Intestinal diseases and irritable bowel syndrome are unpleasant illnesses for those affected, which can have a strong impact on health, everyday life and even the psyche. The FODMAP diet can help.
FODMAP has relatively little to do with the almost identical word “foodmap”. It is an acronym for Fermentable oligo-, di- and monosaccharides and polyolsexplains Dr. Katharina Scherf, head of the Functional Biopolymer Chemistry working group at the Leibniz Institute for Food Systems Biology at the Technical University of Munich.
This means fermentable carbohydrates, i.e. multiple, double and single sugars as well as polyvalent sugar alcohols such as sorbitol or mannitol. These can cause gastrointestinal problems in sensitive people.
FODMAPs are found in various types of fruit and vegetables, as well as milk and grain products, but also in honey and agave juice, according to the expert. The FODMAP diet is about the short-term avoidance of foods with a high FODMAP content.
Peter Gibson and Susan Shepherd conducted a clinical study in irritable bowel syndrome patients in 2010. It found that patients on a low-FODMAP diet reduced their symptoms.
In fact, FODMAPs are part of the daily, balanced and conscious diet of many people. Because usually carbohydrates are not harmful at all. The study by researchers Gibson and Shepherd also found that some people are less able to digest FODMAPs than others.
Especially with irritable bowel syndrome, a diet based on the FODMAP concept works significantly better than previous dietary recommendations, but the scientific evidence is still very thin.
FODMAP – Diet or change in diet?
It is clearly not a lightning diet that promises you a perfect bikini figure in four weeks, but a nutritional concept that can reduce gastrointestinal discomfort. FODMAPs are usually no stranger to people with irritable bowel syndrome.
In addition, the FODMAP concept was not developed to serve as permanent nutrition, warns nutritionist Dr. Katharina Scherf. It is more intended to reduce the symptoms in order to then find out by means of a targeted reintroduction of certain foods which one can tolerate and which one cannot. The FODMAP diet can be divided into three phases.
1st phase: FODMAP-containing foods
Since a low-FODMAP diet is not your usual diet, other rules apply here as well. In contrast to DASH or TLC, the FODMAP diet is not a permanent change in diet. Only 6–8 weeks – nutritionists recommend it – you should strictly adhere to the guidelines of the concept and avoid the FODMAP-intensive foods.
You can find lists of FODMAP-rich and FODMAP-poor foods at fodmap.de, for example.
You will notice relatively quickly that your bowel is recovering, gas and diarrhea decrease or go away completely.
2nd phase: Adjustment according to the diet
After the first 6–8 weeks of strict dieting, slowly reintroduce the foods with higher FODMAP content into your diet.
As soon as negative side effects occur after adding a food, you should note it down as an incompatible food for you. In this way you can find out which foods are incompatible with you one after the other. Keep in mind, however, that the reactions to a certain food may be delayed.
It is therefore helpful to test the individual FODMAPs in collaboration with a nutritionist and not on your own.
3rd phase: Is a diet according to FODMAP permanently healthy?
After you have tested all FODMAP-rich foods for your symptoms, all well-tolerated foods will be permanently integrated into your diet.
Avoiding all FODMAPs in your diet in general does not make sense, at least from a nutritional point of view, says Dr. Katharina Scherf. Generally and permanently banning important, health-promoting foods such as vegetables and fruit from one’s diet, if this is not necessary from a health point of view, tends to favor malnutrition.
FODMAPs are an important nutritional basis for many healthy intestinal bacteria. In extreme cases, a long-term FODMAP diet can even impair the gastrointestinal microbiota (intestinal flora), explains the expert.
FODMAP – This is how you find out about intolerances
Unfortunately, there is still no reliable test method that you can use to find out whether you are intolerant to FODMAP. The best option is to carry out the 1st phase of the FODMAP concept, after which you can already see how your digestion is changing. In this phase, you reduce the amount of FODMAP-rich foods in your diet for a limited period of time (approx. Two to four weeks). But be careful, everything else – be it eating habits or daily medication – should also be taken during the test phase. This is the only way to tell if a low-FODMAP diet is making a difference. Before doing this, however, you should speak to a nutritionist or your family doctor who can support you with the FODMAP diet. In the second phase, the so-called triggers are determined – i.e. the FODMAPs that cause you problems.
What will the FODMAP concept bring in the long term?
Weight loss is absolutely not the focus of this diet. The concept is particularly worthwhile for people with irritable bowel syndrome, fructose intolerance, lactose intolerance and unspecific gastrointestinal problems such as constant cramps or flatulence.
In any case, a specialist should check whether there are more serious illnesses, for example through a gastroscopy or a blood test.
Exercise-Related Digestive Problems – FODMAP Diet May Help
Long-distance runners often suffer from digestive problems during competitions. Changing your diet one to two weeks before the competition can help alleviate the symptoms and thus improve your performance. Especially when loading carb on the eve of a competition, you should rely on rice or corn products instead of bread and wheat products.
Nine tips for a FODMAP diet
Planning ahead can be very helpful, especially when it comes to familiarizing yourself with the different foods. You can find a concrete list of recommended foods at the German Society for Nutrition eV or the German Society for Gastroenterology, for example.
Write yourself a shopping list – that sounds “old-school”, but it helps to keep track of things. You can also ensure that you have a balanced mix of carbohydrates, proteins and, above all, vegetables in the house. Don’t forget: a pair of snacks for snacking.
Unfortunately, you can’t avoid reading labels in the supermarket. Basically, products such as fruit, honey, agave, corn syrup, wheat and soy as well as numerous finished products have a very high FODMAP content.
Once you’ve discovered a few recipes for yourself, you can prepare them in larger quantities and then freeze individual portions. This saves you a lot of time during the week and you still have a ready-made dish in an emergency.
To get enough fiber, you can ideally use gluten-free bread and pasta. The increased fiber content in the products is particularly important. Accordingly, foods with at least 6 g dietary fiber per 100 g are well suited. They have, for example: brown rice, nuts and seeds, potatoes with their skins, flax seeds, unsalted / sweet popcorn, quinoa and buckwheat.
Watch your calcium intake. Many do without FODMAP-rich dairy products, which can lead to a calcium deficiency. Plan on two to three calcium-rich foods a day, such as oat or almond milk.
It is best to avoid alcohol during the diet, this saves FODMAPs and is also gentle on the gastrointestinal mucosa. Plenty of water is generally healthy and helps your body with digestion.
Chewing small portions slowly generally encourages conscious eating. But the smaller amounts are also easier for your body to digest. If there are intolerances, you can also react more quickly.
Visiting restaurants is a particular challenge. The best way to cope with this is to find out about the dishes on offer in advance. Talk to the staff and ask for wheat, milk, garlic and onion-free meals. It is particularly easy in restaurants where you can put together your own dishes. You should always have sauces served separately.
Our FODMAP conclusion
The FODMAP diet is not a diet in the classic sense, so it is not suitable for losing weight. The list of foods that you must and should not eat as part of a consistent low-FODMAP diet is long.
The choice of food is therefore very limited, which is why this diet should not be followed permanently and only makes sense for certain people, such as irritable bowel syndrome patients. You should therefore never go on a FODMAP diet alone, but always discuss it with a doctor or nutritionist beforehand.
You can find delicious FODMAP recipes in this guide