IBS has always been a tricky condition. Unlike celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease, there are no diagnostic tests to positively identify it. Most people with symptoms were told to eat more fiber, eat less fiber or just avoid foods that gave them gas. Identifying those foods, however, was just as difficult.
But, in the 1990s, Australian dietitian Sue Shepherd began to notice that her patients with IBS were finding relief from their symptoms by avoiding foods that contained high levels of fructose (monosaccharides) and fructans (oliogosaccharides), such as honey, wheat breads, pasta, onions and certain fruits. She called this diet the "Fructose Malabsorption Diet."
Back then, foods weren't as adequately labeled as they are now, so it was hard to easily determine what foods contained higher levels of those fermentable sugars. But research and technology were moving fast.
In the early 2000s, Shepherd joined a team of researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, to further investigate these fermentable carbohydrates. They learned that other short-chain carbohydrates were also problematic to some people. In 2006, the researchers named this collection of carbohydrates FODMAP, short for "fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols."
Researchers then measured the FODMAP content of a wide variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, breads and grains, dairy products, processed foods and beverages. Each product was then listed as either a "high FODMAP" food or a "low FODMAP" food. The latter were tested on individuals with IBS, and the results were impressive. According to Monash University, 75 percent of people who try the diet find relief from their IBS symptoms.
Since 2006, when the first FODMAP papers were published, the diet has expanded. Instead of segregating food into "high" or "low" FODMAP categories, there are now "moderate" categories. Plus, there is more information about serving size for specific foods.
The Four FODMAP Groups
FODMAPS are found in a variety of foods, as we've mentioned. Let's take a closer look at the four groups of fermentable carbohydrates:
- Oligosaccharides include fructans (a type of carb made by a chain of fructose molecules) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS), which are found in wheat, rye, legumes, some fruits such as apricots and white peaches, and vegetables such as those in the onion family.
- Disaccharides are found in lactose products like milk, buttermilk, ice cream and soft cheeses.
- Monosaccharides are found in high fructose foods, such as fruits like figs and cherries, vegetables including asparagus and sweeteners like honey.
- Polyols are found in certain fruits, including apples and cherries, vegetables like cauliflower and some low-calorie sweeteners such as those found in sugar-free gum.
Examples of Low FODMAP Foods
- Vegetables and legumes: bean sprouts, broccoli, carrots, celery, green beans, lentils (small amounts) and lettuces
- Fruits: strawberries, cantaloupe, grapes, honeydew, kiwi, oranges and lemons
- Meats and poultry: beef, chicken, lamb, pork, turkey, some deli and processed meats
- Seafood: canned tuna, fresh fish, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters and shrimp
- Cereals, grains and nuts: wheat-free breads, gluten-free breads, cornbread, walnuts, peanuts, popcorn, plain potato chips, cornflakes
- Beverages: coffee (regular or decaffeinated, black or with lactose free milk), tea, Clear sprits such as vodka or gin, and wine or beer (limit one glass)
Examples of High FODMAP Foods
- Vegetables and legumes: garlic, onions, artichoke, asparagus, black-eyed peas and cauliflower
- Fruits: apples, avocado, mango, watermelon and peaches
- Cereals, grains and nuts: cookies, breadcrumbs, cake, pasta, bran cereals, barley, rye bread and multigrain bread
- Beverages: coconut water, some sports drinks, rum, certain herbal teas and some fruit juices