As we get older our digestive systems get a bit cranky, so it’s worth keeping up with science even if one isn’t suffering from a full-blown problem. There’s always something to be learnt that might shed light on why your stomach reacts after certain meals.
I was fascinated to see that some of my favourite healthy foods (including avocados, broccoli and watermelon) contain a group of carbohydrates known as FODMAP that can irritate the stomach. The acronym FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo- Di- and Monosaccharides and Polyols — a bit of a mouthful that can be causing you plenty of belly aches. Whether you’re curious to tweak what you eat or have been diagnosed with a problem, it’s good to be FODMAP-conscious.
The low FODMAP diet was developed by researchers at Australia’s University of Monash gastroenterology department to treat the common condition of IBS. It’s now recommended by the NHS . Since this is still new research, GPs in the UK are very knowledgeable about it. Here are some tips on how to approach the low FODMAP diet.
Remember your motivation: to enjoy food For those of us who adore food, even if we’re on the healthy side of being a foodie, the word ‘diet’ is not in our vocabulary. But if cutting out certain foods can help you enjoy eating, this is your motivation. There is so much to enjoy on this planet of ours that if you have to leave out a few things, consider the new opportunities. Instead of fretting over the cappuccino with milk that becomes forbidden, you can become a coffee connoisseur and savour the variety of coffee beans that can only be appreciated when they are unadulterated.
Look at the half-full glass It’s possible to see the lists of high and low FODMAP foods as restrictive (half empty) or flexible (half full). If you focus on the high FODMAP list of foods then inevitably it feels restrictive. But if you focus on the low FODMAP foods it’s not so bad. Most people look at the list of high FODMAP foods and feel overwhelmed. With virtually no guidance from GPs this isn’t surprising. When you look at the information on the NHS website it looks grim. But if you get the high and low lists side by side a different picture emerges, one that’s about choices.
Blueberries instead of peaches
Melon instead of watermelon
Lentils (in moderation) instead of beans
Courgettes instead of cauliflower
Look beyond a brutal regime On the surface the FODMAP diet sounds brutal because it’s dairy and gluten-free. In fact there are exceptions. Some cheese (including feta) is fine and as is spelt sourdough bread. With certain foods it’s about quantities. Sweet corn and sweet potato for example are in the limited categories. The no sugar recommendation is tough but we should all be careful of sugar consumption anyway.
It’s not forever If you have a definite IBS diagnosis you would follow this strictly for two to four weeks. After this period it’s a case of reintroducing foods and figuring out (ideally with the help of a specialist dietician) which foods specifically affect your digestive system. According to the low FODMAP diet guidelines only onions and garlic are the universal to avoid. (But the green part of spring onions and leeks are fine, as are chives so that’s a solution for anyone who loves to cook.)
Give it a go for just a week If (like me) you don’t trust that your problem is IBS (because you haven’t been referred to a gastroenterologist) you can try it for a week. I certainly found a huge benefit. If nothing else, we get into routines with what we eat, however healthy we are, so giving things a shake-up isn’t a bad thing. Like depression, IBS is a label doctors dish out when they’re not sure what’s wrong. If it’s apparent that many of the ‘healthy’ foods you are eating are high-FODMAP and sometimes you experience discomfort, there’s no harm in being aware.
Knowledge is ultimately the power to eat well It’s frustrating when our GPs can’t help us. But there is plenty of information out there. This excellent blog by American based Dr William Cole is packed with information on IBS and FODMAPs and there’s some great advice here from dietician Toni Fiori.
Wishing you all the best in your eating and sending you healing vibes if right now something stops you enjoying your food.