Digestive complaints are becoming increasingly common. It would follow that individuals are seeking a solution! However, as fad diets abound, there seems to be no end to the list of elimination diets, detoxes, cleanses or supplement regimens that promise better digestive health. Many of these lack scientific evidence of efficacy. But there are research-based methods, and one in particular, which has been found to be very therapeutic for any client with digestive symptoms.
When digestive discomfort is present, it is a sign that something is going wrong. Bloating, gas, indigestion, heart-burn, diarrhea, constipation, etc?are not normal. People tend to push through these symptoms but it is important to listen and learn from them. These can be a sign of high stress and anxiety levels, inflammation in the digestive tract, lack of adequate digestive enzymes, imbalance in natural gut flora or, in some cases, sign of a more serious inflammatory bowel condition like Celiac Disease, Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn?s Disease. It is strongly encouraged that you see a Gastroenterologist and be screened for these more serious digestive diseases before making changes to diet. The popular trend of eliminating gluten prior to testing of Celiac Disease can result in a false negative and therefore prevent proper and vital treatment protocols.
The best dietary treatment for the above symptoms, including these disease states, would be a low FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols, which are types of fermentable carbohydrates. When the digestive tract is compromised, digesting these types of carbohydrates is difficult and often results in pain, gas, bloating, heart-burn, diarrhea, constipation, etc. It isn?t so much a matter of carbohydrates, but choosing the type of carbohydrates that are easier for your digestive tract to process. Certain foods within each food group will contain FODMAPS such as (and this is not an exhaustive list):
- Grains: Wheat, barley and rye (gluten is a protein and is unrelated to fermentable carbohydrates. Coincidently, gluten-containing grains are high in FODMAPS and many mistake a FODMAP intolerance with a gluten intolerance.)
- Fruits: Apples, pears, cherries, grapefruit, peaches, plums and watermelon
- Vegetables: Onions, garlic, artichokes, beets, cauliflower, corn, mushrooms
- Nuts/legumes: Almonds, cashews, beans
- Dairy: milk, yogurt, ice cream
- Condiments: honey, hummus
Monash University in Australia does extensive research on FODMAP content of foods. They have an app available for iPhone and Android that is a great resource for the FODMAP content of individual foods, indicated by green (low FODMAP), yellow (moderate FODMAP) and red (high FODMAP) as a tracking system. For anyone suffering from digestive distress, it may be helpful for you to download it for convenient access to FODMAP levels in food. Search ?Monash University low FODMAP diet? in your app store. Many people with these digestive systems make the decision to eat healthier and then include many of these high FODMAP foods, since they would be healthy choices for anyone else. In this case, it?s easy to get discouraged! A few simple swaps ? like eating bananas instead of apples, peanuts instead of almonds, bell peppers instead of mushrooms, regular potatoes instead of sweet potatoes and maple syrup instead of honey ? can make a world of difference in how you feel.
It is important to note that a low FODMAP diet is not meant to be followed for life. A period of elimination for 6-8 weeks should then be followed by addition of these foods back into the diet to test tolerance levels, which is best done under the supervision of a qualified nutrition professional. Including fermentable carbohydrates in the diet help to add variety. They also act as prebiotics and increase the growth of beneficial bacteria. Many of the foods high in FODMAPs are nutrient dense foods that can contribute to good health. For these reasons, it is best to add them back in to your meal is in quantities deemed appropriate as you work with a nutrition professional.
As you eat foods that are easier for your digestive tract to process, it creates the opportunity for your digestive tract to heal. Listening to and responding to the messages your body is sending through pain and discomfort can result in healing and repair. Who doesn?t want that? Finding relief of painful symptoms is priceless. We do hope you find the relief, health and healing you seek.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD