Navigating IBS With A FODMAP DIET
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you fully understand how uncomfortable it can be. For some people, uncomfortable is an understatement.
IBS is estimated to affect up to 10% of the world's population. The precise cause of IBS is not quite understood, but its impact is. While not everyone experiences IBS in the same way, the symptoms are often very similar, only varying in degree and intensity.
Common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include bloating, gas, an urgent need to use the toilet, diarrhoea, constipation and stomach cramps. For some people, it can be embarrassing, especially in social situations. For others, it can be quite debilitating preventing them from enjoying a social life altogether.
Science has not yet developed a “cure” for IBS, but it has certainly found ways to reduce the symptoms and make the condition more manageable.
One of these ways is through following a FODMAP diet.
What are FODMAPs?
FODMAPs relate to food groups that contain short-chain carbohydrates. They include things like fructose, lactose, and fructans.
It is very common for people to have difficulty breaking down these short-chain carbohydrates and the process causes fermentation inside your body. This is where the gas and bloating come from. To counter this, the gut absorbs more water to aid digestion. That’s why some people experience diarrhoea after eating foods that they are sensitive to.
The research that led to the creation of JUVIA was the first to establish the role that bacteria and fermentation plays in gut health. Published in the Lancet back in 1998 by Professor Hunter, the research led to an understanding that when the small intestine doesn’t digest food completely, especially carbohydrates, it can cause malfermentation in the large intestine. In turn, this can lead to the growth of unhealthy flora. This imbalance can irritate the gut.
Why is a low-FODMAP diet recommended for people with digestive issues?
A low-FODMAP diet is one of the most effective ways to manage IBS, especially in the short term. That’s because the diet works by eliminating large groups of food and reintroducing them later to see how the body reacts. This helps you figure out which foods you are [most] sensitive to and cause the worst reactions.
It is considered a short-term strategy because it can be quite difficult to live on a very restrictive diet for a long period of time.
How to start a FODMAP diet
It is always best to consult a professional dietician before starting an elimination diet. A dietician will closely monitor your food intake and reactions in a way that makes the process much easier to understand and follow.
Also, you are much more likely to follow the diet strictly, if you are being observed and monitored by a professional. You can, of course, undertake the process by yourself. If you do, it is recommended to keep a food journal to record and monitor your intake and reactions. It is also really beneficial to plan your meals and schedule your elimination and reintroduction phases in advance. That way, you give yourself a clear road map to follow.
How long is the elimination stage?
Doctors suggest following the elimination stage for around 2-6 weeks, depending on how severe you experience symptoms, and how many foods you believe you may be intolerant to. There is no hard and fast rule, but those who experience IBS more severely will be more likely to need to eliminate foods for a longer period in the recommended range.
What foods are high in FODMAPs?
Foods that rank highly in the FODMAP diet include onions, garlic, wheat, dairy, and certain fruits and vegetables like ripe bananas, watermelon, and apples.
These are not the only foods, just examples of common ingredients that might be troubling your gut. A FODMAP ranking system can be found here.
What about low-FODMAP foods?
Luckily, there is a vast list of foods that do not rank high on the FODMAP diet, particularly fruit and vegetables. Popular choices include broccoli, chicken, and even lentils, so long as you don’t have too much.
Once you have been through the elimination phase, you may even increase your tolerance to some foods, but you must be careful not to get carried away because your symptoms will very likely return if you overexpose your gut to foods that trigger it.
How to make the low-FODMAP diet easier to follow
As with anything, preparation is key. Planning your meals will make sure that you are not caught off guard or outdone by temptation. It is important to embrace the diet and experiment with recipes. Don’t worry, there are lots of FODMAP recipes that have been created by people that suffer with IBS, so you don’t have to miss out on good quality food.
It is really important to focus on the benefits you will gain from overcoming your IBS flare-ups, rather than the food items you are missing out on. Consider all the ways that being IBS-free will enrich your life and all the things you can look forward to enjoying that you previously missed out on.
Having a sense of purpose really does drive results. And, remember to use a journal. Writing down your goals, and progress and paying close attention to the results will definitely make you more likely to see the process through to the end - it’s a sign of commitment.
What risks are associated with following a low-FODMAP diet?
Risk is a strong word. Generally speaking, you don’t have to be worried because there is very little harm that can come from following a FODMAP diet. At the same time, there are things to look out for, like a reduced intake of fibre, or missing out on certain nutrients. That’s why it is good to have a professional dietician and to experiment with FODMAP recipes - variation is key.
Is there an alternative to following a FODMAP diet?
Following a FODMAP diet is a really beneficial exercise, even if it's just to understand how your body works. At the same time, it is understandable why you might not want to go through life on a restricted diet.
Fortunately, there are holistic approaches using supplements that are showing promising results. While more research is necessary before health claims can legally be made, JUVIA contains a unique ingredient called ERME that aids digestion.
Remember those carbohydrates we spoke about? ERME breaks down carbohydrates before they can cause trouble in your gut. It’s helping people all around the country to enjoy their favourite foods and live life to the max.