Dairy Free Me

Living without dairy and eggs

The Low FODMAP Diet for IBS

I suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which can be a real nightmare. I started this website some years ago when my husband found out he was allergic to dairy and eggs. He finds that by cutting them out from his diet he is symptom-free and can happily continue eating everything else. If you have IBS unfortunately it's not that simple.

My IBS came on in 2010, after a bout of food poisoning. I have since learnt that this is quite common, as the food poisoning (or gastroenteritis) messes up the equilibrium of bacteria and in your guts. Given that we had already been through the process of eliminating dairy, I tried to find if a certain food was triggering my symptoms. At the time it seemed to be gluten, and on the advice of my doctor I cut out gluten from my diet. I had already had a test for celiac disease which was negative. Going gluten-free seemed to be controlling the symptoms, but after a while I was still finding that I was getting symptoms such as bloating and the dreaded diarrhoea. I know that stress sets me off, but also sometimes out of the blue I would get a flare-up of symptoms.

Thinking that perhaps I was missing something, I went to see a nutritionist who introduced me to the Low FODMAP diet. This diet was developed by scientists at Monash University in Australia and studies have shown that it can improve the symptoms of IBS. For a full explanation of FODMAPs, see the Monash website, but a brief summary is that there are certain types of dietary sugars that do not get easily absorbed in the guts and so they sit there and ferment. This leads to bloating, pains, diarrhoea and constipation. These sugars are the FODMAPs: Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Disaccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols. The theory is that by reducing the amount you eat of the foods containing FODMAPs, the less IBS-type symptoms you will get.

I should state for the record that it is a very good idea to consult with a medical professional before you embark on a low-FODMAP diet, or any sort of elimination diet. It is important to rule out other conditions such as celiac disease. In my experience it is difficult to get an appointment with a dietician, especially where I live in Swansea, UK. As I'm sure anyone who has IBS will agree, the symptoms have such an impact on your day-to-day life that you are willing to give anything a go. So I thought I would try the low FODMAP diet.

The good news is that I have found it definitely helps my symptoms. The bad news is that there are a lot of foods that contain FODMAPs, it's pretty complicated in fact. Monash University have made a mobile phone app which I have found very useful.

To give you an idea, here is a list of foods that are high in FODMAPs. Bear in mind that the list is continually being updated as the process of testing foods for FODMAPs is ongoing. Some of the foods can be eaten in small amounts and the app helpfully suggests portion sizes that should be tolerated.

  • Grains: Wheat and rye
  • Dairy: Milk, cream, yoghurt
  • Certain vegetables: onions, garlic, cauliflower, savoy cabbage, mushrooms
  • Certain fruits: apples, pears, peaches and other stone fruit, mango, watermelon
  • Sweeteners: Honey, sorbitol, mannitol

You might find that you only react to some FODMAPs and others don't cause any issues. The idea of the diet is to eat a strictly low FODMAP diet for 2-6 weeks and then reintroduce the foods to see how much you can tolerate. This step is best done with the advice of a dietician, if you have access to one.

Interestingly it is not specifically gluten that is high FODMAP, but wheat. Therefore the FODMAP diet recommends gluten-free products but you do have to be careful that there are no other FODMAPs lurking in there such as apple fibre. From a dairy-free point of view, you might find that soya milk (the normal go-to milk replacement) can cause issues due to soya beans being high FODMAP.