FODMAP and IBS

So lots of you have messaged me asking for information or advice about ways in which you can ease symptoms of IBS. It seems to be something that a LOT of people are experiencing and something that is really difficult to understand and manage. I don't suffer from IBS personally, but it is something that my sister has been dealing with for the past few years. In her quest to understand more about her own body and the ways in which she can influence the severity of her condition, she has spent hours and hours researching, talking and learning about IBS. Now, as she embarks on a course in Naturopathic Nutrition at CNM, she is more interested than ever in raising awareness about this condition and so I thought she would be the perfect person to share a little about what she has learned so far, in order to help guide some of you lovely readers that have been searching for some help! So over to Ellie... "I was hardly surprised yesterday when I saw a newspaper reporting that as many as 1 in 5 of us suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or ‘IBS’. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t hear of a friend dealing with the infamous post-meal bloating, stomach cramps, or unglamorous trips to the loo that the condition presents. Although it’s usually considered more of an annoyance than a serious medical condition, for some, IBS can be a really debilitating problem.

Unfortunately there is no ‘quick fix’ or ‘magic cure’; IBS tends to be a chronic condition, coming and going in waves of severity or, as the doctors like to call them, ‘flares’. Furthermore, what triggers these flares differs from person to person; one individual might be sensitive to certain foods, whilst another sensitive to stress, or both, which can make pinpointing and avoiding the culprit hard work.

What I’ve learnt from my own experience is that there is a strong connection between my emotions and gut, with stress and anxiety playing a major role in my digestive health (I recently read an interesting book called ‘Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ’ by Giulia Enders, which helped me realise the extent to which this is the case). To manage this, I try to incorporate as much balance into my life – counteracting a busy working week with self-hypnosis and yoga practice.

However a ‘stressful metropolitan schedule’ is by no means the only culprit in my case. My favourite pastime, eating, is also held strongly accountable. Which brings me to talk about FODMAP – the strange acronym that has been receiving a lot of press lately.

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols – or, in other words, a collection of carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found in many foods. Over the past few years, researchers at Monash Univesity in Melbourne have been discovering a strong correlation between these FODMAPs and Gastrointestinal disorders including IBS. During our bodies’ digestive process, foods high in FODMAPs ferment in the lower part of our large intestine, drawing in water and releasing gases that cause it to expand.

In some people, this results in bloating and other unpleasant symptoms. A diet that is low in FODMAPs (“a Low FODMAP Diet”) has been scientifically proven as the most effective dietary therapy to relieve symptoms of IBS, as well as fatigue, lethargy and poor concentration. Slowly making its way to mainstream medical practice, it’s being haled as the first ‘official treatment’ for IBS. In fact, this year Kings College London, who is honorably leading gut research development in the UK, announced that they’d train 500 doctors in FODMAP coaching.

It works like this – an individual complaining of gastrointestinal problems is introduced to a vigorous 8 week FODMAP elimination phase, followed my several weeks of controlled re-introduction of different sugar groups designed to identify ‘trigger foods’.

But this Low FODMAP Diet comes at a price, with tons of delicious foods failing to make the cut – take avocados, dates, mushrooms, garlic, online, cashew nuts and cauliflower for example. For this reason, many people I’ve come across are understandably reluctant to go through with it…it is quite a sacrifice after all!

However for me (and other committed soles), the energy and relief that the diet unearthed after only a few days into my 8-week elimination phase was enough to motivate me to stick to the challenge. During my journey, I came up with a few ways to make things easier, such as printing off a list of low-FODMAP foods to take to the supermarket to ensure I made the right food choices. For the first time in 5 years I felt improvement! A year on, by-and- large I maintain a low-FODMAP diet, supplemented by a miracle pre-biotic drink called ‘Symprove’ to keep my gut health on track. One thing I have found though – many of the recent healthy/clean eating/refined sugar free cookbooks available are packed full of recipes containing high-FODMAP foods, with ingredients such as dates, cashew nuts, honey, beans and cauliflower having a real moment.

Whilst some dishes are easily adaptable with a little imagination, I still find sweet things and on the go snacks a little tricky, so do my best to come up with new ideas. (Check out Ellie's most recent creation here)

I’m mad about ginger and cacao at the moment, so it’s no surprise I reached for those as I was throwing ingredients together. Texture can be a little tricky when it comes to gluten and dairy free baking, so I patted the dough out thinly to ensure a crisp finish, and topped them with roasted hazelnut sprinkles for added crunch. I also made a conscious effort to keep the sweetness right down by adding a very small amount of coconut palm sugar and maple syrup (note that they are both low-FODMAP sweeteners). All in all they make a great sweet snack that are simple and fun to make. And they look pretty good too!"

So I hope that in sharing a little about what Ellie has experienced and understood can help you with your quest to get in touch with your gut. She is a brilliant cook and is hosting her first Supper Club at her beautiful flat in South London in December. Tickets are just £20, available here.

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