crippled in pain to start initially, but his symptoms began to calm down after about a week or two.
- A month-long trial to start before introducing "forbidden foods." Our dietitian suggested cutting out high FODMAP foods for at least a month or so to see if it works. Then, if so, start to introduce the possible culprits one by one back into your diet. If your body shows no sign of discomfort within the next fortnight, you can then introduce yet another forbidden food from the list. You will soon discover the triggers for your IBS because the effects should manifest themselves quite quickly. Once you discover the causes of your IBS, you should eliminate them completely from your diet.
Note: Read Food Labels Carefully
A note of warning: Make sure you read product labels carefully. Not all “free form” foods in supermarkets are FODMAP free.
- You will need to get in the habit of checking food labels on everything, just to make sure there are no hidden nasties (especially chemicals and preservatives and things like high-fructose corn syrup)
- In some ways, it is easier to cook with simple unadulterated ingredients. This way, you know exactly what your food is made of. No guessing involved! It also gives you the creative freedom to make your own tasty treats without all the chemicals and preservatives.
Keeping a Food Diary
Keeping a food diary is crucial to your success. As our dietitian once said, "how will you know what foods cause you digestive problems if you don’t record what you are eating along with your symptoms as soon as you experience them?"
- Write down everything. If you don’t write it down, you risk forgetting your important observations. Write down everything you eat in a food diary, including the time you eat it and your experience/reaction to it immediately afterwards.
- Make note of food details especially (how it's prepared). Sooner or later, you will notice symptom patterns forming. This isn't just the from foods you eat, but the way you cook them too. Some people, for instance, have difficulty digesting tough meat. For this, try slow cooking it or mincing it down to see if that helps before dismissing certain ingredients.
- Bonus: a food diary is a good way of discovering food allergies and food intolerances too. If you suspect you have a food or drink allergy, it is a good idea to get allergy-tested by a health care professional so that you find out for sure. This can be done in the form of a blood or scratch test.
Disclaimer: Always Consult a Doctor First
Obviously I can’t diagnose or treat your IBS — that is what your doctor is for. If you are planning to embark on a new diet or radical lifestyle change, it is advisable to consult your doctor before doing so. After all, your symptoms might not be IBS at all.
The intention of this article is to provide you with information regarding the low FODMAP diet. I am simply sharing with you our own experiences. Make of it what you will. Good luck!
Laura (author) from West Sussex on November 04, 2014:
Thanks Karen! I will correct the mistake now :) thank you for taking the time to comment.
Karen! on October 29, 2014:
hi - just one thing; the F in FODMAP is fro Fermentable not Fermented; they are sugars that bacteria ferment in the gut which is what leads to IBS symptoms
The Low FODMAP diet should be basic training for all gastroentrologists and family doctors; they could save their patients a lot of suffering
Laura (author) from West Sussex on November 06, 2012:
I too never heard of the FODMAP diet until a few months ago - it is a really effective diet for some IBS sufferers.
It was the end of the line for my boyfriend; he was suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting almost every day. He weighed a measly 40kg and he is nearly 6 ft tall!
His symptoms haven't gone completely but at least he doesn't have to run to the toilet every few minutes like he used to.
In the next few days I will publish some meal ideas if it would help? I have got so used to making low FODMAP cakes, gravies, casseroles etc. It seemed head melting to start with though!
All the best
Allison on November 06, 2012:
I suddenly developed digestive problems a couple of years ago. I have never heard of this diet, but I eliminated similar foods on my own (anything containing dairy, soy, apple, banana). I might have to try this and see if I can find anything else setting off my symptoms. Thank you!
kelleyward on November 06, 2012:
Interesting topic. I've never heard of this diet before. Voted up and useful! Kelley