What are FODMAP foods and are they an issue?

The FODMAP diet can be beneficial in relieving a number of digestive problems. Many people experience bloating, digestive discomfort, issues with bowel motions and regularity. The FODMAP diet is commonly recommended to remedy these situations.

FODMAP is an acronym for:

  • Fermentable – the breakdown of foods by bacteria in the gut
  • Oligosaccharides – these are fructans and galacto-oligosaccahrides. These are poorly absorbed by most of the population, some however are better able to tolerate them than others. Fructans, come mainly from wheat products and some vegetables, such as onion and garlic and GOS is found in legumes.
  • Disaccharides – Lactose is a disaccharide that naturally occurs in milk and milk products. People vary in the amount of lactose they can digest and as we age, we have less of the enzyme lactase that breaks down lactose. Dependent upon your descent, some may naturally have less of the lactase enzyme (for instance those of Asian heritage) and tend to be more inclined to experience lactose intolerance.
  • Monosaccharides – Fructose is a monosaccharide, which is commonly found in fruit. It is generally only a problem if the food contains more fructose than glucose, or if there is an excessive consumption of fructose in a single sitting.
  • And
  • Polyols – sorbitol and mannitol. These naturally occur in some fruits and vegetables, whilst the polyols maltitol, xylitol, isomalt and polydextrose are used as artificial sweeteners and food additives. Everyone only partially absorbs polyols.

The above are all fermentable, poorly absorbed carbohydrate sugars that provide good food for our gut microbiome.

When these molecules make it to the large intestine, they draw water into the intestine and feed the microbiome, which then produce hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. These gases may cause bloating and irregular bowel habits.

Often in a meal there are several types of FODMAP foods and they can have an accumulative effect causing bloating and the like. This is why there can be so much confusion trying to identify the cause of these symptoms; One FODMAP food on its own may be fine and a person may be asymptomatic but if two types of FODMAP foods or a large quantity of the food is ingested they may experience severe symptoms.

The FODMAP diet however is only a temporary diet to be used as a tool to identify and eliminate the cause of the discomfort. By taking the offending foods out of the diet, the body has time to recover.  The diet often starts with a very rigorous period of elimination of all FODMAPs and these are singularly reintroduced to the diet whilst symptoms are noted.

These foods are vital to the health of the microbiome and should not eliminate long term as this will deprive the microbiota of food and basically starve the good bacteria that are imperative to so many aspects of good health and well-being.

I would then suggest working with a health practitioner to work through the FODMAP diet, re-establish health to the gut and re-build the microbiome. Then you may be better able to tolerate these aggravating FODMAP foods.

Natalee Durrant – Naturopath and Medical Herbalist