Does The FODMAP Diet Reduce Gas and Bloating

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Diets, FODMAP Diet, Gas and Bloating

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

fodmap dietCan the FODMAP diet help reduce gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation? Everyone suffers from one or more of these symptoms, but nobody talks about them. For some they represent an annoyance. For others they can be incapacitating.

When the symptoms become frequent and start to affect quality of life, the medical community starts to give them names. When the symptoms occur at least 3 days/month for at least 3 months and there are no known diseases causing the symptoms, it is called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If the symptoms are also associated with inflammation, it is called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The principle forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

A Primer On IBS And IBD

IBS is fairly common. Between 10-15% of the US population has been diagnosed with IBS, but experts estimate that as much as 25% of the population experiences symptoms consistent with IBS.

It is also important to understand that IBS is a collection of symptoms, not a disease. The only difference between IBS and the gas, bloating, and diarrhea (or constipation) that many people experience on a fairly regular basis is the frequency and severity of symptoms – and that is an arbitrary distinction. Someone experiencing those symptoms an average of 2 days/month is not significantly different than someone experiencing those symptoms 3 times/month.

While severe IBS can be incapacitating, it does not appear to cause lasting damage to the intestine or predispose to other diseases. Finally, the causes of IBS are largely unknown. Stress, obesity, and food sensitivities may all play a role.

IBD is much less common (0.4% of the US population), but much more severe. It can cause permanent damage to the intestine and can predispose to several diseases, including cancer. For that reason, you should always consult with your physician if you have severe, chronic gastrointestinal issues.

Standard treatment of IBS and IBD has traditionally consisted of recommendations to:

  • Reduce weight if overweight
  • Increase exercise
  • Reduce stress
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol
  • Limit fatty foods
  • If diarrhea is the primary symptom, limit dairy products, fruits, and sweeteners such as sorbitol and xylitol.
  • If constipation is the primary symptom, increase dietary fiber

These interventions generally provide only partial relief of the symptoms, so medications are frequently prescribed to control the symptoms. Unfortunately, many of those medications have significant side effects.

Fortunately, research over the past decade suggests that there is a natural, holistic approach that can significantly reduce the symptoms associated with IBS and IBD, thus decreasing the reliance on medications to treat those diseases. It is something called the FODMAP diet. The FODMAP diet is rapidly becoming the standard of care for IBS and IBD, and the same diet also appears to significantly improve symptoms in people who merely experience gas, bloating, and diarrhea more frequently than they would like. More importantly, the principles behind the FODMAP diet can help almost everyone who experiences occasional gas, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation.

What Is The FODMAP Diet?

The FODMAP diet was devised over a decade ago by a group of scientists in Australia. Basically, they identified all of the kinds of foods that were known to cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation in susceptible people and put together a diet that was low in all of them.

FODMAP is an acronym that stands for:

  • F – fermentable carbohydrates
  • O – oligo-saccharides
  • D – di-saccharides
  • M – mono-saccharides
  • P – polyols

Of course, that statement comes under the “Aren’t you glad you asked?” category. It is meaningless to most people. A better way to understand this is to look at foods in the FODMAP category. They include:

  • gas and bloatingLactose, found in milk and milk products (especially for people who lack the enzyme lactase)
  • Fructose in high concentrations, found in foods like apples, pears, honey and agave syrup. (30-40% of individuals have problems absorbing fructose).
  • Fructans, found in foods like wheat, onions and garlic.
  • Galacto-oligosaccharides, found in foods like beans, lentils, and soybeans.
  • Polyols such as sorbitol and mannitol, found in fruits such as cherries, apricots, and apples, and as sweeteners added to many “sugar-free” foods.

These are all foods that are poorly digested or poorly absorbed, so they are fermented by intestinal bacteria. It is the fermentation of these foods by intestinal bacteria that causes the gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

Does The FODMAP Diet Work?

The evidence that the FODMAP diet is effective is pretty impressive. For example:

What Does This Mean For You?

On the surface, this seems to be a good news, bad news story.

good news bad newsThe good news is that the FODMAP diet is incredibly effective at decreasing frequent gas, bloating, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea and constipation – and it really doesn’t matter whether you have been diagnosed with IBS or IBD, or you are just someone who suffers from those symptoms more frequently than you would like.

The bad news is that the FODMAP diet is very restrictive. You can appreciate that when you look at the list of high FODMAPs foods you need to avoid. That means:

  • The diet is very difficult to stick to long term. In the follow up study described above only 30% of the participants were able to stick with the diet for the full 16 months.
  • The diet restricts so many foods that you would really need the guidance of a registered dietitian to design a nutritionally adequate diet plan.

 

The reality, however,is that very few people actually need to restrict all the high FODMAP foods to enjoy significant relief from their symptoms. Clinically, most physicians test various FODMAPs in their IBS and IBD patients and only restrict the ones that cause symptoms. You can do exactly the same thing yourself. Start by reducing groups of high FODMAP foods on the list. Once you have identified which food groups cause your symptoms, you can test foods within that group one by one.

The most important news is that the FODMAP diet concept may help many people who struggle with occasional gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Let me give you one example:

  • Let’s suppose you have discovered that foods made from wheat flour cause you g.i. problems. You have concluded that you are gluten intolerant and carefully avoid foods containing gluten, but you still have occasional gas, bloating and diarrhea. You might be sensitive to the fructans in wheat, not the gluten. If so, a quick glance at the FODMAPs list suggests a number of fructan-containing foods you may be sensitive to that you would never have expected if you just focused on avoiding gluten. For example:
  • Vegetables: garlic, onions, asparagus, artichokes and snow peas might be causing you trouble.
  • Fruits: grapefruit, nectarines, plums and watermelon could be causing you problems.
  • Processed foods: Inulin, a naturally occurring fiber, found in Jerusalem artichokes, is primarily a fructan. Inulin and several other naturally occurring fructans are added to many processed foods to increase their fiber content. These foods might also be causing you trouble.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of us have probably identified one or two problem foods that we know give us gas. By using the FODMAPs list we may be able to identify other foods we should avoid.

 

The Bottom Line

  • By restricting all foods known to cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation in susceptible individuals, scientists and clinicians have created something called the FODMAP diet.
  • The FODMAP diet has proven to be very effective at reducing those symptoms in people with IBS or IBD, but it is also equally effective at eliminating symptoms in individuals who simply suffer from gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation more frequently than they would like.
  • The low FODMAP diet is also very restrictive, but the good news is that most people don’t need to eliminate all of the foods in the diet. You can systematically test and eliminate the individual foods that cause your symptoms.
  • Most importantly, the FODMAP concept can help us identify problem foods that we might have otherwise never suspected of giving us gas. You will find an example of how this concept works in the article above.
  • Gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation can also be caused by a number of serious diseases. For that reason, you should always consult with your physician if you have severe and chronic gastrointestinal issues.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (2)

  • Nancy Pcsolyar, MA, DA, LDN

    |

    Thank you, Dr. Chaney. for addressing the FODMAP test. Little is written about it but yet the information is essential for people suffering from bloating, gas, etc.

    As always, your unbiased critique of various studies is priceless information especially for those of us working in the medical field .

    Reply

  • Anson Kibby

    |

    What an excellent article. Thank you SO much.

    Reply

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Latest Article

High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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