So you’ve been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and have been told to start on the low FODMAP diet?
As a dietitian, I’m thrilled that more people are being referred in the direction of ‘food first, medication second’ for IBS management. In fact, the low FODMAP diet has been shown to improve symptoms in approximately 50-75% of patients who implement it under dietitian supervision and support.
However, the majority of patients suggested to follow the low FODMAP diet are not given the resources and tools needed to implement it safely and effectively! Awareness is growing around the low FODMAP diet – and with that, so too are the resources and foods available to help patients get started on the low FODMAP diet.
What is the low FODMAP diet?
The low FODMAP diet is a short term (2-6 weeks) elimination-style diet that reduces the overall amount of fermentable carbohydrates you consume in your diet. Fermentable carbohydrates or ‘FODMAPs’, either pull water into the bowels, or cause bloating and distension that may cause discomfort or a change in bowel habits that occurs with IBS.
It is important to know, these foods are often NOT unhealthy – in fact, they play an important role in maintaining a healthy gut microbiota.
The purpose of the low FODMAP diet is to eliminate FODMAPs for symptom control, and then strategically reintroduce FODMAPs to see which FODMAPs cause your symptoms, and at what amount. The goal long term is to be on the most liberal diet, while controlling your symptoms as best as possible. At Ignite, we set at target of feeling 70-80% better, 70-80% of the time. If you do not reach these targets – it’s a sign you should consider other aspects of digestive health management – your dietitian can act as a coordinator and advocate for your care and help guide you through this process.
Getting Started in the Low FODMAP diet
Get familiar with not just the high FODMAP foods to avoid list, but also the list of low FODMAP foods that are allowed!
When patients look at the high FODMAP lists that get handed out at doctors’ offices, they often think ‘OK, but what CAN I eat?” A list of foods to avoid is only so good as what we suggest for patients in their place.
We have a great ‘Getting started on the low FODMAP diet‘ free video course we keep up to date with high and low FODMAP foods. What I love about their guide is, common foods are listed in one place – making it easy to plan. This simplifies the low FODMAP diet for the short duration of the elimination phase, while giving you lots of options for foods to choose.
The Monash FODMAP app or the FODMAP friendly app contain all foods tested for FODMAPs if you require more detail – but I find patients are less overwhelmed with a simple list. It’s like going to a restaurant with a 10 page menu and feeling overwhelmed with choice, as opposed to a simple, one page menu where you can pick amongst a few favourites. What I like about the app is, it may allow you to eat some of your favourite foods in small portions – for example – ¼ black beans is below the high FODMAP cut offs (and good for your gut microbiota)!
Dietitian Pro Tip: Keep the elimination phase simple by sticking to a few staples in your diet – use our free online resource ‘Getting Started on the low FODMAP diet‘ to help you!
Don’t start meal planning from scratch – write out what you typically eat, and modify from there!
To simplify things, I like to think of the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet as ‘a swap this for that’.
Examples of Simple FODMAP Swaps
- A morning shake with mango and cherries? Swap it for blueberries and raspberries!
- Making fajitas for lunches for the week? Swap the onion for extra red bell peppers and green onion tops, and use low FODMAP taco seasoning mix – we used Rachel Pauls– which is onion and garlic free.
- Whole wheat pasta with alfredo and chicken for supper? Swap it for corn-based pasta and a simple tomato sauce. (I puree mine up with garlic infused olive oil, 1 jar roasted red peppers, 1 can crushed tomatoes, 1 container tomato paste, Italian seasoning, and salt to taste!)
Take the recipes you are confident in making and swap the high FODMAP items for low FODMAP items. If you need recipe inspiration – our blog has tons of recipes, as well we have made a super simple low FODMAP meal plan which you can get access to here!
*Dietitian Pro Tip – lots of people PANIC that they have to cut out all their favourite foods, like avocado and black bean. For the most part, you just have to be mindful of portion size. A few slices of avocado for creaminess (sorbitol) and added fats, and 1/4 cup black beans (GOS) for flavour and to fuel the good bacteria in your gut is totally acceptable! Just try to avoid stacking FODMAP’s from the same categories.
Stock the pantry with low FODMAP snacks
I can attest to this – snacking low FODMAP is one of the most challenging parts of sticking to the diet. Having grab & go items you can trust to keep your tummy feeling good is so important, not to mention – helps to make sure you don’t go hungry!
My Favourite Low FODMAP snacks:
- Lactose free yogurt and some low FODMAP granola
- Rachel Pauls Happy Bars, Nature Valley crunchy PB bars, FODY Foods certified low FODMAP granola bars are some of my go too!
- 1-2 oz cheddar and rice crackers
- Carrots and ¼ cup garlic-free hummus
- Half a sandwich on traditional sourdough (I like tuna with real mayonnaise and lemon, or peanut butter and yellow banana (remember to avoid the ones with brown spots – the ripening process increases the FODMAPs!)
4. Prep a few tried and true recipes you can make-ahead or freeze
Nothing is more stressful than having a really busy day, getting home, and realizing you have nothing to eat. This situation can cause a lot of stress and anxiety – even for people not following a limited diet.
I like to have 2-3 items on hand that freeze well, and can be pulled out for food emergencies. I personally love our low FODMAP easy stir fry recipe it’s quick and easy and freezes well in individual portions!
It’s not all or nothing.
Contrary to popular belief the low FODMAP diet isn’t ‘all or nothing’. I encourage patients to adopt a flexible mindset when implementing the low FODMAP diet, otherwise it can be very overwhelming. If you’re going to eat at a friend’s house or a restaurant, choose lower FODMAP options when able.
Great examples of low FODMAP options while eating out include salads without high FODMAP ingredients, and protein dishes with rice, potatoes, and low FODMAP vegetables, or taking a look at their gluten free options as they already avoid wheat, and many times they can be simply modified to exclude onion and garlic – the FODMAPs most often found when eating out.
If you’re not able to choose low FODMAP or aren’t sure – don’t panic! Just do your best to reduce the overall amount of obvious FODMAPs.
For example, don’t choose French onion soup, but maybe choose a tomato basil soup you know might have onion and garlic in small amounts. We want to think of reducing rather than completely avoiding in situations we don’t have complete control over.
Getting started on the low FODMAP diet doesn’t have to be complex. It comes down to having a plan, taking it one step at a time, and working low FODMAP swaps into your typical eating behaviours! Working with a dietitian can help learn more about our team here!