As the holiday season comes to an end, it’s common to focus on improving overall health heading into the new year—especially since most people tend to overindulge during the holidays, which can lead to digestive discomfort, especially if you’re already suffering from digestive diseases, food sensitivities or FODMAP sensitivity.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the number of people suffering from digestive diseases in the U.S. is more than 60 million. These can vary in seriousness, but they all significantly disrupt our lives and overall health.
One common digestive disease is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Sensitivity to high FODMAP foods can be prevalent in people suffering from IBS.
What are FODMAPs?
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. In simpler terms, these are a group of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that are indigestible or poorly absorbed in the gut leading to digestive problems such as bloating, belching, flatulence, abdominal discomfort, constipation and diarrhea.
When you eat, the food travels through your intestines. When FODMAP foods reach your colon, they get fermented and are used as fuel by your gut bacteria. This bacteria that feeds on FODMAPs produces hydrogen, a gas that can lead to the above-mentioned symptoms.
Types of FODMAPs
Not all FODMAPs are equal. People who suffer from FODMAP sensitivity may only have issues with one kind and not another. FODMAPs are divided into five categories:
Fructose: Fructose, a simple sugar found in many fruits and vegetables, also makes up the structure of table sugar and most added sugars.
Lactose: Lactose is the main ingredient in dairy products.
Fructans: Fructans are non-digestible and are ingredients such as garlic and onions or grains like wheat, rye and barley.
Galactans: Galactooligosaccharides, commonly known as galactans, are also non-digestible and can be found in legumes such as beans, chickpeas and lentils.
Polyols: Polyols are sugar alcohols found naturally in some fruits but primarily found in artificial sweeteners. Mannitol and sorbitol are naturally occurring sugars, while xylitol, maltitol and isomalt are added sugars.
Implementing a low FODMAP diet
The low FODMAP diet has been mostly studied in people suffering from IBS, which according to the Food and Drug Administration, includes 20 percent of the U.S. population. The benefits of a low FODMAP diet include less gas, bloating, stomach pain and constipation/diarrhea.
When starting the low-fodmap diet, you should stop eating high-fodmap foods. After two to six weeks, slowly reintroduce these one at a time into your diet to help identify the most troublesome ones for your gut. This will allow you to avoid certain FODMAPs while adding the other foods back into your diet.
Get relief with digestive enzymes
Completely eliminating FODMAPs is difficult to do while maintaining a well-balanced diet. The good news is you can also get relief by using a blend of specialized enzymes and spore-forming probiotics that assist the body in properly digesting highly fermentable foods. More specifically, you should look for a formula that contains ingredients like alpha-galactosidase, which helps break down galactan and invertase, which helps digest sucrose.
Whether you know you have a FODMAP sensitivity or are still in the learning process, you can find relief by understanding how FODMAP foods react with your body and incorporating supplements into your daily routine to aid in digestion.
Author: Justin Marsh is the Founder and CEO of Arthur Andrew Medical, a leading manufacturer of enzyme and probiotic-based dietary supplements, headquartered in Scottsdale.