By Bryce Wylde B.Sc. Hons., DHMHS
Feeling sluggish and bloated isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. If just eating a stalk of celery causes your tummy to stick out, read this before you give up wearing your favorite skinny jeans ever again. The villains may be FODMAPs, a category of short-chain carbohydrates that your body may have trouble digesting. Just as people who are intolerant to lactose or gluten avoid foods containing those ingredients, if you’re sensitive to FODMAPs, a low-FODMAP diet may help relieve your symptoms.
Many more foods are appearing on supermarket shelves labeled Low FODMAP. There’s also an app created by the FODMAP experts at Monash University to help you identify low-FODMAP foods and ingredients.
What’s a FODMAP?
The term FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. FODMAP is much easier to remember! And if your body has trouble digesting FODMAPS in the upper part of your gut, they travel to your large intestine where they are fermented by your gut bacteria.
This fermentation process in turn causes your intestines to draw in water. It also creates hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane gases, all of which can cause your intestines to expand. The result may be visible tummy expansion, bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms.
Healthcare professionals are finding that low-FODMAP diets may be useful for addressing symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which is a condition of the intestines characterized by abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloating and possibly constipation and/or diarrhea.
The surprising foods you may need to avoid
Everyone’s microbiome – the trillions of bacteria that live inside us – is unique. Determining which FODMAPs trigger your symptoms may require some trial and error. For instance, while you may subscribe to the adage that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, apples are considered a high FODMAP food. You may discover they contribute to your digestive issues.
Other high FODMAP foods include (but are not limited to):
- Cow’s milk
- Ice Cream
- Sweet corn
- Wheat-based cereals and breads
- Wheat pasta
But, is it really FODMAP foods that are the problem?
Issues of the gut are often multi-factoral and include immune responses to food (ranging from intolerances to sensitivities, to true allergies), leaky gut syndrome (hyper-permeability), potentially pathogenic bacteria and imbalanced probiotic cultures (often due to diet and antibiotic exposure).
For example, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) is a condition characterized by having an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, which then ferment food particles and nutrients, and can exacerbate an individual’s sensitivity to FODMAPs. Another example might be someone who has multiple food sensitivities made significantly worse due to a leaky gut. On that note, be sure to be tested and ruled out for leaky gut before testing for food sensitivities, otherwise your results may feature multiple false positives (in other words, the antibodies to those foods wouldn’t have been positive had the gut not “leaked” them into general circulation in the first place).
A very helpful test to consider running is called a “zonulin” test. Zonulin is a protein that controls the permeability of tight junctions between cells of the wall of the digestive tract. We are all “permeable”, otherwise designed macronutrients and micronutrients would not be absorbed. However, many individuals are hyper permeable due to the zonulin “door” being too wide open. The three most powerful triggers to open the zonulin door are gluten (and other confirmed food sensitivities), imbalanced gut bacteria in the small intestine, and FODMAP in sensitive individuals.
It’s best to work with a healthcare professional before embarking on a low-FODMAP diet, because you may be cutting out common food groups, and missing out on essential micronutrients and macronutrients.
Ideally, you should be properly worked up using clinically sound laboratory investigation. Besides zonulin, you may also want to consider testing levels of good and bad bacteria via PCR analysis in order to determine what balance of good and bad bacteria are growing down there.
Another big problem by just jumping straight into a low-FODMAP diet is that they are typically also quite low in dietary fiber. We all need 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day. Most of us are already fiber deficient. Following a low-FODMAP diet can easily worsen that deficiency.
Using a fiber supplement is a good solution, but be selective. Monash University, the world’s leading source of FODMAP research and information, advises that some fiber supplements may actually increase gas production in the gut as they are high in FODMAPs. (That’s not exactly good news when you’re trying to beat the bloat!) These include fiber supplements containing inulin, wheat dextrin and IMOs, all ingredients which should be avoided by those looking to reduce FODMAPSs in their diet.
Soluble fiber found in products like Regular Girl, a synbiotic blend of patented premium prebiotic fiber and specialized probiotics, is a perfect example of Low-FODMAP fiber Certified by Monash University. Its prebiotic fiber helps to nourish the probiotics in your digestive system, helping to balance your gut microbiome. Regular Girl blends invisibly into water, without altering the taste, texture or aroma.
When it is the right kind of fiber, it can convey numerous health benefits, including:
- Feeding the “good” bacteria or probiotics in your gut
- Regulating your bowel habits
- Maintaining healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels
- Satiety and weight management
What else is on the low-FODMAP menu?
Foods that are generally safe for those avoiding FODMAPs include (but are not limited to):
- Bell peppers
- Green beans
- Gluten-free bread
- Gluten-free pasta
- Lactose-free dairy
The low-FODMAP eating approach is gaining momentum. It may be worth a try if you suspect that certain foods are playing havoc with your digestive system, and keeping you from feeling your best. Eliminating FODMAPs may help to slim your middle and flatten your belly. But remember to consider working with a professional who understands the value of running help lab tests like zonulin.
Known as a leading alternative health expert, Bryce Wylde is a highly knowledgeable and respected natural healthcare clinician whose specialty is homeopathy, clinical nutrition, supplementation, and botanical medicine and whose focus is routed within functional medicine. Bryce holds a bachelor of science honors degree in Biology and Psychology and a Diploma in Homeopathic Medicine and Health Sciences. He is the author of the national bestseller, The Antioxidant Prescription: How to Use the Power of Antioxidants to Prevent Disease and Stay Healthy for Life and Wylde On Health: Your Best Choices in the World of Natural Health.