If you have celiac disease, you know the drill: absolutely no gluten. If your troubles are less specific, however, you could benefit from a diet that’s gaining attention. FODMAP—which stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols—denotes poorly digested foods (particularly carbohydrates/sugars) that ferment in the gut, causing gas, pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation in susceptible people, such as those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
A 2013 study in the Journal of Gastroenterology found that people with nonceliac gluten sensitivity and IBS symptoms “significantly improved during reduced FODMAP intake.” Interestingly, reintroducing gluten negatively affected only 8 percent of study participants, leading researchers to conclude that removing gluten yielded less beneficial effect than removing FODMAPs.
“Many studies show that eliminating or limiting high-FODMAP foods can be very helpful for people with digestive distress,” says Kathie Madonna Swift, RDN, LDN, integrative clinical nutritionist and coauthor of The Swift Diet (Hudson Street, 2014) and The Inside Tract (Rodale, 2011). “For many of my clients, lowering FODMAPs has dramatically reduced symptoms when other food-based strategies were not helpful.”
Swift notes “there is a yin and yang” to FODMAPs because many offending fruits and vegetables, including apples, pears, garlic, onions, and asparagus, are also prebiotics, which feed “good” gut bacteria. So “the goal is to use the FODMAP approach to alleviate symptoms while working on various strategies to restore digestive tract resiliency,” she says. Consult a health care provider for specific guidelines, including how to reintroduce many of these foods systematically after a few weeks.
Check out a more complete list of what to eat and what to avoid in this article: Breaking down the low-FODMAP diet.