The FODMAPS diet

Have you heard of FODMAPS? It stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, and if you’ve zoned out already, that’s one reason why someone needs to give it a snappier name if they want to make a fortune out of it.
These are all types of food sugars, or alcohols formed from sugars. It’s a mixed bunch, but what they all have in common is that they are not well absorbed in the gut. What that means is that if your gut is not working as well as it should – as in irritable bowel, ulcerative colitis and so on, or simply when you are under stress – they don’t break down easily. That leads to gas being produced, to constipation and/or diarrhoea, to bloating and discomfort and all the usual familiar symptoms.
Research has shown that up to 70% of sufferers from IBS get relief from symptoms if they avoid food containing FODMAPS. That’s an impressive figure. There certainly is money to be made out of devising diets that eliminate – or at least minimise – FODMAPS in your daily food intake.
But what foods are we talking about? Here’s a little list:
• Stone fruits – plums, peaches, nectarines etc.
• Apples and pears
• Fruit juice concentrate
• Brassicas – cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale etc.
• Alliums – onions, leeks, garlic
• Beetroot
• Pulses – peas, beans, lentils
• Wheat
• Milk products containing lactose
• Sorbitol (sweetener in various foods)
• Corn syrup (another sweetener in drinks and foods)
It doesn’t leave you a lot of choice, but I’ve seen patients who have tried to stick with it for months or even years. It cuts you off from most kinds of social eating, and means you are constantly saying ‘no’ to things. Your life gets smaller. And in the end, your gut tends to find other things to react to, so the road gets ever narrower.
It’s only part of the answer. Or rather, it’s a temporary measure that will give you relief from symptoms – and give your poor gut a rest – while you take steps to get stronger. And that means increasing the range of foods you eat, not cutting them down. We’ve evolved to eat all sorts of things; in the course of a week, our hunting and gathering ancestors would have eaten dozens of different foods, all wild, containing all sorts of ingredients that you don’t find in modern farmed fruit and vegetables. We’ve selected our farmed produce, in fact, to be high in sugars, because we like the taste of them.
Our ancestors couldn’t have known what trouble they were letting their descendants in for, when they chose to breed fruits and vegetables for sweetness, and threw out the odd or bitter-tasting varieties. And we can’t go back to a wild diet now; there are just too many of us. But what we can do is to add back some of those unusual tastes and constituents in the form of herbs: whole plant extracts, seen by the body as food rather than medicine. What they do is to ‘wake up’ your gut. They aid the breakdown and absorption of the ‘problem’ foods, so that the symptoms of irritable bowel and so forth are relieved. You only need a small amount every day to offset what you’re eating, but you do have to taste them. Tablets won’t work so well; teas and tinctures are the answer, as well as adding herbs and spices to food.
So don’t despair, if you’ve been cutting down on dairy products or cutting out onions, and still having trouble. The answers lie deeper than particular food groups, and variety really is the spice of life.

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