Translating eating plans from the theoretical to the practical can prove challenging - and one shining example of this is the low-FODMAP diet . Recommended in the treatment of a range of different gut disorders (most notably IBS), putting its guidelines into action can prove to be a logistical nightmare due to the prevalence of FODMAPs (naturally occuring sugars called Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols) in an abundance of everyday foods. However new guide, The Low-FODMAP Recipe Book looks to address this problem and provide sufferers with a useful how-to for eating their way to a happier and healthier gut.
Written by specialist gastroenterology dietitian Lucy Whigham, the book equips readers with the tools needed to better understand their symptoms and tailor their eating habits to their particular needs. Why are FODMAPs of particular note for those with gut problems? Unable to be completely broken down during digestion, they’re later fermented by the bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal tract to give rise to some uncomfortable symptoms. “In susceptible people (aka those with a sensitive tum), the gas produced can lead to excessive wind, bloating, pain, cramping and tummy gurglings,” explains Lucy. Other side-effects can also include diarrhoea or frequent bowel motions.
Touted for its ability to give sufferers a greater degree of control over something which at times can feel completely out of their hands, Lucy has long been recommending the low-FODMAP diet to her clients in her work at a leading NHS Trust and at her London Harley Street Clinic. Shaped by her experiences, her book breaks the diet down into practical and filling chunks, providing low-FODMAP friendly and delicious recipes for breakfasts, snacks, quick meals and dinner parties. Giving an in-depth insight into the causes behind common gut disorders, the book is balanced, well-rounded and sensible in its approach, (for instance, Lucy recommends the importance of consulting a doctor or dietitian first and also provides a section on what to do if you don’t respond to a low-FODMAP approach). As for the eating plan itself, it’s split into three key stages - the elimination phase (where high-FODMAP foods are eliminated for 4-6 weeks), the re-challenge phase (where FODMAPs are reintroduced in a controlled way so you can identify the foods that are causing your symptoms) and finally, the maintenance phase. Furthermore, useful lists and tables and handy tips for eating out provide ample low-FODMAP food for thought to takeaway with you.
Tempted to give it a read? We spoke to the author herself to find out who it’s for, how it can help and her insight on the research behind it.
GTG: Who’s the book and diet for?
LW: The low-FODMAP diet can help those who suffer from a sensitive gut or tummy troubles such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain or distension, diarrhoea and constipation. It can also help with symptoms experienced by those with inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis and those with coeliac disease.
People that do not have tummy problems do not need to follow a low-FODMAP diet…it is not more ‘healthy’. FODMAPs are not ‘bad’ for our health BUT they can cause major problems for those with a sensitive gut who are prone to excessive wind, bloating, pain, cramping, tummy gurglings, diarrhoea or frequent bowel motions.
GTG: What do you feel is the most compelling piece of research that supports the diet?
LW: Unlike a lot of ‘diets’ that promise miraculous effects, there is good clinical evidence that supports the use of the low-FODMAP diet in helping gut symptoms. In the last 10 years there have been over 20 studies that show avoiding FODMAPs helps alleviate symptoms of IBS.
One of my favourite pieces of research is this UK study by King’s College London . The authors looked at symptom control in IBS sufferers who were following a low-FODMAP diet compared to those following ‘standard’ dietary advice for IBS. 86% of participants in the low-FODMAP group experienced a response in their symptoms, compared to only 49% of those following standard dietary advice. 82% reported an improvement in bloating, 85% had improvement in abdominal pain and 87% in flatulence (compared to 49%, 61% and 50% respectively in the standard advice group). This study compared the low-FODMAP diet for the first time to what, at the time, was ‘best practice’ dietary advice and clearly showed significantly more improvements in those following the low-FODMAP diet. Exciting stuff!
GTG: What do you wish more people knew about IBS, Crohn’s Disease and other gut disorders?
LW: That knowledge is power. Understanding more about what affects our gut function (such as stress, genetics, diet and gut bacteria) can help alleviate some of the frustration that goes hand in hand with suffering from IBS and helps bring you closer to managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life. I feel passionate that everyone who suffers from significant IBS-type symptoms that interrupt their daily lives should be educated about how our diet can affect symptoms and how the low-FODMAP diet can help up to 75% of people with IBS see significant improvement.
GTG: Are there any factors that people should bear in mind before embarking upon it?
LW: I would recommend anyone who is considering embarking on the low-FODMAP diet to seek support from a dietitian but this is especially important if you are underweight, have inflammatory bowel disease or coeliac disease or are known to have weak bones. It is perfectly possible to follow a balanced diet while following a low-FODMAP diet, and my book can provide lots of ideas for breakfasts, snacks, quick meals and dinner party worthy dishes, however, if you suffer from these conditions you need to take extra care that you are meeting your nutritional requirements.
GTG: A low-FODMAP shopping list can be pretty tricky to put together. Do you have any tips?
LW: Online shopping is often the most convenient way to shop when you have a busy life but for the first few weeks, I would recommend making time to go round the supermarket physically. It is easier to check labels this way and also see what is available and get ideas of suitable foods by browsing the shelves.
Making a meal plan for the first few weeks using specific low-FODMAP recipes can help you stick to the diet and make it feel more manageable. It also takes away that overwhelming feeling of ‘what can I eat?!’. Once you get used to eating the low-FODMAP way, you will find you are more confident to put together suitable meals on the spot.
I would also suggest that you don’t need to buy lots of fancy ‘free-from’ products. Concentrate on basing your meals on naturally low-FODMAP foods: carbohydrates such as rice, oats, potatoes, quinoa and buckwheat. Proteins such as meat, poultry, eggs and fish are all suitable and using plenty of ‘allowed’ vegetables and salads. The more you cook from scratch, the less label reading you need to do! It is when you rely heavily on processed foods that it becomes more difficult to stick to a low-FODMAP diet as key culprits are hidden in so many pre-packaged foods. Give yourself a head start and decide on some recipes you will use for the first week. It will help guide what you put in your shopping basket.
The Low-FODMAP Recipe Book by Lucy Whigham, £14.99 is published by Aster £14.99 ( www.octopusbooks.co.uk ). Buy online here .