A diet that helps IBS sufferers

Guest post by Cara Rosenbloom, RD

If you are part of the 15 percent of Canadians who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the FODMAP diet may offer the relief you’ve been hoping for.


FODMAP is an acronym, made up of the names of short-chain fermentable carbohydrates:

F – Fermentable

O – Oligosaccharides (i.e. inulin)

D – Disaccharides (i.e. lactose)

M – Monosaccharides (i.e. fructose)

A – and

P – Polyols (i.e. sorbitol)

(Click here for in-depth descriptions of these categories)

Ignore the hard-to-pronounce scientific terms—fermentable is the key word here. When the body can’t break down hard-to-digest carbs, they are fermented by bacteria in the gut. The body tries to dilute them by forcing water into the gastrointestinal tract. That’s what leads to the trademark IBS symptoms including watery stools, gas and bloating.

As a relative new area of study, only five clinical trials on the FODMAP diet have been published to-date. However, these studies show that 85% of patients find relief when following this diet. For people with chronic IBS, this is truly a life-altering scientific discovery.

Starting the diet

What began as a study at Monash University in Australia has slowly migrated to North America, and dietitians (including Stephanie Clairmont in Waterloo, Ryan Stallard in Toronto, and Janice Joneja in BC) now council on the FODMAP diet. Finding the right dietitian is vital to the success of this complex plan, which involves some detective work to figure out the trigger foods that cause symptoms.

Before the diet starts, patients are asked to keep a food record, documenting what they eat and the symptoms they feel. This helps the dietitian find patterns of potential trigger foods. Next, high FODMAP foods are removed from the diet for a period of 4-8 weeks, then slowly introduced one at a time to see which may cause symptoms. Once trigger foods are identified, the IBS patient will gain a deeper understanding of the foods they should continue to avoid.

The most common culprits are lactose-containing foods like milk, and foods in the oligosaccharides group, such as onion, garlic, wheat, beans and certain fruits.

It’s important to note that many high FODMAP foods are quite healthy – and this isn’t a diet about good or bad foods. And it’s certainly not a weight loss or fad diet! Its sole purpose is to isolate foods that cause symptoms in individual IBS patients – to finally bring relief to so many sufferers of this very common ailment.

Photography courtesy of thinkstockphotos.ca