What to make of FODMAPs

Consumption of FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) may trigger irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.  Some research indicates that a diet low on FODMAPs may be beneficial (J Hum Nutr Diet 2011; 24: 487-95).  This study tried to assess whether a low FODMAPs diet which had been reported from a single center in Australia would be effective for IBS.

In this study, consecutive patients with IBS were divided into two groups.  39 received standard dietary advice based on UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines.  43 patients were placed on a low FODMAP dietary advice.  Patients were selected into each group consecutively (not randomized). This study reported a 76% satisfactory symptom response in the FODMAP group vs a 54% response in the control group (p=0.038).  Overall, 86% of FODMAP group had improved composite score compared with 49% of standard treatment group. Specific improvements were noted in bloating, abdominal pain, and flatulence.  The average age of the study population was 38 and 71% were females.  60% had diarrhea-predominant IBS.

NICE guidelines for IBS:

  • Healthy eating principles: regular eating, taking time to eat
  • Limit high fat foods and fizzy drinks
  • Limit insoluble fiber for diarrhea and gradually increase for constipation
  • Limit sugar-free sweets and foods with sorbitol
  • Limit fruit to 3 portions/day
  • Avoiding ‘resistant’ starch may be useful (eg. sweetcorn, green bananas, part-baked and reheated bread)
  • Addition of oats and linseeds may be helpful

Low FODMAP diet

  • Reduce high fructan foods (eg wheat and onion)
  • Reduction in high galactooligosaccharide foods (eg chickpeas, lentils)
  • Reduce high polyol foods and polyol-sweetened sources.  Replace with suitable fruits and vegetables
  • In patients with lactose malabsorption, reduce high lactose foods (eg milk, yoghurt) to smaller volumes or substitute lactose-free products
  • In those with fructose malabsorption, decrease excess fructose

Of course, reading the author’s description of a low FODMAP diet is confusing.  Translation:

Include more bananas, blueberries, lettuce, potatoes, gluten-free breads or cereals, rice, oats, hard cheeses, lactose-free milk, sugar, molasses, and artificial sweeteners that do not end in “ol.”

Avoid/eliminate apples, pears, canned fruits in natural juices, high-fructose corn syrup, cows’ milk (due to lactose), soft cheese, broccoli, cabbage, pasta, bread, baked goods from wheat/rye, mushrooms, and sweeteners like sorbitol or others that end in “ol.”

Since this diet has attracted more widespread attention, basic familiarity is important for all physicians who treat IBS.  A useful resource to explain this diet is the Wall Street Journal:


This link has a good table illustrating the recommended dietary choices.

Whether FODMAPs will be superior to other dietary advice for IBS is still uncertain.  Though, given the limited number of effective treatments for IBS, this small study is a promising development.

Additional references:

  • -Clin Gastro & Hep 2009; 7: 706. n=17. 13 responded to very low carb diet (<20g/day)
  • -Clin Gastro & Hep 2008; 6: 765. Dietary triggers for IBS include fructose/fructans: honey, high fructose corn syrup, wheat, fruits.
  • -IBD 2006; 13: 91. Dietary guidelines for IBS.
  • -Clin Gastro Hepatol 2005; 10: 992-996. Obesity increases IBS symptoms; diet with low fat, high fruit/fiber have fewer symptoms
  • -Gut 2004; 53: 1459-1464. Food elimination based on IgG antibodies. Patients did better on diet with implicated foods than with control diet (diet was blinded/randomized).
  • -Am J Gastro 2011; 106: 508-514. randomized, double-blind trial showing efficacy of GFD for non-celiacs.  60% vs 32& placebo response.
  • -Nutr Clin Pract. 2011;26:294-299.  GFD for non-celiacs.
  • -Gastroenterology 2011; 141: 1941./Am J Gastro 2011; 106: 915.  Exercise improves IBS symptoms.