A low-FODMAP diet is an elimination diet that reduces short-chain carbohydrates in the diet, which can be difficult for some people with gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to digest.
Eating foods rich in these short-chain carbs can cause unwanted gastrointestinal symptoms in the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine, including stomach pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and more.
What Is the Low FODMAP Diet?
Founded by researchers from Monash University in Australia, the low FODMAP diet restricts certain carbohydrates and sugars. FODMAP is an acronym for these short-chain carbohydrates and sugars and includes:
- Fermentable oligosaccharides: Typically found in starchy foods such as bread, pasta, and legumes.
- Disaccharides: A type of sugar. Examples include sucrose (sugar), lactose (milk sugar), or maltose (malt sugar).
- Monosaccharides: Glucose (simple sugar), fructose (fruits), or galactose (dairy products).
- Polyols: Compounds containing sugar and alcohol units. Commonly found in fruits, vegetables, sugar alcohols, and artificial sweeteners such as mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol.
When digested, FODMAP molecules are quickly fermented by gut bacteria and draw water into the digestive tract, which may alter how quickly our bowels move. Subsequently, people sensitive to foods high in FODMAPs may experience bloating, frequent passing of gas, and diarrhea.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal condition that affects millions worldwide and is characterized by symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel movements. At least two-thirds of people have reported certain foods as a common trigger for IBS, and as such, one treatment that has helped manage symptoms is a low FODMAP diet.
How Low FODMAP Diet Works
The low FODMAP diet categorizes food as high or low FODMAP. The overall goal is to focus on low FODMAP foods as a staple for your food plan.
The diet is short-term, and there is an app to help you understand which foods with high FODMAP ingredients to avoid. The app is available for Apple and Android users and costs about $10. There are free app alternatives; however, they may be inaccurate, so caution is advised. Typically, the low FODMAP diet consists of three steps:
Step 1: Elimination Phase
This step aims to identify high FODMAP food triggers by swapping out high FODMAP foods for low FODMAP alternatives. The first step typically lasts from two to six weeks.
If your symptoms do not improve within the timeframe, you may need to consult your dietician or nutritionist to reassess whether a low FODMAP diet or another treatment is best for you.
Step 2: Reintroduction Phase
The second step brings back the potential trigger foods identified in Step 1. These foods are slowly reintroduced according to the FODMAP groups over three days. Make sure to take a break between reintroductions to avoid crossover effects.
Step 3: Integration Phase
The final step is also known as the integration phase. This step primarily consists of establishing a personalized diet with high and low FODMAP foods to establish new eating habits and reintroduce nutritional variety.
With most diets, exercise is recommended to complement a healthy lifestyle. However, you should limit strenuous exercise lasting two or more hours with a FODMAP diet to prevent significant gut disturbances.
Dos and Don’ts
Here are some tips to consider to help ease the diet process:
- Consult a dietitian, doctor, or nutritionist. Planning a low FODMAP diet under the guidance of a trained health professional can help you maintain your diet.
- Be mindful of serving sizes. Large portions of low FODMAP foods can also become a “high” FODMAP food.
- Check food product labels. Some products may appear low FODMAP but could include high FODMAP fruits/vegetables, artificial sweeteners, and other additives.
- Start the diet without medical advice. The low FODMAP diet is a restrictive diet that may reduce caloric and nutritional intake, affecting overall health.
- Try to change everything all at once. Changing several things will make it harder to determine what is causing the changes. It is recommended to keep routines stable while you are on a low FODMAP diet.
- Over-limit FODMAP foods. It is crucial to diversify low FODMAP foods to avoid nutritional deficiencies.
Sample Diet Plan
People on low FODMAP diets will differ from one another. A day on a low FODMAP diet may look like this:
Breakfast: Spinach and feta omelet
Lunch: Quinoa salad with red cabbage, zucchini, and ⅓ cup red bell peppers
Dinner: Stir-fried teriyaki tofu and low FODMAP vegetables with rice or rice noodles
Snack: Low FODMAP certified dark chocolate, yogurt (lactose-free), carrot, and celery sticks with cottage cheese
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
May Alleviate IBS Symptoms
Scientific research suggests that a low FODMAP diet may help people with IBS symptoms.
A meta-analysis that looked at 13 studies that used low FODMAP diets as an option for IBS therapies found that across all studies, low FODMAP diets ranked first as a treatment for varying abdominal pain, bloating, and irregular bowel habits.
Backed by Scientific Research
Since then, evidence supporting the low FODMAP diet has consistently grown, with some considering it a first-line treatment.
With a growing number of dietitians and nutritionists trained in low FODMAP diet management, this reassures many that the diet is a robust evidence-based option that may relieve symptoms of digestive conditions.
It can be challenging to stick to the low FODMAP diet, mainly because of its restrictive nature. This is particularly difficult when you can’t have the foods you love or if you’re a picky eater.
Limited food choices may also increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies and negatively alter your gut environment, which may negatively affect your gut health in the long term.
Difficult to Modify
If you have special dietary requirements, it may be challenging to modify food choices if you have special dietary requirements while meeting nutritional needs.
People with further dietary requirements are at more significant risk of nutritional deficiencies. Informing your nutritionist or dietitian beforehand will help you find appropriate alternatives to continue the diet.
The Bottom Line: Is Low FODMAP Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
A low FODMAP diet is generally used to identify food triggers and help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Weight loss may occur, but it is not healthy nor sustainable. Unless you have been officially diagnosed, using a low FODMAP diet to lose weight may do more harm than good. Consider discussing this with your doctor or dietitian if you think you may benefit from a low FODMAP diet.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.