For many years, unexplained tummy cramps, constipation, diarrhoea and digestive issues were put into a broad category known as ‘irritable bowel syndrome’. Sufferers knew that some foods caused more distress than others, yet doctors and dieticians could not quite put their finger on it.
Gluten and wheat were frequently blamed as were dairy foods but often eliminating these foods did not completely solve the issues. That is, until Australian dietitian Dr Sue Shepherd paved the way with her discoveries about the role of FODMAPs in digestive health for sufferers who are sensitive to them.
So, what on earth are these FODMAPs and who should avoid them? (Watch Magdalena Roze make her favourite healing tea, Kombucha. Post continues after video)
The acronym FODMAP refers to a group of sugars and sugar-related molecules found in a number of common foods that we eat. These FODMAP’s or Fermentable Oligosaccharides (fructans and Galacto-oligosaccharides(GOS), Disaccharide (lactose), Monosaccharide (fructose in excess of glucose) and Polyols (eg. sorbitol, mannitol) are relatively poorly absorbed in the small intestine, leaving individuals sensitive to them experiencing excessive gas, bloating, abdominal pain and even nausea.
Over time, these symptoms can lead to fatigue, lethargy and poor concentration. (Post continues after gallery)
One of the reasons that FODMAP intolerance can be difficult to identify is that different individuals have different tolerance levels to these sugars and the amounts of these sugars that individuals react to are wide and varying. For example, some people can tolerate some onion and garlic while others cannot have any. Some individuals can tolerate wheat, others none at all.
As such, developing dietary plans to support a low FODMAP style of eating can be a case of trial and error. Particularly for individuals who have dealt with gut discomfort for a number of years, it can take some time to let the gut recover and tolerate a number of FODMAP’s at all.
Then, over time as gut health and digestion improves, increasing amounts of FODMAPs may become better tolerated.
As a general rule onions, garlic, legumes, apples and oats tend to cause the most issues and once these are removed from the baseline diet, small quantities are other fruits and veggies that contain FODMAPs can be enjoyed.
While gluten, wheat and lactose are frequently avoided by those who report unexplained gut symptoms, and indeed there are a number of people who have distinct symptoms or test results that can confirm lactose intolerance and/or the presence of coeliac disease, it is important to consider that a number of symptoms of FODMAP intolerance will overlap with symptoms of these two conditions.
For this reason, if you do not have a medical diagnosis of coeliac disease and / or lactose intolerance, it may prove fruitful to explore your symptoms in more detail with a medical practitioner or dietitian who specialises in these intolerances to ensure you are avoiding the right foods for the right reason. (Post continues after gallery).
As we learn more about the gut, and the foods that can cause gut distress the good news is that more and more foods are available in supermarkets which cater for individuals with FODMAP intolerance. Often these snack foods and breakfast cereals, stocks and meals will mention that they are ‘FODMAP friendly’ and Coles also stocks a specific range of these low FODMAP products. For individuals who are trying to follow a low FODMAP diet, this can make meal preparation at home much easier.
So if your tummy has been causing you problems for some time, signs you may have FODMAP intolerance include:
- You start the day with a flat tummy that gradually becomes distended throughout the day
- You know some foods really irritate you
- You do not have coeliac disease but you know that breads and cereals make you bloat
- Your tummy is often worse after you have eaten out
- You feel better on a dairy and wheat free diet
- You are otherwise healthy but bloating, constipation and gut discomfort is a common occurrence