Diet & Nutrition

Low-FODMAP could make your gut health worse

Dietitian Melissa Meier explains everything you need to know about the FODMAP diet – and why it’s not a long-term diet. 

If you’re a regular on the tummy trouble front, chances are you’ve looked into – or at least heard about – the low FODMAP diet.

But is it really the solution to your gut woes? And what does it even involve? Here’s your dietitian-approved run down.

What is the low FODMAP diet?

Time for a quick science lesson: FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Essentially, these are a group of carbohydrates that your body has a hard time digesting. They attract water and ferment in your gut, which causes a build-up of gas.

For most people, FODMAPs cause no qualms. For those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), however, it’s a different story. That’s because people with IBS have more sensitive nerve endings in their gut, so the build-up of gas in their digestive system is perceived as painful and uncomfortable.

Enter: the low FODMAP diet. Although most people assume you go low FODMAP and you’re cured for good, that’s actually not the intention of the diet at all.

Like what you see? Sign up to our newsletter for more stories like this.

Instead, the low FODMAP diet is a short term protocol that helps you to identify your specific FODMAP triggers. I repeat: it is not a long term diet.

The process goes like this: you go on a strict low FODMAP diet for four to six weeks and, if symptoms settle, you then go on to test the different FODMAPs to identify your unique tolerance to them. This is a very intricate process and one that should only be done under the guidance of a qualified dietitian.

You’ll embark on a series of systematic food challenges – one by one, gradually building up your intake over three days, with a washout period in between each test. After these challenges, you’ll know exactly how much of each different FODMAP you can tolerate, so you can liberalise your diet with your unique thresholds in tow.

The verdict

If you’re experiencing any kind of unexplained tummy trouble, the first thing you should do is check in with your doctor, stat. Gut symptoms are linked to a raft of medical issues, so it’s best to get a check-up in case there’s anything more sinister lurking under the surface. If it turns out to be IBS, you’ll be sent to a dietitian who can guide you through the low FODMAP protocol if they think it’s necessary.

If you haven’t been diagnosed with IBS, however, the low FODMAP diet isn’t worth trying. It’s incredibly restrictive, so going on it unnecessarily could actually leave you worse off in the long run. There’s a chance that other food compounds (think: gluten or lactose) or other aspects of your lifestyle (like a low fibre diet or lack of physical activity) are the root of your gut problems. By working with a medical professional and dietitian (rather than self-diagnosing your issue), you’ll be on top of it in no time.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.