Lactose-free, wheat-free, onion-free, garlic-free… but WHY??

Ashley Charlebois - DietitianSound difficult? It can be! I am currently my own client for a low FODMAP diet. This diet was created by Dr. Sue Sheppard (also an RD with celiac disease) and Dr. Peter Gibson, who developed and implemented the first scientific research studies on eating low FODMAP foods and their effects on gastrointestinal health.

You’re probably wondering what this weird word “FODMAP” means. First, it’s an acronym. It stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Now you’re probably wondering what all these strange, long, hard-to-pronounce words mean. Simply put, they are all short chain carbohydrates or sugars (what the term ‘saccharide’ means). Why a low FODMAP diet? Because people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and even some with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) can hugely benefit.

Foods that contain high amounts of short chain carbohydrates are usually well-tolerated by people with a healthy GI tract. However, individuals with functional gastrointestinal symptoms – notably those who often experience gas (flatulence), cramping or pain, bloating, or change in bowel habits – are a different story. For these individuals, short chain carbohydrates can cause the bowel to distend by attracting more fluid into the gut and rapidly generate gas by bacteria in the gut when they are fermented. This in turn can lead to more symptoms that are quite typical of IBS.

Research demonstrates that this low FODMAP diet has proven effective  in about 75% of people who suffer from IBS symptoms. However, it isn’t easy to implement. You have to eliminate high FODMAP foods such as lactose, wheat, certain vegetables and fruit (including garlic and onions), and sugar alcohols (i.e. artificial sweeteners found in candies and sugar-free gums) for 6-8 weeks completely. Once this is done, you then start a reintroduction phase which takes anywhere from 4-8 weeks.

Sound like a challenge? Yes. After recommending it to a few of my clients, I’ve decided to also take it on myself to put myself in my clients’ shoes. As with most things nutrition-related, if you prepare well by buying enough ‘allowed’ foods, it isn’t so daunting. The great part is, not only am I learning about where in Vancouver to buy and how to make the best gluten-free and lactose-free foods, but I’m actually seeing improvements in myself. I didn’t realize I still suffered from any IBS symptoms at all until I started this diet, and realized that I am now truly symptom-free – completely.