Low FODMAP Diet Guide: Assessing Relief From Digestive Distress

If you are trying to relieve chronic digestive issues, the FODMAP diet could work for you!

As a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and a UESCA-Certified Endurance Nutrition Coach, I spend much time scrutinizing popular diets.

Not only is this an enjoyable pastime for me because I love to “geek out” about nutrition, but studying different weight loss diet plans and eating patterns allows me to understand the pros and cons of each one to help clients find the right nutrition plan for their needs.

The Low FODMAP diet is one of the best diets for people who suffer from chronic digestive issues when eating various foods such as vegetables, certain fruits, and sugar alcohols.

I have found that even though it is difficult to follow the Low FODMAP diet and can be challenging to understand what you can eat when you first start, many clients who get through the initiation process find that the low FODMAP diet meals that work for them feel much better in the long run.

This diet guide will discuss the low FODMAP diet plan, how to follow it, foods you can eat and foods you need to avoid, and the pros and cons of the Low FODMAP diet meal plan for weight loss and health.

Let’s jump in!

A sign that says FODMAP and foods surrounding it.

What Is the Low FODMAP Diet Plan?

The Low FODMAP diet meal plan avoids—or at least minimizes—foods that contain FODMAPs, which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. 

These are short-chain carbohydrates and fermentable fibers that are not readily digestible.

Rather, the FODMAPs travel to the end of the small intestines instead of being broken down in the duodenum at the first part of the small intestines.1Eswaran, S. (2021, March). Low-FODMAP Diet. American College of Gastroenterology. https://gi.org/topics/low-fodmap-diet/

At the very end of the small intestines, an abundance of healthy gut bacteria ferment on these undigested carbohydrates and release gas in the breakdown process.

Particularly if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the gas produced as the healthy gut microbiota feed on the FODMAPs can cause an exacerbation of diarrhea and gassiness as well as abdominal discomfort.

Essentially, the types of carbohydrates in high FODMAP foods are some of the preferred food sources for the gut microbiota.

A notebook that reads "diet" and cuts of fish on a cutting board next to it.

This means that one of the consequences of the Low FODMAP diet plan is that the foods you need to avoid are some of the most nourishing foods for the beneficial bacteria in your gut.

However, if you have imbalances in the bacteria in your gut or have an overabundance of pathogens relative to beneficial bacteria in your microbiome, you may struggle to digest FODMAPs. 

This can result in a myriad of unpleasant digestive symptoms after eating high FODMAPs foods, including symptoms such as excessive gas, abdominal pain, bloating, belching, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation. 

Therefore, the low FODMAP diet meal plan aims to remove these troublesome foods from your diet to alleviate digestive issues that result from difficulty breaking down one or more of the types of FODMAP carbohydrates.

A person with stomach pain.

How Do You Follow the Low FODMAP Diet?

The Low FODMAP diet plan isn’t as simple as just removing all foods containing FODMAPs from day one and then following a no FODMAP meal plan indefinitely.

While this is the end result for some people and is actually how the diet starts, having a no FODMAP diet can be extremely problematic because there are tons of foods that contain at least some amount of fructans, fructose, galactans, lactose, or polyols.

Therefore, your diet would be extremely restrictive if you consume zero FODMAPs.

This would not only make it difficult to sustain in the long term and impractical for most real-life situations where you would want to eat meals and food with other people, but it also could result in significant nutritional deficiencies.

This is because many of the foods that are high in FODMAPs are super nutritious and high in fiber as well.

The Low FODMAP diet plan has three stages. 

A sign that says FODMAP and foods surrounding it.

The first stage is essentially an elimination diet where all high-FODMAP foods are removed from your diet. 

Then, after a period in which hopefully all of your digestive symptoms have largely resolved, you move into the Low FODMAP diet phase 2 meal plan—called the Challenge Phase.

Here, you can slowly start re-introducing some foods containing a moderate amount of FODMAPs.

You should only introduce one food at a time and observe whether you experience any diarrhea or digestive issues for the next 24 to 72 hours.

If you seem to tolerate the high FODMAP food, it can remain in your diet, and you can try to slowly incorporate more FODMAP foods one at a time following the same procedure.

However, if you re-introduce food and experience digestive symptoms, you should stop eating that food and refrain from eating it.

In the third phase of the low FODMAP diet plan—the Personalization Phase—you can work with your healthcare team to examine what caused difficulty with re-introduction to see how to manage your symptoms with a low FODMAP diet meal plan moving forward.

A food list surrounded by food.

What Can You Eat On a Low FODMAP Meal Plan?

If your doctor and nutritionist suggest that you try the low FODMAP diet plan for IBS symptoms, small bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or some other digestive disorder, you will need to start removing foods high in FODMAPs.2Harvard Health Publishing. (2014, October 10). Try a FODMAPs diet to manage irritable bowel syndrome. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/a-new-diet-to-manage-irritable-bowel-syndrome

‌Therefore, your low FODMAP diet meal plan will need to limit the following foods: 

  • Foods high in fructans, such as whole grains like wheat, barley, and rye, or any food product containing gluten
  • Foods high in fructose, such as nearly all fruits; many vegetables such as onions, carrots, green beans, cauliflower, beets, pumpkin, red bell peppers, peas, sweet potato, corn, mushrooms, leeks, garlic, Brussels sprouts; and sweeteners like honey, agave, or any foods with added table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup
  • Foods high in galactooligosaccharides, such as beans, lentils, and other legumes
  • Foods high in lactose, which is anything made from cows’ milk, including milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, most types of cheese, and sour cream
  • Foods high in polyols such as noncaloric artificial sweeteners like xylitol and mannitol

Many other foods also need to be removed or minimized in the Low FODMAP diet plan because they contain multiple FODMAPs, such as nuts, coconut milk, soy milk, chamomile tea, and rum.3Low-FODMAP Diet. (n.d.). American College of Gastroenterology. https://gi.org/topics/low-fodmap-diet/#tabs2

What foods are OK on a low FODMAP diet?

Here are some foods without FODMAPS4FODMAP Stacking and FODMAP Free Foods. (n.d.). IBS Diets. Retrieved December 31, 2023, from https://www.ibsdiets.org/fodmap-diet/fodmap-stacking-and-fodmap-free-foods/ or very low FODMAP foods:5Veloso, H. (2023). FODMAP Diet: What You Need to Know. Www.hopkinsmedicine.org. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/fodmap-diet-what-you-need-to-know

Vegetables

  • Bamboo shoots
  • Beansprouts
  • Beetroot
  • Chives
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers 
  • Eggplant
  • Ginger
  • Lettuce
  • Olives
  • Parsnip
  • Potato
  • Radish
  • Rhubarb
  • Seaweed, nori
  • Spinach

FODMAP Free Fruits and Low-FODMAP Fruits

  • Berries
  • Breadfruit
  • Clementines
  • Dragon Fruit
  • Grapes
  • Guava
  • Mandarins
  • Oranges
  • Papaya 

Proteins

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Fresh and Canned Fish (cod, haddock, herring, salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, etc.)
  • Shellfish (Scallops, prawns, shrimp, crab, lobster, mussels, etc.)
  • Eggs
  • Almond Milk 

Low FODMAP Cheeses

  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • Cheddar
  • Feta

Grains

  • Rice – white, basmati, and brown
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Gluten-free grains

You can find a more complete low FODMAP food list here.

A person with stomach pain.

Can A Low FODMAP Diet Help With IBS?

The low FODMAP diet is not intended for weight loss, though some people lose weight on this diet due to the removal of so many food groups.

If you have irritable bowel syndrome or suffer from gas, bloating, indigestion, and frequent diarrhea after eating vegetables, fruits, legumes, and certain grains, you might be sensitive to foods that contain FODMAPs.

In these situations, the low FODMAP diet can be highly effective and can certainly be worth trying.

Studies have found that up to 86% of people with IBS experience improvements in symptom severity and/or frequency after strict adherence to the low FODMAP diet plan.6Gearry, R., Skidmore, P., O’Brien, L., Wilkinson, T., & Nanayakkara, W. (2016). Efficacy of the low FODMAP diet for treating irritable bowel syndrome: the evidence to date. Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology9, 131. https://doi.org/10.2147/ceg.s86798

‌Following the low FODMAP diet plan can also help improve quality of life and decrease anxiety, according to studies.7Fadgyas-Stanculete, M., Buga, A.-M., Popa-Wagner, A., & Dumitrascu, D. L. (2014). The relationship between irritable bowel syndrome and psychiatric disorders: from molecular changes to clinical manifestations. Journal of Molecular Psychiatry2(1), 4. https://doi.org/10.1186/2049-9256-2-4

A doctor writing.

‌However, because the Low FODMAP diet plan is quite restrictive and eliminates many nutritious fruits, vegetables, legumes, dairy, and whole grains, it is generally not advisable to follow the low FODMAP diet plan unless you need to.

In fact, according to the American College of Gastroenterology, there is no benefit in avoiding high FODMAP foods unless they trigger symptoms. Moreover, not everyone feels better on a low FODMAP diet. 

Therefore, the American College of Gastroenterology recommends adding the high FODMAP foods back into your diet and considering other treatment options if your gastrointestinal symptoms do not improve during the FODMAP elimination diet phase.

Most importantly, it is best to work with a gastroenterologist if you have ongoing digestive issues and discuss dietary options with a registered dietitian after getting a proper diagnosis from your doctor.

A person meeting with their doctor.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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