Introducing the Low FODMAP Diet

The low FODMAP diet may sound like yet another gimmicky weight loss plan to many of you, but it’s actually a science-backed regimen aimed at alleviating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Developed by Australian researchers, the efficacy of the low FODMAP diet for IBS is supported by encouraging studies in numerous medical journals, and has increasingly become the go-to dietary intervention for this highly prevalent condition.

What’s in a Name?

FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. In susceptible individuals, these short-chain carbohydrates are malabsorbed in the small intestine, and when they hit the large intestine, they provide a veritable feast for colonic bacteria. A by-product of this feeding frenzy is gas, which pushes on the walls of the colon, causing symptoms typical of IBS: pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. FODMAPs are also osmotically active, which means they draw water into the colon, causing diarrhea, pain, and bloating.

The Low FODMAP diet helps reduce IBS symptoms by limiting intake of foods rich in FODMAPs, such as certain grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and milk products.

Is the Low FODMAP Diet Right for You?

If you’ve been diagnosed with IBS and are interested in trying the Low FODMAP Diet, the researchers who conceived  it recommend that you consult with a dietitian instead of going at it alone. Their primary concern is that people may limit foods unnecessarily, and thus end up with an unbalanced and nutritionally deficient diet. I would add that there are way too many incorrect or outdated FODMAP food lists in circulation these days, as well as forums and blogs that feature earnest but misinformed advice. A knowledgeable nutritionist should be able to guide you through the elimination and challenge phases of the diet, determine your level of tolerance to the different FODMAP groups, and then provide a sustainable game-plan tailored to your particular sensitivities.

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Erica Ilton is a Registered Dietitian who specializes in gastrointestinal disorders. Erica has a private practice in New York City, and is the consulting nutritionist for Mount Sinai’s Pediatric Gastroenterology Division. She can be contacted at erica.ilton@mountsinai.org or 347-809-6789.

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