A Small Taste of the Low FODMAP Diet
Discover more about how the low FODMAP diet is relevant to you and what you need to be mindful of when committing to the regimen.
About the author: Anne-Marie Stelluti is a registered dietitian in Vancouver and business owner of Modern Gut Health. She is a member of the College of Dietitians of British Columbia and has completed FODMAP training with Monash University in 2019.
What would you say most motivates you as a dietitian?
Helping others in a meaningful and fulfilling way is what motivates me most as a dietitian. It’s very rewarding to see the impact food and nutrition can have, especially when it comes to digestive health and diseases like IBD. When I see how people substantially improve their quality of life and start to feel better and get their life back, that really motivates me to keep going. I’m also really happy when they can reduce or even get off their medications.
What led you to work in the field of diet and nutrition?
I always loved science, and food and nutrition has always been a passion of mine that I wanted to pursue. The field of dietetics was a way where I could encompass all of this. My dad was a great teacher, and I felt that nutrition was also an area that I could work in where I could teach and help others. It’s a field that’s always changing and you can always challenge yourself to learn more and become better. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored. Also, I wanted to work in the health field, but not in one that involved cutting or cleaning people up. Nutrition is a great way to do that!
What is a low FODMAP diet?
A low FODMAP diet is a short-term elimination diet that involves avoiding high FODMAP foods for 2-6 weeks and then reintroducing them back in to see what you as an individual can tolerate. FODMAPs are a group of sugars that can cause bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea in people with IBS and/or other gastrointestinal conditions like IBD. Examples of FODMAPs include lactose, beans, and prunes.
The diet has been shown to help reduce and improve gut symptoms in about seventy per cent of people with IBS, and most people notice an improvement within the first one to two weeks. I have seen it help and improve the quality of life of so many of my clients. It’s very rewarding to see someone go from being unable to travel or hike because they need to be close to a bathroom, to feeling better and not needing to worry about that at all. It’s like they have their life back.
The diet is much easier than it looks like at first glance, and with the help of a registered dietitian trained in FODMAPs, it can be made a lot easier and nutritionally sound.
Can a low FODMAP diet help people living with IBD and what kind of outcomes could they expect from following it?
A low FODMAP diet could help people with IBD who have IBS-like symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea, as well as the chronic diarrhea characteristic of microscopic colitis, or the bloating characteristic of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which people with IBD may also have. The goal of the diet is symptom control.
FODMAPs themselves do not cause damage to the gut and they are found in healthy foods and are considered prebiotics, but they can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and distress in certain quantities.
It can really help to try the diet to identify your personal triggers so that you know what does and does not bother your gut. Your personal tolerances can also change over time, and it’s important to be aware of that.
What should people be careful or aware of when considering a low FODMAP diet?
People should be aware that it takes some time to prepare before starting the diet, and I recommend at least a week to get ready and do that. I also recommend waiting until after a vacation or time of increased stress (e.g. moving) to do the elimination diet, as stress can impact our gut symptoms as well and the goal of the diet is to figure out if it helps reduce your gut symptoms. It is not recommended to start any new probiotics or supplements at the same time as the low FODMAP diet, because you want to see if the diet is working, not if it is the effect of probiotics or supplements.
The greatest challenge people will likely face will be eating out on a low FODMAP diet because of onion and garlic, which are two particularly high FODMAP foods that tend to be added to many foods (soups, sauces, marinades, stocks, etc). A registered dietitian can give you plenty of tips and meal ideas so that you don’t feel like you’re missing out and lacking in variety.
The other thing to be careful of when doing the low FODMAP diet is to avoid doing it in the long-term. This is relevant for some people who feel so much better that they are reluctant or afraid to reintroduce foods back in that may have triggered severe symptoms in the past. The elimination part of the diet is too restrictive to be followed long term, and it may be harmful to the healthy gut microbiome, which we could not live well without.
Our healthy gut bacteria do everything from digesting food to making vitamins, and they keep our intestinal lining strong and healthy, and that is not something you want to compromise through diet. A dietitian can help you go slowly in reintroducing foods back in if you are reluctant to do so, including starting with ones that are more likely to be well tolerated.