Health & Medicine

Paying attention to the food you consume can make a difference in your digestive well being

Most of us know someone who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome. Many of us are sufferers ourselves.

Irritable bowel syndrome affects nearly 20 percent of Americans. These individuals suffer from cramping, bloating, constipation or diarrhea that often impairs their quality of life and work performance.

Many studies have been performed, but neither a specific cause nor cure have been agreed upon. Doctors and scientists have, however, recognized five major dietary components that contribute to the symptoms seen in IBS, and have developed a diet focused on reducing or eliminating fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs).

A FODMAP is a carbohydrate — or sugar — found in foods. These include fructose (in the form of honey, fruit, high fructose corn syrup or similar items), lactose (or dairy), fructans (including wheat, garlic, onion and inulin), galactans (including soybeans, lentils and, beans and other legumes), polyols (stone fruits including avocado, apricot, cherries, nectarines and peaches or sweeteners containing isomalt, sylitol or sorbitol).

FODMAPs are said to pull water into the intestinal tract, resulting in poor digestion or absorption that could cause them to be fermented upon by bacteria in the intestinal tract.

Patients who suffer from IBS symptoms could be sensitive to the effects of these foods. Therefore, a low FODMAP diet may help reduce these symptoms in both IBS sufferers and others with similar digestive conditions.

Researchers at Stanford University offer a number of tips for individuals interesting in trying a low FODMAP diet. First, review food lists, collect recipes and go grocery shopping. Once you are ready, start and follow the diet for 6 weeks.

As you shop, be sure to read food labels and avoid foods made with high FODMAP fruits/vegetables, HFCS, honey, inulin, wheat, soy, etc. A food could be low in FODMAPs, however, if a high FODMAP food is listed at the end of the ingredient list.

Buy gluten free grains as they do not have wheat, barley or rye in them. However, you do not need to be on a strict gluten-free diet as the focus is to limit FODMAPs, not gluten. It's also important to limit serving sizes for low lactose dairy to small amounts and low/moderate FODMAP fruits/vegetables to a ½ cup per meal (½ cup equals the size of a tennis ball) if you have symptoms after eating these foods. The symptoms could be related to eating large amounts of FODMAPs at a meal.

Include low FODMAP foods rich in fiber such as oatmeal if you develop constipation while on the diet. Drink plenty of water as well.

After the trial is over, add high FODMAP foods one at a time back in the diet in small amounts to identify foods that could be "triggers" to your symptoms. Limit those foods if so.

IBS can be troublesome to its sufferers, but by managing FODMAP foods, many of the troublesome symptoms can be controlled. Paying attention to the foods you consume may make a huge difference in your digestive well being.