(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…)
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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?
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!
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