Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects around one in seven Australians yet often goes untreated. This is because it is difficult to diagnose, partly because there is still much to learn about the precise reason for the condition. IBS can show a range of symptoms including abdominal bloating and associated pain, excessive wind, nausea, constipation and diarrhoea.
In today’s day and age, many are quick to diagnose their IBS symptoms with gluten intolerance, but perhaps gluten isn’t the problem. It could be caused by an intolerance of certain types of carbohydrates in foods called 'FODMAP's'.
What are FODMAPs?
This term is short for 'Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols' (quite a mouthful!) Put basically, FODMAPs are rapidly fermentable short-chain carbohydrates. These can be found in the usual suspects - pasta, wheat based breads, cereals and biscuits but can also be found in many fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
For those with an intolerance, undigested FODMAPs cause water to be dragged into the small intestine. As they are undigested, FODMAPs travel through your gut and find their way to the large intestine. Here they act as a food source for bacteria and are rapidly fermented, creating gas. Excess gas production and water retention causes the intestinal wall to expand, which can make you feel and look bloated, can cause severe abdominal pain and cause other symptoms of IBS, such as constipation or diarrhoea.
What is a "Low FODMAP Diet"?
Researchers at Melbourne’s Monash University have been at the forefront of IBS research, studying the dietary factors in food that can trigger IBS symptoms. From this extensive research, they have identified a large list of foods both high and low in FODMAPs.
Using this list, you can easily identify which foods you can and can't eat and (together with a dietitian) create your own low FODMAP diet plan to reduce your symptoms of IBS.
Here’s a selection of foods identified by Monash University:
Foods High FODMAP's: Legumes/pulses, cow’s milk, soft cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, asparagus, artichokes, beetroot, wheat-based bread and cereals, wheat pasta, apples, pears, mangos, peaches, plums, cashews and pistachios.
Foods Low FODMAP's: Green beans, bok choy, carrots, bananas, oranges, mandarins, hard cheese, lactose-free milk and yoghurt, meat, fish, chicken, tofu, tempeh, gluten-free bread, sourdough spelt bread, almonds, pumpkin seeds.
While abdominal problems have often been blamed on gluten intolerance, research at institutions such as Monash University have shown the importance of not only eliminating wheat based foods, but choosing a whole diet that is low in FODMAPs.
The advice from Monash is to trial a low FODMAP diet for 6 to weeks to see if beneficial results occur. This is best done with consultation by a health professional who can advise, monitor and record your results to see if the low FODMAPs diet is suited to you.
As always, we recommend that you check with a dietitian before you embark on any diet or health program to ensure that it's right for your needs. Always consult your health professional if you think you suffer from IBS or any other gastrointestinal disorder.
There are many new products on the market that cater for people with IBS and that are designed specifically for people following a low FODMAP diet.
As Hippocrates said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food!”
Don’t forget to let us know if you’ve tried the low FODMAPS diet and if you found it beneficial.