Two years ago now I had some pretty stressful times. Life kept giving me a big scoop of difficult, over and over. But I got through. What copped a beating though, was my digestive system.
Chronic high stress and not having the time to look after myself with proper nutrition and exercise made my bearable IBS turn into full blown ‘can’t ignore the signs’ stomach troubles. My IBS now had a companion – fructose malabsorption.
My skin broke out, my nails were tearing and frail, I looked tired, I had trouble sleeping, I was emotionally unstable, I’d bruise easily and they would take ages to heal, and I lost weight (not the good kind – the kind where my brother told me my head looked a bit big for my body!).
I went from regularly eating things like fat-free natural yoghurt, lots of fruit, tofu, soy sauce and the occasional intake of legumes/beans to a really strict FODMAP diet, and then to a modified paleo. Learning about FODMAPs changed the way I thought about food.
What are FODMAPs exactly?
A pretty tough topic to understand, so let’s break it down!
FODMAP – it stands for fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols.
Basically, types of carbs that cause a lot of gas, discomfort and toilet troubles because they don’t get absorbed too well in your small intestine. Because the small intestine says ‘no thanks, move on’, these carbs get an access all areas pass to your large intestine. The normal bacteria in your large intestine think all their Christmases have come at once, and feast away. It turns into a teen party with a Facebook invitation that’s been set as ‘public’ – out of control. Gas starts forming, your stomach balloons out, you get discomfort, pain, the gurlging and churning, and for some of you, you begin to hunt for your nearest bathroom, stat.
So what are these detonators of destruction?
– known as fructans and galactans in food.
– found in:
Fructans = Artichokes (Globe), Artichokes (Jerusalem), Asparagus, Beetroot, Chicory, Dandelion leaves, Garlic (in large amounts), Leek, Onion (brown, white, Spanish, onion powder), Raddicio lettuce, Spring Onion (white part), Wheat (in large amounts), Rye (in large amounts), Inulin, Fructo-oligosaccharides.
Galactans = Legume beans (eg. baked beans, kidney beans, borlotti beans), Lentils, Chickpeas.
– known as lactose in food
– found in: Milk, ice cream, custard, dairy desserts, condensed and evaporated milk, milk powder, yoghurt, margarine, soft unripened cheeses (eg. ricotta, cottage, cream, mascarpone).
– known as (too much) fructose in food
– found in: Honey, Apples, Mango, Pear, Watermelon, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup Solids
– known as alcohol sugars or Sorbitol, Mannitol, Maltitol, Xylitol and Isomalt in food
– found in: Apples, Apricots, Avocado, Cherries, Longan, Lychee, Nectarines, Pears, Plums, Prunes, Mushrooms, Sorbitol (420), mannitol (421), xylitol (967), maltitol (965) and Isomalt (953).
Note: these foods are examples, and not a definitive list! Researchers are frantically testing foods as we speak to find out what has what. Our knowledge has improved ten-fold from when FODMAPs first came about, but it’s still a bit of a minefield for some unusual foods. Plus everyone is different so we react to different foods and different amounts.
Can I ever eat these foods again?
This was my first thought when I found out certain fruit and vegetables were “bad” for me too. I was devastated. An avid healthy eater, avoiding all the “naughty” foods, only to find out my “healthy” foods needed to be limited too! Can’t be right…..right?!
Well, I denied the evidence, and still to this day try and “test my thresholds” occasionally. Never with a good result. I don’t actually recommend knowingly doing this beyond the elimination and testing phase, but we are all human….
Long story short is, you can definitely eat these foods again. It’s all about finding how much you can have, and knowing what’s in the food you eat. This way you can balance your days to stay below your own personal threshold. This is because even though they are different types of carbs (FODMAPs), they upset your tummy pretty much in the same way. So you need to be aware of the types that set you off, and know that if you’re saving up for a special treat, you need to restrict the other types that upset you. So that when you do have your treat you won’t overload your gut.
Say for example I desperately wanted to eat an entire mango (fructose) for dessert, I would be careful to avoid FODMAP foods like wheat, beans, onions, dairy, fruit and any of my other triggers that day (or even better, a few days before), so that I had a better chance at tolerating the mango without really bad side effects. Some people may be much more, or way less sensitive to these foods and can get away with a higher load of FODMAPs before symptoms occur, it’s totally individual.
IBS signs beyond the gut
Tired? Lethargic? Achy? Emotional? Anxious? Feeling down?
Yep. Symptoms reported in people with IBS and fructose malabsorption. Studies are still being conducted to determine why, how and for how many people these symptoms occur, but if you have the other gut symptoms of IBS – bloating, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation….It’s likely the malabsorption of nutrients and imbalance of gut bacteria is causing or exacerbating some of these other problems.
Doesn’t sound like fun does it? Don’t stress (it will make it worse!). There is hope. You just need to speak to a dietitian (like me) to tailor your diet. You’ll be pretty quickly on your way to wearing a bodycon dress, without fear of sprouting a 6-month-old baby belly after dinner!
On a side note, it may not be IBS at all. If you’ve got symptoms like headaches, inflamed breakouts, rosacea, irritability, hives, asthma or other symptoms that aren’t gut-related, then you may have an issue with food chemical sensitivity. This also requires an elimination diet to determine what your triggers are and must be conducted under the supervision of a food chemical dietitian.
It is possible to control these symptoms. I’ve followed the Low FODMAP diet, and am now doing the Food Chemical Sensitivity diet, also known as Failsafe. I know exactly how you feel – the frustration, the restriction, the constant symptoms sucking out enjoyment from your day. But, there is hope and I can help you!
Reach out if you’d like to chat, or take this quiz to see if you have a food intolerance!