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Potential Harm of Low FODMAP Diet

So, What is a FODMAP?

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligsaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Poloys.  These compounds are carbohydrates (sugars) and poloys that easily ferment in the gut, and are not easily absorbed.  Because of this they frequently cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea.  It's no wonder then, that a diet low in these compounds known as a low FODMAP diet is often recommended to IBS patients and people with gastric distress ranging from exercise induced gastric discomfort to Crohn's disease.  But have we jumped the gun on this dietary protocol?

FODMAPs are found in dietary items including diary products, gluten containing products (cereals, breads, etc.), legumes (including soy), most fruits, and some vegetables.  Often, FODMAPs are also added into processed foods as sweeteners or thickeners. On a low FODMAP diet, these dietary items are limited or eliminated.  Some versions of the diet eliminate all FODMAPs for a short period of time before reintroducing them slowly.

Why is a Low FODMAP Diet Potentially Harmful?

FODMAPs Have Positive Effects on the Body

FODMAPs are not all bad.  These nutrients play a vital role in the microbiom that is the gut and the long term effects of drastically limiting or eliminating them entirely is still unknown.  The fermentation of FODMAPs aids in the growth of specific prebiotic microflora.  It also produces fatty acid chains that in turn increase energy and protect the colon from cancer.  FODMAPs also effect immune function, and calcium absorption.  They add bulk to bowel movements, and can lower levels of cholesterol and other fats.

Nutritional Risks

A FODMAP diet is very limited.  It eliminates or restricts whole food groups and that can be a nutritional issue.  People following this diet may be at risk of a diet deficient in a number of antioxidants, vitamins from the B and D groups, iron, calcium, zinc, and folate.  Furthermore, some of the nutritional substitutes and alternatives required to reach a full nutritional range under this diet can be very expensive.  This puts people who may have trouble affording these alternative dietary products at a greater risk of a nutritional deficiency while following this diet plan.

Does the Diet Work?

The problem is, it can be hard to say.  There have been a number of studies but there are a few issues with the ability of these studies to truly evaluate the diet's efficacy.  For one thing, the diet is hard to stick to because it is so limiting, so subjects have a hard time complying especially during longitudinal studies.  Also, there is no test for FODMAP intolerance so it is hard to evaluate whether or not individuals are being effected by FODMAPs or if something else is occurring, especially because there is still so much we don't understand about the gut as a microbiom.

Moreover, how exactly is low FODMAP defined?  What amounts of these foods are allowed and which ones, and does that make a difference as to the efficacy in relieving gastric distress?  There are so many foods containing FODMAPs and it is a diverse group of compounds.  Is there any way to conclude that it is more effective than the standard IBS diet or Crohn's diet already recommended?

Personal Experience

I have been on the IBS diet which is similar to the low FODMAP diet and had a small amount of relief from my IBS-C symptoms.  Recently, however, I have been on a diet very close to the low FODMAP diet.  I avoid carbohydrates including fruits although I eat a limited amount for nutritional purposes.  I have also cut out refined sugars, yeast, alcohol, caffeine, diary, and a few select foods that I showed an immune response to.  This diet along with prescription probiotics and antifungals to prohibit yeast overgrowth in my gut, have very much improved my digestive health.

I realize that there is still a vast amount left to learn about the gut as a mocrobiom and the interactions of the microorganisms that take place there.  I respect the complexity and power of my body, but I also believe that sometimes it needs to be helped along.  My nutrition is better now than before I was on this limited diet because before my stomach was always in so much pain that it was difficult to eat much of anything except bread.  I had pain, nausea, reflux, and vomiting constantly, but now I can eat a salad without fear, and I think that is much better for my nutrition.  I was in a crisis digestively when I started my (sort of) low FODMAP diet and it helped me regain gastric health, but I can understand why this diet should not be taken lightly or be seen as a cure-all fad for more minor digestive complaints.  Knowledge is power and every treatment has side effects (unfortunately).


Catassi, G.; Lionetti, E.; Gatti, S.; Catassi, C. The Low FODMAP Diet: Many Question Marks for a Catchy Acronym. Nutrients 2017, 9(3), 292; doi:10.3390/nu9030292.

Sending You Healing Hugs And Hope,



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