Pros and Cons of the Low-FODMAP Diet

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If you’re looking for a diet that’s proven to help manage digestive problems, the low-FODMAP diet is a strong contender. Numerous studies have shown this short-term diet helps irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients manage their symptoms and identify food triggers. It may also help with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s disease. Experts consider this program one of the top diagnostic treatments for people with irregular digestion.

The low-FODMAP diet isn’t your typical diet, though. It’s not designed for weight loss like most diets. Instead, it focuses on temporarily eliminating foods high in short-chain carbohydrates, which are known to cause gas, abdominal pain, bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms. It’s highly recommended that you follow the low-FODMAP diet under the supervision of a professional as it’s very restrictive.

Pros

  • Highly researched and founded by professionals

  • Alleviates IBS symptoms

  • May reduce inflammation in IBD patients

  • Helps identify dietary triggers

  • Followers have many resources

Cons

  • Restrictive

  • Not a long-term solution

  • Difficult to modify

  • Not recommended for pregnant women and children

Pros

The low-FODMAP diet isn’t a quick weight loss fix or the solution to all of your digestive woes. However, it has proven benefits for people with IBS. Though it’s a challenging diet, some of the pros make it worth it for patients with life-affecting health problems.

Highly Researched and Founded by Professionals

The low-FODMAP diet was founded by a highly trained research team at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. The university is Australia’s largest and known for its groundbreaking findings.

Led by Peter Gibson and Susan Shepherd, the specialized research team published their hypothesis in a 2005 study. They believed that FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di- and mono-saccharides, and polyols) increased the susceptibility of Crohn’s disease. As their research continued, it became clear that the low-FODMAP diet was best suited for people with IBS.

Eventually, other researchers studied the diet. Today, there are hundreds of studies related to the low-FODMAP diet and its various benefits and applications.

Alleviates IBS Symptoms

The greatest known benefit of the low-FODMAP diet is the relief it provides for people with IBS. Most of the research on the diet is in relation to IBS symptoms.
A 2011 study published by Monash University found that 76% of IBS patients reported their symptoms improved on a diet that restricted high-FODMAP foods.

In a 2016 review, researchers analyzed more than 20 studies on the low-FODMAP diet and found it to be an effective treatment of various gastrointestinal symptoms, including those related to IBS.

The low-FODMAP diet is believed to be most effective in treating functional digestive symptoms: abdominal pain, bloating (distension), constipation, diarrhea, and flatulence (gas).

May Reduce Inflammation in IBD Patients

There’s currently no cure for some irritable bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. However, the low-FODMAP diet was originally associated with IBD. The researchers at Monash University are still studying the link between FODMAPs and IBD. Their latest update advises IBD patients to limit their FODMAP intake.

More research is needed to determine if the low-FODMAP diet is an effective treatment for IBD. Because people with IBD have varied nutritional needs, researchers don’t recommend one particular diet for all IBD patients. A low-FODMAP diet may help some people with IBD, it’s not guaranteed to provide relief for everyone.

Helps Identify Dietary Triggers

People with food allergies avoid those foods to prevent allergic reactions or uncomfortable symptoms. It’s the same with people who identify food triggers during the low-FODMAP program.

Some experts have referred to the low-FODMAP diet as a diagnostic treatment. Because the second part of the program is a gradual reintroduction of high-FODMAP foods, followers can identify which foods are more likely to yield IBS symptoms.

Though the low-FODMAP diet isn’t a long-term solution, a 2016 study showed the program can improve the quality of life of people with IBS.

Followers Have Many Resources

Committing to the low-FODMAP diet even for a short period can be intimidating and stressful. Fortunately, you’re not alone. Your dietician or doctor will walk you through it, but you also have access to the official FODMAP app released by Monash University. There, you can read up on the program and find recipes. There are also thousands of low-FODMAP recipes online and in cookbooks.

Cons

Though the program is beneficial for your digestive health, the process isn’t easy. It can be difficult to eat out at restaurants or in social situations among other cons.

Restrictive

The main reason why the low-FODMAP diet isn’t recommended long-term is that it’s very restrictive. Some experts even worry about followers of the diet meeting all of their nutritional requirements because of the restrictive nature of the program. This is why people on the low-FODMAP diet must follow the protocol under the guidance of a health professional.

Monash University released a statement in response to some people following the diet for long periods of time. The restrictive stage of the program is only 2-6 weeks long. Researchers explained that it’s important to reintroduce FODMAPs into your diet because it encourages a varied, non-restrictive diet. FODMAPs are also beneficial to the gut in moderate amounts because they encourage the growth of good bacteria. 

Not a Long-Term Solution

Patients with life-affecting digestive symptoms usually seek an answer to their health problems. Unfortunately, the low-FODMAP diet isn’t a cure-all or long-term solution.

The elimination phase lasts for only a few weeks. During this time, many followers report fewer symptoms. Once this phase is over, some or all symptoms may reappear. The reintroduction phase is meant to identify which foods cause the most symptoms.

If the low-FODMAP diet relieved some of your symptoms, it can be tempting to remain on a modified version of the diet long-term. Experts at Monash University recommend reducing your intake of high-FODMAP foods to manage symptoms but not to eliminate them to the extent of the low-FODMAP diet.

Difficult to Modify

Vegans, vegetarians and people with food allergies must take extra caution on the low-FODMAP diet. Since it’s already a restrictive diet, it can be difficult for people with additional dietary restrictions to meet their needs and consume a variety of low-FODMAP foods. However, these modifications aren’t impossible.

Vegans and vegetarians — who consume little to no animal products — are advised to get their protein from other sources: tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, quinoa, oats, and amaranth.

People with food allergies can omit certain foods: dairy, eggs, wheat, gluten, soy, nuts, fish, etc.

There’s also concern that people with dietary restrictions are at further risk of nutritional deficiencies on a low-FODMAP diet. Researchers emphasize the importance of consuming a variety of compliant foods during the program.

Not Recommended for Pregnant Women and Children

Many pregnant women and children suffer from digestive problems, especially constipation. When seeking treatment, many people turn to the low-FODMAP diet. However, pregnant women and children are discouraged from trying this diet. There’s not enough research to support the safety and effectiveness of this restrictive diet for either group.

The Bottom Line

The word “diet” is often associated with weight loss or other goals related to physique. However, the low-FODMAP diet is a program used to identify foods that trigger uncomfortable digestive symptoms. Since it’s used for health reasons, it’s not an easy diet to adopt. People on the diet follow a strict protocol — though it’s short-term, it’s highly restrictive. When done in the presence of a health professional, the diet can provide relief for people with IBS.

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