Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a condition that causes uncomfortable symptoms affecting the digestive system. IBS can cause symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, which can come and go in flare-ups. One expert has given Express.co.uk tips for how to follow a low FODMAP diet to ease IBS symptoms.
Often IBS can be managed via medication and diet, with sufferers often recommended to follow a low FODMAP diet.
The low FODMAP diet is a special type of diet which avoids foods high in FODMAPs.
FODMAPS are Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.
Avoiding foods which contain high FODMAPs has been shown to be effective in reducing common IBS symptoms, such as bloating and abdominal discomfort.
Dietitian and Field Doctor Co-Founder Sasha Watkins gave Express.co.uk her top ways for how a low FODMAP diet can help ease and reduce symptoms of IBS.
Ms Watkins explained: “FODMAPS are found in a wide range of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, bread, cereals, nuts, legumes, and food additives.
“These foods are poorly absorbed in the small intestine ultimately triggering symptoms for people with a sensitive gut or IBS.
Read on for Ms Watkins tips below if you want to try the diet.
It’s a diet to reduce IBS symptoms, not for weight loss
The first thing to ask yourself is, do you definitely have IBS?
If you are unsure, it’s important you contact your GP to get a proper diagnosis and rule out any other conditions with similar symptoms (eg coeliac disease).
It’s not a diet for everyone
Many people with IBS (up to 50 percent) feel better after making just simple changes to their diet such as eating regular mealtimes and smaller portions, increasing fluid intake, limiting spicy food and cutting down on alcohol, caffeine or fatty processed foods.
Try these changes first and you may find you don’t need to follow the low FODMAP diet at all.
Get guidance from a low FODMAP trained dietitian
The diet has been shown to be effective in three out of four people if done under the supervision of an IBS dietitian.
A dietitian can help tailor the diet to your individual needs and ensure you follow the diet safely and properly.
Understand the diet before starting
There are three stages to the diet:
1. Restricting all high FODMAP foods for six-eight weeks max to reduce symptoms and give your gut some rest.
2. Reintroducing certain high FODMAP foods one by one to determine your personal FODMAP triggers.
3. Personalising your diet for the long-term, based on your tolerance level to FODMAP foods.
Choose reliable sources of information
The FODMAP lists you will find online are generally incorrect so don’t trust them or start the diet using one of those.
For accurate information about the diet download the Monash University FODMAP diet app (Monash University are the research team behind the diet) or follow the guidance of your FODMAP dietitian.
It’s not a gluten-free diet, it’s a fructan free diet.
You do restrict gluten-containing grains (wheat, barley, rye) on the low FODMAP diet, but this is because they contain fructans (a common FODMAP).
To complicate things further, many gluten-free foods are not suitable as they contain FODMAPs (such as apple found in some gluten-free breads).
Keep an eye on your calcium and fibre intake
One of the risks of the diet is not getting enough calcium (by restricting lactose containing foods) or gut-friendly fibre (by restricting several grains, fruits, and vegetables).
FODMAP friendly fibre rich foods include wholegrain rice, quinoa, linseeds, oats, berries, broccoli heads, green beans. Lactose-free milk, hard cheeses, and tinned sardines (with bones) are good sources of calcium. If avoiding dairy, check your plant-based milk is fortified with calcium.
Why reintroducing FODMAPs matters
It’s not a diet for life! Food high in FODMAPs are prebiotics and provide important nourishment for your gut bacteria.
Research has shown that levels of some good bacteria do decline on the low FODMAP diet. The end goal is also to work out what your key triggers are and to get back to as varied and a nutritious diet as possible.
Try, and try again
Don’t despair if you have a reaction to one of your FODMAP reintroduction challenges.
Try again with half of the amount that caused symptoms. Keep challenging with that food every now and then as you may find you are more tolerant to it.
More than just diet
The low FODMAP diet doesn’t work in 25 percent of people. If it doesn’t work for you within six weeks, don’t despair.
There are other factors such as stress and lifestyle that may be the root cause of your symptoms.
Take time to relax, try meditation, mindfulness or yoga, do regular exercise, get enough sleep.
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