Eating for IBS can be a puzzle because your response to a slice of apple can be completely different from another person’s response to a slice of apple. So, figuring out what works for you can be tough without a plan to help.
If you’re considering using food to manage your symptoms, the popular low FODMAPs diet for IBS is a plan that is often successful.
Low FODMAPs & IBS
Low FODMAPs is popular because it works for many (but not all) people with IBS. People on a low FODMAPs diet who experience improvements in symptoms often have more problems with pain, diarrhea and/or bloating than constipation.
What is the low FODMAPs diet?
A low FODMAPs diet reduces the amount of specific types of carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are not digested well by some people who have symptoms related to IBS. When they aren’t digested in the small intestine, the carbohydrate molecules travel into the colon. The extra molecules draw water into the colon while also giving the microbes in your colon supplies to chow down and throw a little party. Their party, and that extra water, leads to the diarrhea and/or bloating. (Some people have gas, too.)
Comparison: This is like lactose intolerance. The same process happens to other carbohydrates, too.
By avoided or reducing certain foods, the low FODMAPs diet limits those carbohydrates. For example, apples and mushrooms contain specific carbohydrates that could be an issue. Sweet potatoes can be a problem when you eat a larger portion.
How does it work in terms of food?
Being successful at the low FODMAPs diet involves knowing what you are eating and tracking your symptoms. So, what helps you find out if and how well it works for you? The most rigorous approach is to eat as few FODMAPs as possible (eliminating foods like onion, beans, and apples). After that, you then slowly add them back in.
To be successful, it helps if you:
- learn about the different types of high FODMAPs carbohydrates in different foods you like to eat
- read labels
- eat basic (non-processed) foods
- log foods
- log symptoms.
Other options include eliminating just one or two groups at a time to see if symptoms improve. Most people see some improvement in two to four weeks but six weeks may be needed.
The goal is to figure out how many different foods you tolerate so you can eat as many foods as possible without annoying symptoms. Sometimes, just having smaller portions mean you can eat some slightly troublesome foods. For example, many people can eat a mini apple but not a large apple. Other people find they can have one or two high FODMAPs foods per day but not five or six foods.
Feeling confused? Watch this short video that uses a great analogy!
How many people improve?
The estimate from research studies suggests that most people with more diarrhea respond well to a low FODMAPs diet– about 2/3 to 3/4 experience fewer symptoms during and after trying the diet. Most of those people are able to return to eating higher FODMAPs foods once they understand what their body tolerates.
Is it for you?
If you know you react to some foods, check out a list of high FODMAPs foods here. If there’s a food on that list, you may want to consider this option (check with your gastroenterologist, just to be safe).
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