Should I Try the Low-FODMAP Diet That I’m Seeing on Social Media?
Before you decide, let’s talk about some key details that aren’t included in those popular TikTok videos.
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During this season of hearty meals and holiday feasts full of fiber-rich produce, you might find yourself increasingly conscious of your digestive health and how this season’s foods make you feel—particularly if you’re left feeling bloated, gassy, or otherwise uncomfortable.
If you turn to Google or TikTok for relief, you’re likely to come across the low-FODMAP diet as one potential solution. This buzzy diet has become increasingly popular—not just among healthcare professionals who use it as a tool for managing digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but also in the social media-sphere, where the diet is often misinterpreted or oversimplified.
So what, exactly, is a FODMAP? For starters, the term “FODMAP” actually stands for “Fermented Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols” (hence the need for an acronym). FODMAPs are different types of short-chain carbohydrates (a.k.a. sugars) that aren’t digested or absorbed well into the gut. They’re found in foods like wheat, garlic, apples, blackberries, Brussels sprouts, honey, avocado, and dairy products containing lactose. For some people, FODMAP foods cause digestive discomforts like gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea.
Of course, as with any diet, a low-FODMAP regimen can feel restrictive and burdensome (especially when you consider how nutritious those aforementioned foods can be). So it’s important to understand the reasoning behind it and who could benefit from it before limiting your intake of otherwise-healthy foods. Here, we’ll help you understand how a low-FODMAP diet works, and how to know if it’s right for you.
Should I try a low-FODMAP diet?
The short answer: Unless you have a specific digestive condition or have recurring symptoms, it’s not necessary to reduce or cut out FODMAPs—they’re highly nutritious and excellent sources of fiber. If you’re interested in a more extensive elimination diet like the low-FODMAP diet, we recommend that you attempt it under the guidance of a healthcare professional to ensure you’re capturing the nutrients you need in other ways.
The long answer: FODMAPs can be particularly uncomfortable or symptom-triggering for those with digestive conditions like IBS or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). When people with these kinds of conditions consume FODMAPs, they may experience symptoms like gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea.1 This is where a low-FODMAP diet can be helpful.
Developed by Monash University’s Department of Gastroenterology, a low-FODMAP diet is designed to eliminate and—crucially—reintroduce certain groups of FODMAPs to pinpoint which ones are not well-tolerated.2 This diet can be helpful in the short term for people with digestive conditions or who are experiencing the aforementioned symptoms on a regular basis. However, long-term, full elimination of these foods is not only very difficult, but also potentially disruptive to the microbiome.3
FODMAP foods are not inherently “bad” for your health, and many are critical for your gut microbes. As Dr. Emeran Mayer, gastroenterologist and member of Seed’s Scientific Board, explains, “The majority of FODMAPs are highly nutritious and excellent food for your gut microbes. Removing them is like ‘starving’ your gut microbes, which can have a negative effect on gut microbial abundance and diversity.”
That’s because FODMAPs are typically high in fiber, which gut microbes rely on as a fuel source. But it goes beyond that: Through the process of microbial fermentation, gut microbes can break down fiber to produce beneficial byproducts like short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs have a range of powerful effects in the body, including fueling the cells lining your colon, reducing inflammation, and managing production of certain immune cells.4 This means many FODMAPs are important to supporting your gut microbes and various aspects of whole-body health. So, if you cut them out for an extended period of time, that could shift the composition of your microbiome (the makeup of microbes in your gut), with ripple effects that extend beyond the gut.
In fact, Dr. Mayer says that a growing number of gastroenterologists have become skeptical of the low-FODMAP diet. Instead, when working with his patients, Dr. Mayer revealed he often receives similar success by asking them to eliminate a few specific FODMAPs that regularly exacerbate symptoms. “These items most often include garlic, tomatoes, onions, and dairy products,” he says. “GI symptoms in response to dairy, especially, are extremely common because the majority of adults have very low levels of lactase, the digestive enzyme that breaks down the natural sugar in milk, lactose.” (Not-so-fun fact: Lactose intolerance affects around 65% of people around the globe.5)
So, while we encourage everyone to be their own scientist and learn more about their own bodies and personal needs, if you’re interested in a more extensive elimination diet like the low-FODMAP diet, we recommend that you attempt it under the guidance of a healthcare professional to ensure you’re capturing the nutrients you need in other ways. Because, for the most part, “eating for your gut” is about nurturing your microbiome with a diverse range of beneficial (and delicious) foods that make you feel good. A low-FODMAP diet can be a tool, not a lifestyle.
- Ong, D. K., Mitchell, S. B., Barrett, J. S., Shepherd, S. J., Irving, P. M., Biesiekierski, J. R., Smith, S., Gibson, P. R., & Muir, J. G. (2010). Manipulation of dietary short chain carbohydrates alters the pattern of gas production and genesis of symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome. Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology, 25(8), 1366–1373. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1440-1746.2010.06370.x
- Gibson, P. R., & Shepherd, S. J. (2005). Personal view: food for thought–western lifestyle and susceptibility to Crohn’s disease. The FODMAP hypothesis. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 21(12), 1399–1409. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2005.02506.x
- Valdes, A. M., Walter, J., Segal, E., & Spector, T. D. (2018b). Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ, k2179. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2179
- Chambers, E. S., Preston, T., Frost, G., & Morrison, D. J. (2018). Role of Gut Microbiota-Generated Short-Chain Fatty Acids in Metabolic and Cardiovascular Health. Current nutrition reports, 7(4), 198–206. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-018-0248-8
- Lactose intolerance: MedlinePlus Genetics. (n.d.). https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/lactose-intolerance/#statistics