FODMAP. The diet that more and more people are being prescribed by Drs. But what really is it?
FODMAP is a diet which excludes certain types of foods. The term FODMAP is an acronym, derived from “Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols”.
According to the handy source that is Wikipedia “FODMAPs are short chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. They include short chain oligo-saccharide polymers of fructose (fructans) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS, stachyose, raffinose), disaccharides (lactose), monosaccharides (fructose), and sugar alcohols (polyols), such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and maltitol.” (This makes no sense to me either so for me and you it’s easier to look at a list of excluded foods to make sense of it.) These foods include onions, garlic, gluten, some dairy products, artificial sweeteners, apples, pears, cherries, green peppers, peas, beans, chickpeas, cauliflower, asparagus, honey, agave syrup, fruit juice and more than one glass of wine. (This is by far not an extensive list but a quick Google search will give you a list – these are just be foods I can rattle of the top of my head!)
I also minimise the amount of sugar I eat as although it’s not on the high FODMAP list I know my body doesn’t handle a lot of sugar well.
Foods are categorised into high and low FODMAP foods. The idea is that you avoid the high FODMAP foods for a period of time and then gradually reintroduce the foods back into your diet. Often not re-introducing garlic, onion and gluten though.
When I started the diet, coming up for 2 years ago, hardly anyone had ever heard of it. I told Drs and family and they looked at me blankly, waiting for an explanation on why I was telling them I was on a diet with an odd acronym.
Fast forward 2 years and I’ve heard more and more people being prescribed the diet for IBS type symptoms. I’m not sure I agree with this sudden prescription of the diet without ruling out other issues first. It is massively restrictive and therefore can have a massive impact on your quality of life if you don’t know how to manage it properly. It’s also true that if you don’t follow the diet properly it’s likely to have no positive effect. Therefore for a lot of effort and stress, it might not give the health results you need or want. I think that Doctors need to rule out all other possibilities before prescribing the diet and then follow up with support to ensure it is a worthwhile endeavour for patients.
For me, I have followed the diet very faithfully for coming up 2 years. I haven’t eaten dairy for over 10 years anyway, and I’ve been on and off gluten for years as well as sugar and various other foods, so making a change to my diet wasn’t new to me. I haven’t eaten gluten, wheat, onions, garlic, apples, pears or artificial sweeteners for 2 years now (and dairy for 10 years obviously!) The other foods, like chickpeas, green peppers, beans, peas, asparagus and various fruits don’t have such an extreme effect on me so if I have them once in a while (often because I have no other option if I’m away or at someone else’s house) I don’t have such a bad reaction. If I was to eat them on a constant basis however I would get very ill.
The basis of the FODMAP diet is that you are meant to be able to re-introduce foods again but I have found I can’t do that. When I have accidentally eaten onions or garlic I have been SO ill it’s not even worth thinking about trying to eat them. I even have a reaction now when there is cross-contamination with any of the main foods I can’t eat.
That is one of the downsides with the diet, I find that as soon as I cut something out I have a more extreme reaction to it. I think this is because my body has got used to not having to digest or deal with those foods so as soon as I do my body has an awful reaction. I think this is why my reactions have now progressed to if there is cross-contamination with the foods I can’t eat with the foods I can eat.
In terms of managing the diet on a day to day basis, I don’t find it difficult at home. I have to cook everything from scratch and make sure I am incredibly organised. I have to take my own lunches everywhere and snacks as well. This of course does make me feel like a bit of a freak when I whip out my homemade lunch rather than being able to join in on a lunchtime trip for food. But it is so worth it for me in the benefit it has for me health. I think the complicating factor for me is that I also have hypoglycaemia so I absolutely have to eat every few hours otherwise I get so nauseous and dizzy that I faint. It’s always worse in the morning and so I have to make sure I have plenty of snacks with me to prevent an onset of symptoms.
The hardest part of the diet is eating out and going away. Eating out in the UK tends to be okay as all restaurants have to have an allergy list (although onion and garlic aren’t included in this annoyingly!) I do have to work a lot around menus and take a lot of foods out the dish, but it’s not the end of the world! I steer clear of Thai, Indian and Chinese restaurants as there is no way I can eat anything there.
Going on holiday is a bit harder as I have to be very organised with when I’m going to eat food, what snacks I need and where I can eat that will understand the foods I can eat. I spend a lot of time researching where I can eat before I go away! It does sometimes take the joy away from holidays a little bit but again, my health is the most important thing and if I was to eat something I couldn’t eat it would then ruin the holiday anyway! I’m very lucky that the friends and family I go away with are so understanding. I really am grateful for them!
I’m always looking for new foods to incorporate into my diet, new recipes and new snack ideas. Almond butter is currently my best friend!!
I hope that the FODMAP diet is a bit clearer for you now. If you have any questions please comment away! I would also love to hear from anyone on FODMAP or a similar diet and how you handle it?!