Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced “tummy troubles”. ✋ I have, and it’s so uncomfortable. That’s how I ended up trying the low FODMAP diet.
Digestive issues can be so embarrassing, whether it’s bloating, indigestion, or nausea. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, an estimated 10-15 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms. Of those, only five to seven percent have received a formal diagnosis.
Food is a common trigger of digestive symptoms. The bad news is there really is no “cure” for most of the symptoms. It’s all about maintenance. In my quest to manage my digestive issues without medication, I came across the low FODMAP diet.
What Is The Low FODMAP Diet?
FODMAP stands for fermentable, oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols. These are the scientific terms used to classify a group of small-chain carbohydrates that are notorious for triggering digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, and stomach pain.
“Instead of being absorbed into the bloodstream, [these carbs] reach the far end of the intestine for fuel, and produce gases like hydrogen, methane, and sulfur. [These] often cause digestive symptoms like excessive belching, bloating, and flatulence in some individuals,” Dr. Michelle Pearlman, board-certified gastroenterologist, explained to Good Housekeeping. “[They] also draw liquid into the intestine, which may lead to diarrhea.”
So the diet is essentially more of an elimination protocol where all FODMAPS are cut out and then slowly added back individually in an attempt to determine which ones are triggering gastrointestinal (GI) distress.
History of The Low FODMAP Diet
Dr. Peter Gibson and his team of researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, developed the low FODMAP diet.
Gibson and his team tested different kinds of foods to find gut-irritating commonalities. “You would recognize foods were causing you a problem, but you wouldn’t recognize correctly which foods cause symptoms. [This is] because we eat a lot of varied things in our diet,” Gibson told Better by Today. “What the diet has done is by recognizing the components in the foods, you have the power to know what you can and can’t eat.”
How The Diet Works
The diet is structured into three different phases.
Phase 1: Restriction. This stage involves strict avoidance of all high FODMAP foods for about three to eight weeks. Once you have adequate relief of your digestive symptoms, you can progress to the second stage.
Phase 2: Reintroduction. In this stage, high FODMAP foods are systematically reintroduced into the diet one by one for three days each. The aim is to identify which types of FODMAPs you can tolerate as well as establish the amount you can handle without GI issues.
Phase 3: Personalization. The final stage involves creating a customized low FODMAP diet based on your personal tolerance as identified in phase 2.
Each phase is equally important in achieving long-term symptom relief and overall health and well-being.
Plant-Based Nutrition and The Low FODMAP Diet
When someone goes plant-based, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re vegetarian or vegan.
It’s is challenging — but not impossible — to eat a plant-based low FODMAP diet. All it takes is a little planning. The top nutrients to focus on getting enough of are calcium, iron, protein, vitamin B12, and zinc.
Do tons of research and get creative with your meal choices. Blend spinach into a cup of almond milk and use it in granola, pancakes, crepes, muffins, smoothies, or curries. Make crispy baked vegetable chips from carrots, kale, parsnips, plantains, or potatoes. Grind low FODMAP nuts and seeds into a powder to make your own protein powder that can also be used to replace bread crumbs.
So I decided to give the Low FODMAP Diet a go, and this is what happened...
I chose to eat a version of the low FODMAP diet that also excluded high histamine foods like nightshade veggies (ie: potatoes and tomatoes). So for most people this would feel fairly restrictive. BUT, I did notice a big improvement, and felt much better all around. That's the good news, and for me it made the short-term sacrifice well worth it.
However, I did have to pretty much prepare all of my food from scratch since so many sauces, dressings and other short-cut ingredients contain garlic, onions and other moderate to high-FODMAP ingredients. But for me cooking all of my own food is not a problem. I could see that for some this would be a drawback.
Also, full disclaimer that while I ate what I consider to be a plant-based version of this diet, it was not fully vegan. So if you want to do a totally vegan version of the Low FODMAP diet, I suggest referring to a resource like this book, Low-Fodmap and Vegan: What to Eat When You Can't Eat Anything by Jo Stepaniak. Jo was the editor for my very first cookbook, The Natural Vegan Kitchen, so I can vouch for her depth of knowledge when it comes to vegan cooking.
A sample plant-based menu
So just what exactly CAN you eat on a low FODMAP diet?
Here is a sample menu:
Breakfast: Tofu scramble made with shredded carrots and chopped arugula. You could also enjoy a bowl of gluten-free oatmeal with chopped almonds, blueberries, kiwi and a touch of maple syrup. A cup of nettle tea adds just the right touch.
Snack: Rice cake with almond butter
Lunch: Mixed green salad with roasted squash, toasted pepitas, a scoop of quinoa and a very light amount of cooked lentils. I made a salad dressing using olive oil, mustard, maple syrup, sea salt and apple cider vinegar. Note: I like to sometimes sprout my lentils before cooking them.
Dinner: Spaghetti squash with homemade, garlic-free pesto + a cup of dairy-free cream of celeriac soup made with almond milk for protein
Dessert: Low FODMAP fruit salad with red raspberries, grapes and cantaloupe
FODMAP Diet Resources
Get a good book or go to a low FODMAP dietitian (if you can afford one) to guide you on your journey to better gut health.
The Monash University app is helpful to help you with foods and portions and can help you with your grocery shopping.
To help you with recipe ideas, check out A Little Bit Yummy. It’s full of low FODMAP recipes and resources that are supposedly dietitian-reviewed.
So while I did find the Low FODMAP diet restrictive as far as limited ingredients and not being able to go to restaurants, I'd still recommend it. The reason is that it helped me feel vastly better, and I didn't have to keep eating the Phase 1 version. Little by little, I added back in other foods and kept a food journal to note symptoms.
As someone who's been there, I know that experiencing digestive issues are no fun. And if there is a natural alternative that can help I'd much rather go that route than rely on pills that can have adverse side effects. But that's a personal choice. Regardless of what healing options you explore for your digestive challenges, I hope that what I've shared here can help.
The information provided in or through this blog post and website is for educational and informational purposes only and solely as a self-help tool for your own use. Please consult your doctor for personalized medical advice.
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