Can I ask you a personal question? (I’m going to anyways, so buckle up.) How’s your digestion? Has a doctor ever diagnosed you with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)? If so, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 25-45 million people in the US have it. Two-thirds of those diagnosed with IBS are female. Now, we could argue that that’s simply because females are way more likely to go to a doctor and therefore do live longer on average (go girls), but I digress. The important point here is: there are a lot of people with digestive issues! Which means it is worth discussing all things IBS, including the top way to manage symptoms, aka the Low-FODMAP Diet. This is a good one, so read on.

IBS is short for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

If that sounds unpleasant and vague, that’s because it is. IBS is actually the term used for a group of intestinal symptoms that cannot be explained by other diagnoses, such as colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, or cancer. Signs and symptoms of IBS include: cramping, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas.

Before diagnosing you with IBS, your doctor will likely try to rule out other causes of your intestinal distress. He/she may perform a colonoscopy, check your stool sample, have blood tests done, or have you avoid certain food groups to check for food allergies or intolerances. If none of these tests yield positive a result, you will be diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. 

After a diagnosis with IBS, you’ll be met with some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that there is currently no cure for IBS. This means that treatment is aimed at managing symptoms rather than curing the disease. The good news is that we have identified some key factors in managing this set of digestive symptoms.

Top ways to manage IBS include:

  • Regular exercise 
  • Smaller meals
  • Stress management 
  • Avoiding/limiting caffeinated drinks that stimulate the intestines
  • Probiotics 
  • Avoiding/limiting fried foods and spicy foods 
  • Medication: antidepressants, anticonstipation drugs, drugs to help with muscle spasms 
  • Avoiding triggers: certain foods, stressors, etc 

And finally, the really good news. (You didn’t see that coming, did you?) There is another, more personalized way to manage IBS symptoms. This way is called the Low-FODMAP Diet. This diet protocol is not intended for weight loss purposes, but rather to help identify trigger foods and eliminate them from the diet. Here’s what you need to know about it:

First, let’s start off with what the term “FODMAP” means. It’s actually an acronym for the types of carbohydrates (remember: grains, veggies, fruits, and dairy fall in this macronutrient category) that are proven to trigger IBS symptoms.

F – Fermentable
O – Oligosaccharides
D – Disaccharides
M – Monosaccharides
A – And
P – Polyols

Fermentable: This is the adjective describing the three carbohydrate types that follow. In a person with IBS, gut bacteria ferments these specific carbohydrates. The by-product of fermentation is gas, leading to digestive discomfort.
Oligosaccharides: wheat, rye, beans, legumes, onion, garlic, inulin, FOS
Disaccharides: foods in which lactose is the main carb, i.e. milk, yogurt, soft cheese
Monosaccharides: foods in which fructose is the main carb, i.e. honey, agave, fruits like apple, mango, figs
Polyols: specific fruits and veggies, low-calorie sweeteners 

The idea with this diet is not stay away from FODMAPs for forever. That would be really exhausting and quite frankly, not super healthy. It’s an elimination-style diet. That means, you start by eliminating all FODMAPs, then slowly introduce them back into your diet one category at a time. You monitor your response to each group and see what foods trigger your IBS symptoms. Here’s the thing, though: this diet really shouldn’t be tried out by yourself. To be safe and to see the best results, only follow a low FODMAP diet and reintroduction phase with the help of a doctor or dietitian (I prefer a dietitian, but I’m biased!). In the end, you’ll have a good idea of which FODMAP foods cause flare-ups and which you can safely enjoy! This leads to much more confidence around meal times for those with IBS.