Try a low FODMAP diet to ease your IBS symptoms

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Dairy products such as ice cream, milk, cheese, yogurt and custard contain lactose, a FODMAP that can cause IBS. (Thinkstock photo)

Do you suffer from flatulence, cramping or a bloated stomach? These are common gastrointestinal complaints often associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic medical condition affecting about 9 per cent of the population in Singapore.

Bloated stomach and other gastric symptoms can be caused by a variety of factors such as abnormal movement of the gastrointestinal tract, impaired food absorption, intestinal bacteria and psychological factors such as anxiety. In most cases, the cause is benign and the gastric discomfort can be resolved with dietary and lifestyle management.

“Abdominal bloating is a common complaint and may be due to numerous medical conditions involving both the gastrointestinal tract as well as other organs,” says Dr Wang Yu Tien, Consultant, Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

When the cause of bloated stomach and other IBS symptoms is the fermentation of poorly absorbed foods in the large intestine, a diet low in highly fermentable foods has been found to help. The low FODMAP diet, developed at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, is a diet which limits such highly fermentable carbohydrates. The low FODMAP diet may be recommended for patients suffering from IBS.

Related article: Not sure if you have IBS or something more serious? Find out more about stomach pain

What are FODMAPs?

FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates. The term FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides and monosaccharides, and polyols.

FODMAPs Food examples
Fructose Honey, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), fruits such as apples, mango, pear, watermelon
Lactose Dairy products such as ice cream, milk, milk powder, soft cheeses, yogurt , custard
Fructans Vegetables such as artichoke, garlic, onion; grains such as barley, rye, wheat; prebiotics added into foods such as inulin, FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides)
Galactans Beans, legumes, lentils, soy
Polyols Sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol (very often found in ‘sugar-free’, ‘low-carb’ and ‘diet’ products); and stone fruits such as avocado, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums

“FODMAP foods are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and when they travel to the large intestine, bacteria ferments them, which may give rise to wind, bloating and cramps,” says Ms Cherry Li, Senior Dietitian at the Department of Dietetics, Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

“These poorly absorbed foods also pull water into the intestines, which can cause watery stools and diarrhoea,” she adds.

Related article: Often have diarrhoea when you travel? Use these prevention tips from our doctors!

Following the low FODMAP diet

The dietitian will carry out a dietary and nutritional evaluation based on your gastric symptoms before recommending the low FODMAP diet. Typically, you will restrict FODMAP-rich foods for three weeks. The dietitian will recommend alternative foods to make sure your diet remains nutritionally balanced.

If your gastric symptoms respond to the new diet, your dietitian will reintroduce the restricted FODMAP foods one by one, to assess your level of tolerance to the food.

“In this way the dietitian will create an individualised eating plan for you, limiting trigger foods and incorporating the FODMAP diet approach, and ensure your diet is nutritionally balanced for the long term,” says Ms Li.

Related article: Your mental health affects your bowel habits too

General dietary tips for patients suffering from bloated stomach and other IBS symptoms

  • Avoid oily and spicy foods.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and carbonated beverages.
  • Eat frequent, small meals and avoid large meals.
  • Chew food well and eat slowly

IBS FORUM: Not sure if the low FODMAP diet is suited for you? Want to know more about the treatment methods for IBS? Get your questions answered by experts when you join us at “Living Well with Irritable Bowel Syndrome”, a forum on 23 Aug 2014 at SGH. Find out more about this event here.

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By Anjana Motihar Chandra for HealthXchange.com.sg.

Articles on HealthXchange.com.sg are meant for informational purposes only and cannot replace professional surgical, medical or health advice, examination, diagnosis, or treatment.