What FODMAPs Are

The FODMAPs acronym stands for Fermentable Oliogosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides And Polyols—all of which are carbohydrates. Fermentable carbs are those that bacteria digest for you.

The FODMAPs diet was developed to deal with functional gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain or discomfort. Here’s what those big words in the acronym mean:

  • Oligosaccharides are fructans (aka prebiotics: the food for the bacteria in your intestines, including FOS and inulin) and galactans (the components of beans and cruciferous veggies that make them hard to digest). These actually make everybody gassy at high enough doses.
  • Disaccharides: primarily the FODMAP disaccharide is lactose (dairy).
  • Monosaccharides: the only one that is a FODMAP is fructose (the fruit sugar).
  • Polyols: these are sugar alcohols, or any sweetener ending in -ol (sorbitol, erythritol, maltitol, etc.) Some of these are naturally occurring in fruit, but they’re often used as sweeteners. These, too, will make everyone gassy if they consume enough of them.

High FODMAPS Foods

In case you’re wondering what FODMAPS are in English, here are some of the biggies by category:

  • Dairy (because of the lactose)
  • Sweeteners: Products containing sugar alcohols, as well as honey, agave, and High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Grains: Wheat, Rye, Barley
  • Fruits: peaches, cherries, mangos, melons, avocados, apricots, plums, apples, pears, and nectarines, as well as dried prunes, raisins, currents. (Since fructose is a FODMAP, you may be wondering why all fruits aren’t on the no-no list; the reason is because as long as fructose is not in excess of glucose, or as long as the fructose content isn’t excessively high, even FODMAPs sensitive patients can usually tolerate it in moderation.)
  • Veggies: asparagus, beets, broccoli, mushrooms, sweet corn, cabbages, peas, onions, garlic, and leeks.

Why FODMAPs Cause Problems

If you don’t have a super robust gut (if you don’t have enough digestive enzymes, for instance, due to leaky gut or SIBO, or IBD—Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis), then simpler carbs that ought to get broken down by your digestive system, don’t.

When this happens, instead of getting absorbed and used for energy, these carbs hang out in your intestines, and the bacteria that live there (good or bad) will break them down for you. Byproducts of this process include gas and lactic acid—and on top of that, the gas itself can slow down your gut motility (meaning waste moves through you slower than it should).

The shorter the carbohydrate chain, the faster this fermentation process can happen.

Short chain carbs will also draw more water into your intestines, leading to distention and exacerbating the digestive disturbances. 

Testing for whether the FODMAPs Diet is Right for You:

Remember that the oligosaccharides and polyols will cause digestive problems in everyone at a certain threshold—the only question is where that threshold is for you.

Not everyone has a problem with fructose or lactose, though. In order to determine whether you’re one who does, you might consider taking a breath test. Like with SIBO, this test can help you find out whether you have fructose or lactose malabsorption issues. If you don’t, then you can consume those foods without an issue. 

The Upshot:

In many cases, digestive disturbances are relatively simple cases of food allergies, dysbiosis, or candidiasis. These don’t generally require long-term fancy diets. Treat the cause, and the problems resolve.

If you have persistent symptoms even after these possibilities have been explored, or if you have SIBO or IBD, though, you’re much more likely to have issues with FODMAPs foods. Like the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and the GAPS diet, the FODMAPs diet recommends removal of all offending foods for 6-8 weeks, and then beginning a reintroduction challenge with one food at a time once symptoms are gone. This is because even FODMAPs sensitive patients may not have a problem with every single food on the FODMAPs list.

There’s a lot of overlap with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, the GAPS diet, and the FODMAPs diet—all of them restrict carbs and minimize beans. But, just to make your life a little more complicated, some foods are allowed on one diet plan and disallowed on another.

Every body is different, so it may require some testing (breath testing, or removal and reintroduction) to determine the best protocol for you.