When you start feeling ill, fatigued, develop cramps, or have digestive issues like gas and bloat after most meals, it is often related to what you eat and your gut health. Whether you have irritable bowel syndrome or simply are concerned with how your digestive system is working, the low FODMAP diet might be for you.
Most Common Symptoms of Digestive Issues
This diet with the funny name is great for people with IBS and related conditions, but that’s not all it helps with.
It can also help you with general digestive problems you might be experiencing since it temporarily eliminates foods that might be triggers for you.
So if you’re experiencing typical digestive symptoms, you’ll find that this diet will give you some relief and hopefully help you narrow down the culprits that are causing distress.
These digestive problems might include:
Nausea or vomiting
Diarrhea or constipation
We might all have these symptoms once in a while, but if you’re dealing with this frequently and there seems to be no other cause, it’s time to change what you’re eating.
Food Makes You Bloat
Now for the more specific signs.
The biggest is … bloat.
Most women are familiar with bloat since we deal with it during our menstrual cycle, and you might deal with it if you’re retaining a lot of water weight.
But if you get bloated every single time you eat, there’s something in your diet that is causing problems.
You Don’t Know What Foods Make You Ill
Eliminate dairy, says one person.
Another insists that gluten is the problem.
Yet another says that you should avoid coffee.
But you look at what you’re eating and there just seems to be no rhyme nor reason to the bloat and discomfort. It could be dairy … and maybe it’s gluten … but what about that tossed salad that had you belching for hours?
The problem is that most of us don’t eat just one ingredient, or even one food group, during the day.
We eat a bit of this and a bit of that. This makes it hard to pinpoint exactly what’s making you ill. It could be dairy – but it could also be wheat, traces of barley or rye, nuts, nightshade vegetables, or any number of foods.
With the FODMAP elimination diet, you remove many of the common food allergens and then re-introduce them slowly to figure out exactly what foods are triggering for you.
Digestive Issues Keep Worsening
Years ago, you dealt with a bit of mild indigestion or IBS, and you removed some foods that definitely were a problem. But now? Now it’s getting worse.
I know it’s not just me. We’ve talked … maybe not you and me personally, but I’ve talked with a lot of people who are having the same problems that I am.
This can happen because of age and because our bodies gradually increase in how they react to triggering foods.
This is another good reason to get rid of FODMAP foods for a while.
Low FODMAP Diet Elimination
Some people get on this diet and stick to it, immediately and permanently. I really admire their dedication (and I hope they’re taking a good multivitamin!)
For most people, though, it’s a type of elimination diet.
This means that you eliminate all of the suspected problem foods for a few weeks and then gradually start re-introducing them back into your diet.
This lets you see exactly what is giving you digestive complaints or triggering your IBS symptoms.
I knew someone a few years ago who read the first chapter of the South Beach Diet book and decided he was going to go all in.
He filled his freezer with steaks and said no thanks to anything other than … well, meat.
When I read the book and let him know that he was supposed to be eating a great deal of salad and legumes, he scoffed. If I recall, it said two cups of vegetables for every ounce of meat, and a quarter cup of legumes daily.
He wasn’t listening.
The first chapter – and a lot of meaty protein – was enough for him.
It’s really important to learn as much as you can about this or any other elimination diet. The first thing to do is understand FODMAPs – what are they, what’s the strange name mean, why would you want to stick with the low ones, and why would you want to avoid the high ones.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo, Di, Mono-saccharides and Polyols – so you can see why most people just call it by the initials!
Essentially, the low FODMAP diet means that you eat foods that are lower in certain types of fibers and sugars which are known to contribute to abdominal cramping, gas, nausea, and pains related to digestive issues like IBS.
What are included in the high FODMAP foods, the ones that you should be eliminating? This includes lactose, fructose, sorbitol (and other sweeteners ending in “ol”), Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), and fructans.
Removing the High FODMAP Foods
Like many elimination diets, there are three main phases to the low FODMAP diet.
The first phase is eliminating the high FODMAP foods from your diet.
Phase two is re-introducing some of these foods one at a time.
Phase three is adapting to a new eating lifestyle and avoiding any of the foods that triggered symptoms.
For the first stage, you need to look at the food lists of low and high FODMAP foods, and eat only what is on the low FODMAP list. Some of the high FODMAP foods can be eaten sparingly, but during the elimination stage it is best to avoid them entirely.
You’ve eliminated the suspect foods and you’re starting to feel better? Now it’s time for the re-introduction phase.
This simply means that you try eating those high FODMAP foods, but only one at a time. Introduce bananas again, for example, having one at breakfast each morning for a week. Wait long enough to see how your body reacts to it. The next week, try having wheat products. Of course, if you react to a food, you’ll stop eating it.
It can take some time but eventually you’ll figure out what your body can handle without digestive issues and what foods you need to cut out of your diet for good.
FODMAP Eating: High and Low Foods
Like in any diet, the first question people ask is – what can I eat on the low FODMAP diet? Here’s a guide to the low and high foods.
Avoid These High FODMAP Foods
First of all, you should know what foods you are avoiding or reducing. Most people will skip them entirely, but depending on your circumstance, you might just want to reduce how much you consume them for a while.
To start with, you should avoid garlic and onions as much as you can. These tend to affect your digestive system, so stick to other ways of seasoning your food.
Many fruits are on the high FODMAP list and should be avoided because they can be high in fructose. These include, but are not limited to:
There are many vegetables you can eat, but avoid some of them, like cauliflower, asparagus, artichoke, and larger stocks of celery.
Most meat is fine, though you want to avoid sausage and chorizo.
Avoid wheat products, including baked goods, pasta, bread, biscuits, and cereals.
Some nuts are allowed, like walnuts and pistachios, but avoid most nuts.
You’ll also avoid sweeteners and a variety of other foods.
Enjoy These Low FODMAP Foods
An easier way to plan your meals is to know the low FODMAP foods.
That way, you can print out a list of these foods and head to the grocery store, making sure you only pick foods from this list.
This is not a comprehensive list of low FODMAP foods, but they include some of the major options for you.
Click the image below to immediately download a printable list of safe foods.
Most vegetables are allowed.
Broccoli, olives, pears, carrots, smaller stalks of celery, butternut squash, brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, spinach, pumpkin, red peppers, and many others.
Low fructose fruit
If you are a fan of fruit, not to worry.
There are still some you can enjoy, but you want to stick to the low fructose fruits, like cranberries (1 tbsp only), mandarin, passion fruit, oranges, cantaloupe, blueberries, strawberries, pineapple, papaya, and raspberries.
Meat and fish
Continue eating most of the meat and seafood you already enjoyed, including poultry, cold cuts, chicken, beef, lamb, salmon, canned tuna, shrimp, and crab.
Cereals and grains
With the baked goods and grains, just make sure they don’t contain wheat or gluten.
This means you must avoid foods made with buckwheat flour, brown or whole grain rice, corn or oats, rice bread, shortbread (limited amount) and potato bread.
Other foods and sweeteners
You can have some sweeteners, including aspartame, golden syrup, glucose, and most jams or jellies in moderation.
Condiments like peanut butter, mustard, mayonnaise (with no garlic or onion in ingredients), fish sauce, maple syrup, ketchup (limited amount), and many others are allowed.
For alcoholic drinks, stick to clear spirits, one beer or one glass of wine, or whiskey.
You can have either decaf or regular coffee as long as you use a lactose-free milk.
How to Fit Low FODMAP Foods into Your Meal Plan
Once you figure out what you can or can’t eat while on a Low FODMAP diet, the hard part is figuring out what meals you can eat.
It is very important that you not just pick and choose any foods and eat them randomly, but make sure you are eating enough and have well-balanced meals with the available foods in the diet. This often requires meal planning.
Here are some tips for working on a meal plan while on the low FODMAP diet.
Keep a List of the Low FODMAP Foods Handy
You should always have your list of approved low FODMAP foods whenever you are meal planning, or if you run out of time and need to just head to the grocery store.
This diet isn’t like others where it is easy to guess what might or might not be allowed. Have multiple copies of the low FODMAP list so that you can plan meals and snacks wherever you are.
Start with Low FODMAP Foods You Already Enjoy
To start with your meal planning, don’t go crazy and try all foods you haven’t eaten before or force yourself to eat what you don’t like.
The low FODMAP foods list is very extensive, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fats, and lots more foods. You should be able to find ones you already eat in your daily life.
Highlight the foods on the list that you enjoy consuming now and fit into some of your favorite meals. This is a great place to start.
Find Alternatives for High FODMAP Foods in Your Meals
Once you have chosen your favorite low FODMAP foods, it is time to put some meals together. You will notice many of the ingredients you typically use are not allowed, so you need to get a little creative. Start finding approved alternatives from the low list.
For example, use fresh herbs instead of garlic, or if you need a healthy fat in your salad instead of avocado, add some of the approved nuts and seeds.
Since many fruits aren’t allowed, increase your veggies instead.
Having a meal plan will help you stick to the diet and not end up being malnourished. It is extremely important that you have three well-balanced meals a day, and also plan for approved low FODMAP diet snacks as needed for when you are hungry or can’t get home to prepare a meal.
Success Tips for Low FODMAP Eating
Before you begin the low FODMAP way of eating, it helps to know some tips and strategies to help you be more successful.
Any time you eliminate a large number of foods or complete food groups, it can be difficult to adapt and learn how to plan your meals. When our youngest son was born and we discovered that he was allergic to cow’s milk, it felt as though every meal I wanted to make needed milk or cheese. Of course that wasn’t the case and we’ve learned to adapt to a new way of eating.
Click below for a printable cheat sheet to help you with the basics of this diet.
Here are some tips for being the healthiest and most successful while on a low FODMAP diet.
Learn the Low and High FODMAP Foods
First things first: learn what you can and can’t eat.
Over time, you will memorize what you are able to eat based on the low FODMAP plan, but for now, print out the food lists so you have them available at all times.
Have them saved to your phone and computer, bookmark sites with the lists or food ideas, and also have a printed version when you are meal planning or headed to the grocery store.
That way, you can stick to the elimination part of the diet, and know what to eat even after the first few weeks and know what you are re-introducing into your diet slowly.
Track Your Symptoms and How They Change
Throughout the low FODMAP diet, you should be tracking your symptoms and how you feel.
Keep track of what you eat, and mark down any notes about foods causing illness or not.
Do you feel better during the elimination diet or do you still have digestive issues?
When re-introducing high lactose foods or fruits with a lot of fiber, are you suddenly having stomach cramps again?
You need this information so that you can create a custom diet that makes you feel good.
And if you feel WORSE after eliminating the high FODMAP foods? Stop the diet immediately and see your doctor. There might be something else going on. Report all symptoms and what diet changes you were making.
Focus on Proper Nutrients
Any time you start a new diet that is restricting certain foods or food groups, you are at risk of malnutrition.
This can happen even if you are not “starving” or even hungry, but as a result of not getting the right amount of nutrients.
Make sure that when you choose from the low FODMAP food list, you are choosing foods with a wide range of nutrients, from fiber foods like chia seeds and berries, to plenty of vegetables and lean meats.
Have Low FODMAP Snacks Ready to go
It might not be realistic to be home and able to cook every meal and snack of the day, so prepare ahead of time with some fast favorites.
Keep grab-and-go snacks available like berries in portion-controlled containers, gluten-free crackers, and nuts or nut butter.