For millions of people, food sensitivities that cause gas, bloating or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are so severe that they become life altering. The low FODMAP dietary program enables these people to identify foods that can potentially trigger these symptoms, and enables them to make wiser choices.
But those following a low FODMAP dietary program often experience constipation. This is typically due to the restricted intake of high-fiber foods during the elimination phase. Many high FODMAP foods are also high in fiber. When they are eliminated, the gut suffers the consequences.
Monash University, the world’s leading source of FODMAP research and information, recommends the intake of low FODMAP prebiotic fiber during the elimination phase.
Millions of Americans have trouble digesting FODMAPs, a category of short-chain carbohydrates. They suffer from visible tummy expansion, bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms. Healthcare professionals are finding that a Low FODMAP dietary program is particularly useful for addressing symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
But what if you’re not feeling as great as you thought you would while following this program? Are you still feeling constipated? Gassy? Bloated? Many people find that increasing fiber intake by adding a Low FODMAP prebiotic fiber is a great solution.
What Are FODMAPs?
FODMAPs are a group of short chain carbohydrates that cause digestive disturbances with people, most notably those who suffer from IBS. This group contains carbohydrates and sugars that are either difficult to digest (malabsorbed) or rapidly fermented. This results in bacterial fermentation in the large intestine, causing excess gas and bloating.
Overall, the low FODMAP dietary program has been shown to help reduce the symptoms of IBS compared to the standard of care, which is great for people who suffer from the pain, gas, and bloating associated with this condition.[1,2]
Low FODMAP Is Not New And It’s Not Even A Diet! It’s A Screening Process.
Everyone has had gas, bloating and cramping from rapidly fermenting carbs and sugars. It’s just that we now have a more scientific name for it and a better understanding of what can lead to these symptoms.
People who have these issues typically go through a FODMAP screening program, or elimination phase, to understand what is causing them and how to avoid those foods or ingredients. Determining which FODMAPs trigger your symptoms may require some trial and error. That is because everyone’s gut and microbiome are unique. For some, it may be garlic and onion. For others, it may be wheat.
It’s important to consult a healthcare professional before embarking on a low FODMAP dietary program, because you may be cutting out common food groups, and missing out on essential nutrients.
Understanding The Risks Of Fiber Deficiency While Eliminating FODMAPs
We all need 25 to 38 grams of fiber a day. Dietary fiber helps to regulate bowel habits, maintain healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels, feed the gut’s “good” bacteria or probiotics and provide satiety and weight management.
Most of us are already fiber deficient. Following a low FODMAP dietary program reduces intake of prebiotic fiber, especially during the elimination phase. While you are limiting key fiber sources containing wheat, rye, barley and legumes, that low fiber intake may worsen the same digestive problems, such as constipation, that caused you to turn to low-FODMAP foods in the first place.
Although the elimination phase only lasts up to 6 weeks, it can result in fewer total gut bacteria and increased fecal pH. A follow-up study showed the low FODMAP dietary program significantly decreased Bifidobacteria in the gut during the elimination phase.
Therefore, it is recommended that the low FODMAP dietary program be as liberal as possible after identification of the trigger foods to minimize these effects on the gut microbiome. A co-founder of the low FODMAP dietary program, Peter Gibson, M.D., further explains the aim of the low FODMAP dietary program and its relationship to dietary fiber:
“The principal aim of the FODMAP dietary program is to enable people with irritable bowel syndrome to make wise food choices so that their symptoms are not triggered. One identified risk of reducing FODMAPs in the diet is that the intake of dietary fiber might fall. Having a fiber that will not trigger symptoms (by being low in FODMAPs) and that can be used to supplement food is an important advance in helping people with irritable bowel syndrome to [comfortably] meet their nutritional requirement for fiber, without suffering worsening of symptoms.”
Good News About Low FODMAP Fiber Alternatives
Using a fiber supplement during the elimination phase is a good solution. But be selective. Some fiber supplements are high in FODMAPs. Fiber supplements containing inulin, GOS, wheat dextrin and IMOs, are all ingredients which should be avoided by those looking to reduce FODMAPs in their diet.
Keep A Food And Symptom Diary
If your gut is rumbling, FODMAPs may not be the only culprits. Stress, lack of sleep and hormonal changes can also do a number on your digestive system. So can skipping your daily workouts. Try recording your energy and stress levels, in addition to your symptoms and what you eat. This journal may help you identify other factors that may be causing your distress.
Pay Close Attention To Serving Sizes
Some Low FODMAP foods edge into the high-FODMAP zone if you eat larger amounts. In response to an increasing number of requests about the FODMAP content of foods, researchers at Monash University have also developed a smartphone application. The app, available on iPhone and Android, is used by more than two million people in over 100 countries worldwide.
The app lists foods using a traffic light system and according to serving sizes. Red foods are high in FODMAPs and should be avoided, orange foods are moderate in FODMAPs and may be tolerated by some people while green foods are low in FODMAPs and are safe for consumption. The specific food serving sizes in the application are particularly helpful in taking the guesswork out of how much food can be safely consumed.
More Digestive Comfort Is Possible
A low FODMAP dietary program helps reduce symptoms of IBS but can be deficient in dietary fiber. Most traditional fiber supplements are high FODMAP, which can worsen digestive symptoms. Instead, the fiber deficiency can be addressed using a low FODMAP fiber product.
- Halmos et al. A diet low in FODMAPs reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology. 2014 Jan;146(1):67-75.
- Varju et al. Low fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAP) diet improves symptoms in adults suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) compared to standard IBS diet: A meta-analysis of clinical studies. PLoS one. 2017; 12(8):1-15.
- Halmos et al. Diets that differ in their FODMAP content alter the colonic luminal microenvironment. Gut. 2015 Jan;64(1):93-100.
- Staudacher et al. Fermentable carbohydrate restriction reduces luminal bifidobacteria and gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. J. Nutr. 2012;142:1510–1518. doi: 10.3945/jn.112.159285.
- Ohashi et al. Consumption of partially hydrolysed guar gum stimulates Bifidobacteria and butyrate producing bacteria in the human large intestine. Beneficial Microbes 2015; 6:451-455.
- Okubo et al. Effects of partially hydrolyzed guar gum intake on human intestinal microflora and its metabolism. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 1994; 58:1364-1369.
- Takahashi et al. Influence of partially hydrolyzed guar gum on constipation in women. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol. 1994b; 40:251.259.
- Inoue et al. Dietary supplementation with partially hydrolyzed guar gum helps improve constipation and gut dysbiosis symptoms and behavioral irritability in children with autism spectrum disorder. J. Clin. Biochem. Nutr. Published online: 7 March 2019 | 1–7.