Navigating a low FODMAP diet

Navigating a low FODMAP diet

 - 3 mistakes you don’t have to make

The low FODMAP diet can be a lot to get your head around.  And as a dietitian who has worked with FODMAPs since before the diet was invented, I’ve seen a lot of people make a lot of mistakes!  This 3 minute read will help you avoid falling into those common pit holes of overwhelm and over-restriction.

About the author: Marnie Nitschke, APD
Marnie is the founder of Fork That Nutrition, and has been an Accredited Practising Dietitian for 20 years - most of that time spent in the gastrointestinal nutrition space. She is passionate about translating evidence based nutrition science into real food terms for her clients, and is known for her warm, supportive and gentle approach.  Follow her on Instagram @forkthatnutrition for a fresh, no BS look at gut health.  Contact her for virtual or in person consultations: marnie@forkthatnutrition.com

FODMAP is a strange name (which you have probably already learnt is actually an acronym).  The key letter here is the ‘F’ which stands for FERMENTABLE.  FODMAPs are simply carbohydrates that we find in a wide range of plant foods (eg. fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts) and some dairy products.  We might also find high FODMAP ingredients (eg. honey, onion powder) used in packaged food as sweeteners or flavourings.  

FODMAP sugars can be difficult to absorb, and are highly fermentable, which is why they can cause a range of gut symptoms, from bloating and gas, through to pain and altered bowel habit.  FODMAPs don’t harm us in any way (and in fact can be good for our health), but they certainly can be a pain in the gut for those with irritable bowel syndrome.

To find the right balance and keep as many foods in as possible, I highly recommend you seek help from an experienced dietitian with the FODMAP elimination and challenges.  Here are some common mistakes I want you to avoid making:

1. Eating the same ‘safe’ foods over and over

It’s tricky at the start for sure.  But there are some great resources out there to help you learn more about suitable foods and portions on a low FODMAP diet.  The Monash University Low FODMAP diet and the FODMAP Friendly apps are both fantastic – and having at least one of these on your smartphone is my suggestion. 

What you’ll find is that food lists are not black and white. While there are some ‘free’ foods that are suitable at any serving (carrots, potato, red capsicum and English spinach to name a few), many foods become high as the serve size increases. 

Please don’t spend all day weighing, measuring and double-checking each food you eat.  That’s just exhausting!  My suggestion is to weigh or measure your usual portion of a food as a once off, so you can get an idea of what a low FODMAP portion of that food looks like. 

Sweet potato is fine up to ½ cup per serve (that’s per meal or sitting, not per day!).  You can have a tablespoon of green peas in your fried rice.  And you’d have to eat more than 3 cups of broccoli before FODMAPs would start to be an issue.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s safer to just stick to the eat freely foods. Variety is so important. The more different plant foods you eat, the better for your gut.  And the more options you have – the easier it is to succeed with the diet!

2. Getting confused about lactose, dairy, wheat and gluten.

Cutting out all dairy and gluten is one of the most common mistakes I see people making on a low FODMAP diet. 

Lactose is the sugar in milk, but it is low in foods like soft cheeses and cream, at their usual serving size.  Did you also know that hard cheeses and butter are naturally lactose free?  Simply swapping to lactose free milk and yoghurt is easy.  And because lactose free dairy products are nutritionally superior to a lot of plant based alternatives, they should be your go-to unless you wish to keep dairy free for other reasons.

Gluten is the protein found naturally in wheat, barley, rye and oats, but it’s not a FODMAP!  The FODMAP sugars are quite separate, and are only problematic in some grains and at certain serving sizes.  Following a strict gluten free diet is simply not necessary unless you have coeliac disease. 

Regular wheat bread has a decent serving size (up to 1 slice), and sourdough wheat bread is low FODMAP at 2 slices.   More good news: you don’t need to worry about small amounts of wheat or gluten in things like soy sauce, starches and thickeners.  Just concentrate on swapping high FODMAP wheat staples like pasta or noodles for a gluten free version (eg. rice, corn or buckwheat).

We Feed You's low FODMAP Chicken and Eggplant Pasta (rice based) with Capers and Goats Cheese. 

 

3. Getting stuck on the initial phase of the diet, in the hope it will fix everything… eventually… one day…

Too many people go into the low FODMAP diet not understanding that it’s just one of the tools in our IBS toolkit.  And when their symptoms aren’t completely fixed by the diet, they assume it’s because they’re not doing it right.  Or that they’re not trying hard enough.  Instead of moving on and completing the challenges, they end up stuck in a rut on the low FODMAP diet, and feeling disenfranchised with food.

My advice here is to understand and embrace simple lifestyle measures that can help you manage your symptoms.  Look at your stress management, try to fit in regular exercise, chew your food well and be mindful with meal servings.  Think about non-FODMAP triggers like alcohol, coffee and fatty foods.  Could these be key to getting better symptom control?

The challenge phase of the low FODMAP diet is super important, because no-one reacts to all FODMAPs in all doses. Systematic challenges and expert help with interpreting them is vital.  And the final step?  Your own designer diet, including the FODMAPs you can tolerate, and only avoiding those that give you a pain in the guts.

If you need more help with FODMAPs and gut issues, contact me.  I’m here to help! marnie@forkthatnutrition.com

Check out the wide range low FODMAP meals  from We Feed You.

2 comments

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Marnie Nitschke

Marnie Nitschke

Thanks Jan – I’m so glad you found this helpful 😊!

jan williams

jan williams

I found this article to be very helpful. I had been provided with a low fodmap print-out from the specialist doctor who had been treating my IBS and I was becoming disinterested in the food advice it contained. Your article has given my some encouragement in trying a different approach to my problem while still adhering to the fodmap guidelines I already had. Thank you.

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