You may have heard the term “FODMAP” being thrown around a lot lately—especially regarding a low-FODMAP diet. Is this a new trend or diet craze? What even is a FODMAP? I spoke to Victoria Albina, Holistic Nurse Practitioner and Breathwork Facilitator, to get the rundown.

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What Are FODMAPs?

The term ‘FODMAP’ is an acronym that stands for ‘Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides, and Polyols.’ In short, they are fermentable carbohydrates found in many of the foods we commonly eat. Albina explains that FODMAPs are “naturally occurring short chain carbohydrates that are generally not well absorbed in the small intestine. For most of us, these foods help prevent digestive symptoms by feeding the good bugs that make up our intestinal or gut microbiomes.” For a person with a healthy digestive system, FODMAPs are nutritionally beneficial and often high in fiber, which further help optimize digestion.

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Which Foods Are High in FODMAPs?

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Many of the foods we commonly eat contain FODMAPs. According to Albina, “Many fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, pulses, dairy, gluten and non-gluten grains, [and] some artificial sweeteners contain FODMAPs.”

While most beans, wheat, and dairy products are high in FODMAPs, nuts and seeds are considered low FODMAP. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are high FODMAP, as well as members of the onion family including garlic. The IBS network provides a comprehensive list of high and low FODMAP foods.

When Are FODMAPs Problematic?

While foods high in FODMAPs are beneficial for most due to their nutritional content, Albina explained that for those with sensitive digestion or digestive disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), FODMAPs can be disruptive to their system. Consuming FODMAPs with one of these conditions can cause discomfort including abdominal pain, gas, and bloating.

Albina warns, though, that even for individuals with IBS and SIBO, the low-FODMAP diet should be a short term approach.  “It’s important for balanced nutrition to have foods like beans, broccoli, berries, onions, and garlic in your diet. Without these foods, your gut microbiomes can be severely impacted, and there are no studies showing the benefit of a low or no FODMAP diet for longer than a few months, maximum,” she shares.

Is the Low FODMAP Diet for Everyone?

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The low FODMAP diet is only for individuals who are experiencing digestive distress and is not a trendy new diet everyone should try out. “I do not recommend a low or no FODMAPs diet if you don’t have a diagnosed reason to follow such a restrictive plan,” explains Albina.

If you fit the bill, Albina cautions to test it out in the short run, but to start to reintegrate FODMAPs once your digestive symptoms dissipate for your long term health. Albina cautions long term use of “such a diet can not only negatively impact your microbiome, but it can lead to a loss of oral tolerance, meaning you can become sensitive to more foods in the long run.”

Additionally, being on such a restrictive diet can lead to other health concerns, she explains. “Frankly, I think this diet can be a set-up for disorder eating, easily. I tell folks to test out different FODMAP foods, and to keep in small quantities of any FODMAP containing food they can tolerate, don’t just cut it out because it’s on a list. Learn to listen to your body!”

How Do I Know if the Low FODMAP Diet Is Something I Should Explore?

If you think a low FODMAP diet may be helpful in overcoming gut issues, talk to your doctor to see if it’s the best protocol for you.

“It’s important to work with a functional medicine provider or naturopath to diagnose and properly treat the underlying condition, not just to avoid whole food groups. The goal of this diet is to reduce symptoms so you can do the things that help you not need the diet—finding and treating the bacterial overgrowth, parasites, and more, getting your nervous system regulated so you have good motility, and healing your relationship with your body, your health, and your digestion,” Albina shares.

The bottom line: The low FODMAP diet may be helpful in the case of specific medical situations, but is not something worth exploring just as a health craze. Otherwise enjoy your broccoli and garlic—your body and taste buds will thank you.

Header image courtesy of Getty Images / Sean Gladwell

Sara Weinreb is a writer, sustainability and design thinking strategist, herbalist-in-training, and host of the Medium Well podcast. Sara’s writing on sustainability, wellness, mindful living, and mission-driven business has been featured in Forbes, mindbodygreen, USA Today, Byrdie, and Cherry Bombe, amongst others. When she’s not writing and shopping in the bulk section of health food stores, you can find Sara on the yoga mat, making herbal elixirs, having solo dance parties, and hanging out with her growing collection of plants. She shares her adventures and misadventures at @saraweinreb.
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