This is a complex diet that may require some research and guidance.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a tricky condition that affects people in different ways. There are some trigger foods that tend to affect everyone with IBS, but each person has their own unique set of triggers. One way of finding and limiting trigger foods is the low-FODMAP diet. Research shows this approach can be very helpful for managing IBS, but there are some things you should know before you try it.
1. DO your research before you try a low-FODMAP diet.
FODMAP is an acronym for certain types of carbs: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These specific types of carbs are known for triggering IBS symptoms.
The low-FODMAP diet is unlike other diets. It’s not simply a set of guidelines for what to eat (and what not to eat). It’s a process with multiple phases:
- Elimination: Take high-FODMAP foods out of the diet for two to four weeks.
- Reintroduction: Add groups of FODMAPs back into the diet one at a time and monitor for symptoms.
- Personalization: Limit the foods that cause IBS symptoms, but continue eating the foods that don’t.
2. DON’T eliminate all foods on the FODMAP list long term
Remember, the elimination phase of the diet is temporary. For the long term, you must remember it’s a low-FODMAP diet, and not a no-FODMAP diet. Through the different phases, you’ll learn which foods are particularly troubling for you, but it’s highly unlikely that you would need to eliminate all foods on the list forever.
Cutting every food on the list long term could be really dangerous. The FODMAP food list is extensive and includes a variety of important food groups. For example, there are many grains, fruits, and vegetables that include FODMAPs and may be triggering. Staying in the “elimination” phase long term would severely restrict your diet and could increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies.
3. DO work with a dietitian with experience in the low-FODMAP diet
As you can tell from the previous two points, this diet is not a simple one. A dietitian who has experience with this elimination diet can help you:
- Navigate the process
- Make sure you’re getting all the necessary nutrients during each phase
- Help you pinpoint the foods you can and can’t tolerate
4. DO keep a food diary
During the reintroduction phase, it’s crucial to monitor what foods you’re eating, and any symptoms that occur afterwards. Learn more about how to keep a diary for IBS triggers and symptoms from the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders.
5. DON’T use the low-FODMAP diet if your dietitian doesn’t recommend it
This elimination diet isn’t for everyone. People who are at risk of malnutrition or restrictive eating may not handle this approach well. For example, the elimination phase of the diet may be triggering for people with a history of eating disorders. They may be prone to labeling foods as "good" and "bad," or they may be lured into a pattern of cutting out foods excessively.
Talk to a registered dietitian if you’re curious about learning more or are interested in trying this approach to manage IBS symptoms. (Find out what to expect at your first session with a dietitian here.)
- Low-FODMAP diet. Bethesda, MD: American College of Gastroenterology. (Accessed on May 7, 2021)
- The low-FODMAP diet approach: dietary triggers for IBS symptoms. Mount Pleasant, SC: International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. (Accessed on May 7, 2021)
- The low-FODMAP diet approach: guidelines for a low-FODMAP diet. Mount Pleasant, SC: International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. (Accessed on May 7, 2021)