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Should You Cut Out FODMAPs?

Whether it’s fat, carbs, sugar, gluten, or even lectins, we’re always labeling some type of food ‘diet enemy number one.’ These days, it’s FODMAPs that are taking a hit.

Now, you might be thinking: A FODMAP is, what, exactly? Trust us—there’s a reason for the acronym.

FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (how’s that for a tongue twister?), and refers to various types of carbohydrates our body may have a hard time digesting, explains Emily Rubin, R.D., L.D.N., clinical dietitian for the celiac, fatty liver, and weight management centers at Thomas Jefferson University. Because these various sugars are hard to absorb, they tend to sit in our digestive tract, drawing in water and fermenting, and leading to unpleasant symptoms like stomach pain, gas, bloating, or diarrhea.

The list of foods that contain FODMAPs is long—and, sadly, most of the foods on it are pretty nutritious. In fact, it’s mostly fruits and veggies! The biggest offenders include grains, beans, chickpeas, onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, mangoes, watermelon, apples, artichokes, mushrooms, milk, and yogurt.

So just how worried should you be about FODMAPs? Unless you’re regularly plagued by digestive issues, you’re probably in the clear. In fact, some research suggests cutting FODMAPs from your diet could cause you to fall short on certain nutrients or even develop disordered eating behaviors.

However, if you’re constantly dealing with mysterious GI issues or have a digestive condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—which affects about 12 percent of Americans (twice as many women as men) and is marked by issues like constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, and gas—then cutting out FODMAPs can be a game-changer. In fact, a low-FODMAP diet has benefited close to 90 percent of Rubin’s IBS patients.

Related: How To Move On With Your Life When You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

If you regularly experience GI issues after eating, you might be dealing with IBS that’s being triggered by something in your diet, says Rubin. Your first step is to talk to your doc and rule out other digestive issues, like lactose intolerance and celiac disease, which have remarkably similar symptoms to IBS but may require a slightly different approach than cutting out FODMAPs.

From there, your doctor will guide you through a FODMAP elimination diet. You’ll steer clear of any foods that fall under the FODMAP umbrella until your symptoms ease up, and then reintroduce each food one by one to identify the culprits behind your GI woes. Sticking to the one-by-one reintroduction is key, because even foods that seem similar—like broccoli and cauliflower—actually contain different FODMAPs, explains Rubin. (Broccoli contains oligosaccharides, while cauliflower contains polyols.) As you identify which foods upset your digestive system, you’ll know what to steer clear of in the future.

Since dairy, many grains, and some fruits and vegetables are off the table during a FODMAP elimination diet, Rubin recommends working closely with your gastroenterologist or a nutritionist to make sure you’re still meeting your needs for nutrients we often rely on those foods for—like the calcium in dairy and fiber in grains and produce.

The good news is that there are still lots of nutritious foods you can eat on a low-FODMAP diet. Protein and healthy fats are fair game, as are many non-FODMAP fruits and vegetables, like blueberries, strawberries, oranges, green beans, potatoes, lettuce, and spinach. Brown rice, quinoa, and hard cheeses are okay, too!

The bottom line: Occasional gas or stomach upset after eating doesn’t mean you need to kiss FODMAPs goodbye. But if you’re consistently curled up on the couch or stuck in the bathroom, give your doc a call—FODMAPs may not be a friend to your sensitive system.

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