Figuring out FODMAPs

(Please note this post discusses digestive issues and so may not be found as appetising as my usual posts! Skip it if you’re not keen on reading about these things. There’s some pretty interesting stuff here though…)

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Over the last few months, my digestive system and I really haven’t been on great terms. I felt bloated after most meals, my appetite was pathetic and my… um… bowel movements could be pretty variable to say the least, swinging from one extreme to the other without ever seeming to find the middle ground.

For weeks and weeks I drove myself crazy trying to figure out what I should eat to help ease the symptoms. I read up on things like the alkaline diet, the raw diet, the not too much raw diet, the ayurvedic diet, high fibre, low fibre…And after hours of brain frazzling research, all I discovered was that the internet is filled with heaps of conflicting advice!

Lamb, tomato and aubergine tagine with quinoa

I complained about my symptoms to my GP on several occasions to little effect. I’ve been informed that GPs don’t much like IBS, which I think is partly to do with the fact it’s so difficult to treat and every case so individual. There’s no easy, ‘take these pills and you will feel better’ answer. Fortunately, on my latest attempt at trying to get some decent help from my GP he referred me to see a dietitian. And this dietician introduced me to FODMAPs: Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols.

Now I had absolutely no clue what these guys were before seeing the dietitian on Monday!

And since Monday they have become my digestive system’s number one enemies, to be avoided at all costs for eight weeks. And it’s going to be pretty tough.

So, what exactly are these FODMAPs? Ready for the science-y bit? I’ll keep it short and sweet (unlike the rest of this post!).

FODMAPs are carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. Instead they go right on their merry way into the large one where they’re met by an army of bacteria who have a good old time fermenting them. This produces a great load of gas and can reap havoc with well, you guessed it…bowel movements.

Wheat free maple and pecan cake

Yep, after theories linked to fibre, fatty food, caffeine and alcohol, it’s now these  carbohydrates that are taking the blame for causing IBS. What differs between the FODMAP theory and pretty much all the other potential ‘treatments’ for IBS though, is that the low FODMAP diet actually has a fair amount of science behind it. Which is all good news with me. Here’s a link to a short article on said scientific evidence.

And here’s a list of examples of different foods high in FODMAPs which must be completely avoided on a no FODMAP diet and restricted on a low FODMAP one.

First off, wheat and rye.

Then we have vegetables including onion, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, avocado, asparagus, fennel, mushroom, peas and leeks.

All beans and pulses are also red-listed.

No-go fruits include apple, pear, stone fruits and blackberries.

Polypols (that’s sugar alcohols), found naturally in some fruit and veg, are also often used as artificial sweeteners – things like sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol.

Fructose, a mono-saccharide, is harder to absorb than sugars like glucose and sucrose, but isn’t a problem for all IBS sufferers. As well as hanging out in lots of fruit, fructose is also found in honey and agave nectar.

Last up, lactose, this is the di-saccahriade. Like fructose, it’s a problem for some IBS sufferers but not all.

Sweet potato and spinach frittata

There are several charts on-line listing which foods are high in FODMAPS, such as this one and this one. These guidelines are based on research straight out of Australia, where the concept of the low FODMAP diet originated. The guidelines I’ve been referring to vary a little from these, which is apparently due to the fact that mine are the English ones based on research conducted at King’s College London on English fruit and veg, which can vary in FODMAP value compared to Australian produce.

So, for the next eight weeks I’m on a 100% no FODMAPs diet; no wheat, no onions, no garlic, no apples and that’s just the start of it! After the eight weeks I get to start adding foods back in and trying to work out which ones I react to the most and should continue to avoid.

Being somewhat of a baking addict, being told I had to cut out wheat was, undeniably, a bit of a downer. Not being able to cook with onions and garlic also seemed impossible. Because doesn’t literally every recipe tell you to start off by sweating onions and garlic? Fortunately there are a couple of tricks to get around this slightly. One is garlic oil. This is apparently ok. The other is asafoetida, a genius spice that tastes of onions!

Rhubarb and raspberry oatmeal with ginger, cinnamon and vanilla

The first day or so I felt pretty blue over the whole thing. Was this really something I could do? It seemed so stupidly extreme. Enjoying devising recipes as much as I do though, things soon started to seem, if a little bizarrely, like quite a fun challenge. What could I cook that was totally FODMAP friendly but still completely delicious? I surprised myself with how impressive my meals were turning out to be. I didn’t feel deprived at all. Sometimes I even started to panic half-way through thinking ‘this is just too good, am I sure I haven’t put something in here I’m not allowed?’

The photos throughout this post and below are a few examples of some of the things I’ve been cooking over the last few days that have been FODMAP friendly (by the English guidelines). I should also probably say that my dietitian decided (I’ve no idea how) that I’m probably not intolerant to lactose, so don’t need to avoid that one, which means plenty of ice cream and custard for me!

Tuna steak with wheat free pasta, salsa verde and tomatoes

Wheat-free butternut squash and ginger muffins

Banana, raspberry and rhubarb smoothie

Fish tagine with carrot and clementine salad and harissa yoghurt

Brown sugar and vanilla polenta fingers with rhubarb compote. Believe me this is way better than it looks!

Best brunch in ages – Buckwheat pancakes filled with Gruyère, ham and slow-roasted tomatoes. Why did I not discover buckwheat pancakes any sooner?

So yeh, it hasn’t really been all that bad!

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some FODMAP friendly recipes, including some gluten-free baking, but I promise the recipes will only get posted if they’re as tasty as anything I would normally be happy to eat and consider blog-worthy.

The only question left is (this is nearly the end, I promise!), am I feeling any different?

Definite yes!

Sure, I’m a touch dubious. Is this not just some kind of placebo effect? All the same, the bloating, discomfort and excessive fullness hasn’t been an issue all week. I haven’t wanted to curl up and do nothing after meals while my body tries to deal with the food I’ve just eaten and I’ve noticed a big improvement in my appetite. I’ve had heaps more energy too and food is feeling like it’s doing me good again. I’m happier, my insides are happier and if my digestive system could talk, I reckon it would be thanking me for giving it a break right now!

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Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or dietitian and the above information is based on the FODMAP diet as I understand it and I do not take responsibility for providing incorrect information. Please seek specific guidance from a professional before considering the FODMAP approach to relieving IBS symptoms

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11 thoughts on “Figuring out FODMAPs

    • Thanks for the link, I shall add it into the post. The way I (rightly or wrongly) see things, is that if you are strict during the elimination phase and do the reintroduction properly, you’re going to end up with the most accurate results as to which foods you need to be most careful with to avoid symptoms. It’s also possible to work out if you can tolerate a small quantity of a certain food type, just not a large quantity…

      • ….and whether if you’re ok, say, to eat some chickpeas, so long as you don’t combine them with onions! Then, once you’ve figured out where your digestive system’s limits lie, you can pretty much do what you like with that information, take it or leave, but expect to pay the consequences for leaving it! So…say you were going out for a meal and it was hard to avoid the problem foods, you could think to yourself, well, I know eating this may well make me feel unwell, but, as a one off, I just want to completely enjoy this meal and I accept that it might make me feel bad. And then you could completely cut out all FODMAPs again for the next couple of days to ‘re-set’ your system and rectify the damage and go back to happy bowels again! If that make sense! :S

      • It’s interesting but have to remember the possibility that it is all placebo effect as no double blind randomised control trials have been implemented yet and I dunno how ‘ethical’ they would be. The only way you could do it would be to get everyone on FODMAP diet then give one group a pill with FODMAP substances and the other with just water. Dunno how many tablets you’d have to take tho to get the equivalent does of a normal diet. Would you sign up for that trial!?

    • Thank you! I’m amazed at how quickly I’ve started to feel better. Sure it’s not a whole heap of fun not being able to eat so many of my favourite foods, but then nor was feeling and looking like I’d swallowed a beach ball! Not does it have to be this restrictive forever. I love stewed rhubarb on porridge! Maybe I need to work with your breakfast/dessert porridge theme and concoct some kind of rhubarb crumble porridge. Maybe toast up some oats and chopped nuts in butter and brown sugar and use that to sprinkle as a ‘crumble’ topping…I wonder if you could even mix custard powder into porridge with rhubarb compote to get rhubarb and custard flavour! That could be a hideous or ingenious idea…but only one way to find out! :p xx

  1. I know so many folks with similar digestive issues. Not sure if it’s related to FODMAP, but I’ll let them know about the theory so they can learn more about it. Thanks!

    • Great, I hope they find it useful. It can be so hard to figure out what and what not to eat to help, it’s so frustrating! But I’ve noticed results so quickly by cutting out FODMAPs I’m amazed.

  2. Very interesting post – I too know several others with digestive issues so will be good for them to see some inside-friendly recipes even if they don’t want the whole diet starting from base.

    • That would be great if they find the recipes helpful. They will be completely free from all the foods that supposedly cause symptoms, so yes, like you said, they should hopefully prove useful recipes for anyone wanting to incorporate more meals that will be easier on the digestion, even if they didn’t want to go in for the full diet, which is, admittedly, quite tough going!

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