That’s a very good question and one which I will try to explain as best I can. I’ve popped some links in at the bottom as well, so you can do a bit of your own reading about it if you want.
Thankfully, the lovely people at King’s College London have brought the research to the UK and have a great website that you can find here.
1. FODMAP is an acronym. It stands for
Oligosaccharides (FOS and GOS*)
*fructo-oligosaccharides and galacto-oligosaccharides
2. This basically means carbohydrates (groups of sugar/glucose molecules) which are fermented in the gut.
3. Fermented? Fermentation is a process whereby sugars are converted into gases, alcohols (any compound ending -OH) and acids. (e.g. beer is made when yeast + sugar = alcohol and carbon dioxide. This gives beer its alcoholic content and taste!) In your body, however, we have gut bacteria which do this process with the sugars in our food.
4. So why would it help? Well, it is thought that the gas that is produced in this process can causes the bloating and pain/discomfort that people with IBS tend to suffer from.
5. So, a “FODMAP” diet actually means having a low-FODMAP diet. In other words, trying to eat less of the foods which are high in FODMAPs / fermentable carbohydrates
5. There are three stages to the FODMAP diet.
- Restrict – religiously stop eating high-FODMAP foods for eight weeks. When I first began this in August 2016 I used the FODMAPs app by FoodMaestro which has been developed by King’s College London (KCL). It has a barcode scanner on and I spent pretty much every food shop scanning all the items to make sure I wasn’t inadvertently eating anything high in FODMAPs!
- Reintroduce – gradually reintroduce high/higher-FODMAP foods to see what are the main culprits for you. (This is pretty hard; if you want assitance with this, ask your GP if he/she might refer you to one of these UK-based FODMAP-trained dieticians)
- Personalise – now you’ve figured out what does and doesn’t agree with you and hopefully your tummy will be a little happier!
6. I’d say the “personalisation” stage is what is most important. For me, there are a lot of things which are supposedly okay to eat in small doses (because they are medium-FODMAP foods), but which I find I don’t tolerate. Importantly, though, is that you don’t stay on the Restrict part forever- life is no fun if you restrict!
Like everything in life, it’s all about moderation
7. It’s a work-in-progress. The low-FODMAP diet is a relatively new concept and things may change.
Medicine is an art, not a science.
8. The low-FODMAP diet is not a cure. The diet can help the symptoms, but doesn’t get to the root of the problem, mostly because scientists aren’t too sure what the root of the problem is yet! No two people are the same- it’s one of the first things we get taught in medicine. For me, I have to eat small amounts and regularly, but others may not find that to be true. Equally, sometimes I can eat relatively high-FODMAP foods and be completely okay and other times I am completely not okay. That’s probably because a large component of it is psychological and it might be because of our moods. Also, for us girls, don’t underestimate the impact of hormones on pretty much everything in your body! We’re bound to feel differently at different stages of our cycles.
9. Give it a chance. I tried the low-FODMAP diet religiously for eight weeks (even to the extent of having to speak personally to the chef of a Chinese restaurant to ask for a sauce with no garlic or onions at dinner, the first time I met my boyfriend’s family).
By the end of it, I wasn’t sure it was really working. Then I reintroduced all the high-FODMAP foods I’d cut out and it turns out it had made a massive difference!
10. Don’t lose faith. It’s not easy to stick to eating low-FODMAP all the time and sometimes you just have to put up with a little tummy pain if you want a chocolate gain! However, because (as I’m sure you’re aware) our bowels can take a few days to right themselves after a bad patch, the best way to being pain-free is to be consistent with your diet.
I hope that’s made some sense! Let me know if there’s anything you’re not sure about or want clarifying, and I’ll do my best to find the most accurate, scientific answers for you.
Some useful links: