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Demystifying FODMAPs

What are FODMAPs?

“FODMAPs” is a term the nutrition community has been hearing a lot these days, but many of us are still confused about what this acronym actually means and how it relates to our everyday diets.

Here, we set out to provide an explanation of what these things really are and why they may be relevant to you — FODMAPs 101, if you will. FODMAPs are a group of short-chain carbohydrates that a substantial segment of the population has difficulty digesting. The acronym “FODMAPs” stands for “Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-Saccharides and Polyols.” The term fermentable means suggests these substances produce gas when they are broken down in the body.

Generally speaking, FODMAP malabsorption occurs in most people. However, for those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ingestion of foods containing FODMAPs may lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence and irregular bowel habits. FODMAPs that bypass absorption in the small intestine travel to the colon — the large intestine — where they draw water into the gut and serve as food for naturally occurring bacteria that reside in this region of the gastrointestinal tract. These bacteria utilize these unabsorbed carbohydrates as fuel sources. In the process of metabolizing (fermenting) them, bacteria generate gas as a byproduct. This excess water and gas in the GI tract can lead to abdominal distension along with the other symptoms mentioned above.

Below are examples of commonly consumed foods that contain FODMAPs:

 Description/Food Sources
FermentableProduces gas when broken down in the GI tract
OligosaccharidesFound in wheat, barley, rye, garlic, onion, asparagus, artichoke, broccoli, chickpeas, beans
DisaccharidesFound in milk, some cheeses, yogurts
MonosaccharidesFound in apple, pear, papaya, watermelon, mango, sugar snap peas
And 
PolyolsFound in peach, pear, plum, cauliflower, mushrooms, sorbitol, xylitol

Researchers have found that low FODMAP diets can significantly improve symptoms in those who are particularly sensitive to this group of carbohydrates. These diets have been effective in treating IBS and some other digestive disorders. Because FODMAPs are relatively common in typical Western diets, complete restriction of FODMAP-containing foods may be challenging to achieve. Low FODMAP diets, therefore, are carefully catered to the individual.

Low FODMAP diets customarily begin as elimination diets, in which all “culprits” are completely removed from the diet for at least two weeks. At this point, FODMAP-containing foods are methodically reincorporated one by one into the diet. Through this process, one can determine which foods or food groups trigger symptoms. Those that don’t cause any trouble can then be added back in. In this way, low FODMAP diets show considerable variability from person to person.

Hopefully, you’re now one step closer to understanding what FODMAPs are really all about. 

This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.

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