What does FODMAP stand for?
FODMAP isn’t some weird new superfood or supplement… it’s an acronym for:
Monosaccharides – And
Since there’s no pop quiz coming, don’t bother memorizing it.
Let’s just stick to FODMAP, shall we?
What is a FODMAP?
FODMAPs are small chains of carbohydrates that, by quirk of their structure or your physiology, don’t get absorbed in the small intestine, which is where most carbohydrates are absorbed. Because FODMAPs are carbohydrates, that means carbohydrate free foods such as meat or olive oil are naturally FODMAP free.
So, these unabsorbed carbohydrates move past the small intestine into the large intestine, or colon. Because some, like lactose or fructose (both disaccharides), are osmotic sugars, they draw water to them in the gut space, loosening up your gut contents and leading to diarrhea. And all of the FODMAPs are fermentable to differing degrees, meaning that when they hit the colon, they become a bacterial buffet for all of the trillions of bacteria (or microbiota) living there. It is that fermentation that creates gas and contributes to the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
What is a low FODMAP diet?
For many with irritable bowel syndrome, the low FODMAP diet is the first line of nutritional therapy. A low FODMAP diet involves eliminating all high FODMAP foods for a period of time; in our practice, we suggest a period of 4-8 weeks of complete low FODMAP living alongside other strategies such as stress reduction and probiotics. Often, before people come to see us, they have tried a number of dietary strategies on their own, from gluten free to low fibre to paleo to lectin-free. However, relief is usually only partial – or not at all – because you aren’t removing 100% of the substances that increase symptoms.
Is it safe to stay on a low FODMAP diet?
Research suggests the low FODMAP diet is a highly effective dietary strategy; however, fair warning this is not a long-term healthy diet. The low FODMAP diet requires you to avoid some of the healthiest foods, from garlic to apples to chickpeas. Doing so actually alters the gut microbiota – which, while it leads to relief in the short term, long term…well, it could mean more gut issues down the road as you lose beneficial microbes that protect your gut health.
The idea behind the diet is to give your body a break from these fermentable carbohydrates, allow the gut to calm down and then reintroduce them in smaller amounts later on. In fact, my ultimate goal is to get people as high FODMAP as possible post-elimination. I have irritable bowel syndrome, and I don’t live low FODMAP.
Reading this post, you might say, “Sign me up!” – but before you do anything – make sure you already have your diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome. If not, march straight to the doctor and get a thorough checkup and screening to make sure that you don’t miss another, more serious digestive issue like celiac disease or Crohn’s Disease. And I don’t recommend low FODMAP to any one other than those with IBS unless totally necessary to minimize digestive symptoms while transitioning to a healthier, more plant-centred diet.
Easy swaps to make your meals low FODMAP
Once you know you’re dealing with IBS and you’ve got the green light to go low FODMAP, you’ve got to figure out how to make your favourite meals less fermentable. If you’re looking for a meal plan so you don’t have to deal with any of this, you can always grab our Banish the Bloat E-Book to guide you through. It’s got a seven day meal plan with flexitarian or vegan options.
If you’re ready to do this on your own, you’re going to need a low FODMAP food list – which you can grab below – and some basic swaps to help make cooking your favourite meals a little less overwhelming.
- Onions are one of the biggest FODMAP offenders and so are one of the most critical ingredients to swap out. This includes white, brown and red onions, shallots and also the white parts of leeks and green onions. To give you some of that onion-y flavour, use the green tips of green onions, green leek leaves, fresh chives, fennel bulb or a pinch of asafetida powder.When using green onion tips or chives these are best added at the end of cooking – you’ll get a stronger onion flavour. Aim to use 1 cup of diced green leek leaves per medium onion. also makes a delicious onion and basil oil for a punch of onion flavour without the FODMAP offender. Dried chives work in recipes too.
- Garlic is another big FODMAP offenders, but it’s also one of the easiest to swap out when you’re doing the cooking, just grab yourself a bottle of garlic infused oil. FODY Foods make a good one. You can also make garlic infused oil at home by frying whole garlic in oil over medium heat until it’s golden and fragrant. Then remove before cooking the rest of your meal. Onions and garlic are a high FODMAP food because they contain fructans, which are also found in grains. However, fructans are only soluble in water not oil, which is why we can use the infused oil for cooking without experiencing any symptoms.
- Mushrooms can be high FODMAP so it’s best to replace them with tinned champignon mushrooms (drain and rinse well before using) or fresh oyster mushrooms, which are low FODMAP (and delicious!!). Alternatively try replacing mushrooms with roasted eggplant instead.
- Applesauce is often used in baking and it’s high FODMAP. Swap it out for mashed unripe banana (ripe banana is high FODMAP), crushed pineapple or even pureed grapes.
- If using less garlic and onions, you’ll need a few extra flavour enhancers! Enjoy ginger, hot sauce, dijon mustard, soy or fish sauce, fresh or dried herbs such as: rosemary, dill, oregano, basil, cilantro, mint, parsley, tarragon, or spices such as: paprika, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, chili powder, and red chili flakes. Truly there’s nothing better than fresh, locally grown herbs! These tiny tender leaves can elevate any home cooked dish by adding lots of flavour without the FODMAP hit.
- For vegetarians and vegans, protein can be an issue while low FODMAP, as you have to consume fewer legumes. However, tofu is a low FODMAP protein – and it’s gonna be your lifesaver. Be sure to use regular – not silken – tofu. I love this easy noodle dish with baked tofu; while not totally low FODMAP, it’s easy to swap in your low FODMAP ingredients. Just use oyster mushrooms, patty pan squash and smaller serves of bok choy – or swap in collard greens (which are low FODMAP).
- Contrary to popular belief, you can actually eat some legumes…but you need to swap in the canned variety. When buying canned legumes, be sure to drain and rinse them very well – the FODMAP gets removed even further. You can consume 1/2 cup of canned and rinsed lentils at a meal (which has a decent amount of plant-based protein!) or 1/4 cup of canned and rinsed chickpeas.
- Gluten-containing grains are mostly out on a low FODMAP diet; not because of the gluten they contain, but because of the fructans. One of my favourite low FODMAP grains is millet; it is very quick to cook but wheat-ier and fluffier than quinoa. You can consume a whole cup of cooked millet and it’s still low FODMAP.
- There are a lot of low lactose dairy products out there, and many well-aged cheeses are naturally low FODMAP. But what about us dairy free folk? Soy milk is high FODMAP, but almond milk isn’t! I recommend buying your almond milk – as homemade will likely be too high in FODMAPs.
- Last but not least, you’ll need some other drink options besides water. Time to ditch chai, oolong and camomile teas in favour of peppermint, rooibos or green tea. Cocktail time? Think vodka or whiskey and not rum…although I typically recommend greatly minimizing alcohol intake to help foster gut healing.
You CAN do this. If you’re ready to try a low FODMAP diet, we’ve got you!
A big thank you to my Senior Associate Jess Pirnak for helping me put this post together, and to Gloria Sun for helping me create the low FODMAP PDF!