Low FODMAP diet foods include eggs and spinach

Low FODMAP Diet Plan: How to Start? (+Recipe)

By: Mia Syn, MS, RDN

You may have heard of the low FODMAP diet and be curious if it is right for you. The answer would depend on your diet goals. This isn't a weight loss plan. Instead, it is a gut health management tool.

The low FODMAP diet is a three-step elimination diet often recommended for those with gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It helps people discover which foods may be problematic, and it helps reduce signs of an unhealthy gut. In particular, the low FODMAP diet reduces certain kinds of carbohydrates or FODMAPs that are hard for some people to digest. That gives their digestive system room to move.

But it isn't easy! A lot of healthy foods are high FODMAP, so sticking to a low FODMAP plan takes some work. But while the diet is restrictive, it is meant to be a temporary, short-term eating plan that will lead to long-term benefits.

What is a low FODMAP diet?

FODMAP is an acronym that stands for a certain class of carbohydrates called fermentable short-chain carbohydrates. The full acronym stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols.

The small intestine absorbs FODMAPs poorly, and this can cause digestive distress for some people, including cramps, irregular bowel movements and constipation. The low FODMAP diet temporarily restricts these carbohydrates to help relieve these uncomfortable symptoms and give your digestive system a rest.

The types of FODMAPS

The two main types of fermentable oligosaccharides are fructo-oligosaccharides (fructans) and galacto-oligosaccharides (galactans), which act as prebiotics and support the growth of healthy gut microflora.

While oligosaccharides are beneficial for most people, those with digestive disorders may experience digestive discomfort when consuming them. Wheat and onions are two of the biggest sources of fructans in the American diet.

  • Disaccharides

    include lactose, a fermentable sugar found naturally in dairy milk.
  • Monosaccharides

    include fructose, the sugar found in fruits. Some fruits contain higher amounts of fructose than others, such as watermelon and mangos, so not all fruits are considered equal on a low FODMAP diet.
  • Polyols

    are sugar alcohols commonly found in artificial sweeteners and naturally in some fruits such as cherries and nectarines. Some common polyls are lactitol and mannitol.

Does a low FODMAP diet work?

If you follow the FODMAP diet under the guidance of a gastroenterologist or registered dietitian, it is safe to try, and it and may be beneficial in the long run as you identify and eliminate problem foods. The low FODMAP diet has a high success rate for people with IBS, but up to 25% of them still may not benefit.

While research is more limited for other conditions, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a low FODMAP plan might help manage symptoms in those individuals.

Who should start a low FODMAP diet?

Generally, the low FODMAP diet plan is prescribed for limited periods of time for people with IBS. It can also be used as a short-term elimination diet for those with SIBO or anyone experiencing digestive discomfort, such as irregular bowel movements, who wants to try to identify what foods may be a trigger.

Low FODMAP food list

Fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy foods vary in the amount and type of FODMAPs they contain. The good news: low FODMAP-approved foods can fit into a range of diets, including Mediterranean, keto, flexitarian, and diets focused on anti-inflammatory effects, brain health and more.

Here are some foods low in FODMAPs to include during the first phase of the low FODMAP diet. If you are unsure about a certain food, speak with your doctor or dietitian before adding it. 

  • Eggs
  • Canned tuna, fresh fish like salmon and trout, and fresh seafood like oysters and shrimp
  • Fresh meat like beef, chicken, lamb, pork and turkey
  • Some vegetables, such as carrots, collard greens, cucumber, green beans, kale, parsnips, potatoes, radish, bell peppers, spinach and squash
  • Fruits like oranges, guava, papaya, pineapple and passion fruit
  • Gluten free and wheat-free breads and grains, such as buckwheat, oats, millet, brown rice and quinoa
  • Brazil nuts, flaxseeds, chestnuts, pine nut, peanuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts
  • Certain condiments, such as almond butter and peanut butter (made with just nuts), maple syrup, mustard, soy sauce and tahini paste
  • Certain cheeses, such as brie, cheddar and swiss
  • Lactose-free milks, including almond milk, hemp milk, oat milk and rice milk
  • Some cooking and baking ingredients, such as garlic-infused oil, avocado oil, olive oil, basil, oregano, black pepper, cinnamon, salt, nutritional yeast, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda

High FODMAP foods list, or foods to avoid when on a low FODMAP diet

These are high FODMAP foods to avoid when following a low FODMAP diet. For a more complete food list, consult with your gastroenterologist or dietitian—but these are a good starting point:

  • Beans
  • High-fructose fruits, including apples, avocado, blackberries, cherries, dates, mango, nectarines, pears, plums and peaches
  • Certain vegetables, such as garlic, onions, asparagus, cauliflower, shallots and artichokes
  • Wheat-based and gluten-containing products, including breads, crackers, cereals and flours
  • Most dairy products, including milk, yogurt, kefir and ice cream 
  • Condiments such as agave, hummus, honey, jam and pesto
  • Certain foods labeled "sugar-free"
  • Food items sweetened with high fructose corn syrup

How to start a low FODMAP diet

The low FODMAP diet is a three-phase plan that incorporates an elimination phase, a reintroduction phase and a maintenance phase.

  • During the elimination phase, individuals avoid all high FODMAP foods and only enjoy foods low in FODMAPs.
  • During the reintroduction phase, individuals systematically add foods back in, in small amounts.
  • During the maintenance phase, individuals keep in foods that are well-tolerated and leave out foods that aren't. Ideally, individuals could then continue to eat intuitively, employing a calm mindset that supports digestion while being mindful of avoiding food triggers.

Here are some meal planning tips to help set you up for success:

  • Keep a food diary

    : Keep a journal of everything you eat during the FODMAP diet reintroduction phase and what symptoms appear. This is essential for identifying what foods may be a trigger for you.
  • Prepare foods at home when possible

    : Meals prepared outside the home, such as restaurants and fast-food establishments can be full of FODMAPs, even when they are not obvious or intuitive. Make a shopping list each week and double check which options are low FODMAP foods and which are high FODMAP foods to set yourself up for success.
  • Keep a FODMAP foods list handy

    : Whether you are out to lunch with a coworker or need to grab a snack on the go, having a low FODMAP list on hand is essential to making smart choices.

3-day low FODMAP meal plan

Here is a sample 3-day meal plan featuring low FODMAP recipes and ingredients to set you up for phase one of the low FODMAP diet.

Day 1 meal plan

  • Breakfast: 2 fried eggs with crumbled feta cheese, 1 orange and a slice of sourdough bread
  • Lunch: Gluten-free spaghetti bolognese (recipe below)
  • Snack: Small handful of raw walnuts, peanuts and pumpkin seeds
  • Dinner: Baked salmon with brown rice and olive oil-roasted carrots, eggplant and zucchini

Day 2 meal plan

  • Breakfast: Smoothie with pineapple, orange, spinach, ginger and almond milk
  • Lunch: Turkey-stuffed bell peppers topped with shredded cheddar cheese
  • Snack: Hard-boiled egg with salt and pepper
  • Dinner: Plant-based tofu stir-fry with carrots, bok choy and red bell pepper cooked with olive oil

Day 3 meal plan

  • Breakfast: Cooked oatmeal with soymilk, sweetened with maple syrup, topped with walnuts and sliced strawberries
  • Lunch: Spinach, sundried tomato and feta-stuffed chicken served with cooked quinoa
  • Snack: Sliced cheddar cheese with gluten free (wheat-free) crackers
  • Dinner: Taco-stuffed baked sweet potato with lean ground beef cooked in oil and FODMAP-friendly taco seasoning (no onion or garlic), topped with shredded cheddar cheese, romaine lettuce and diced Roma tomatoes

How long should you be on a low FODMAP diet plan?

Healthcare providers generally recommend following the elimination phase until symptoms subside, for at least 2 weeks and no more than 6 weeks. Reintroducing foods will vary depending on the individual, but this phase averages about eight weeks.

Homemade recipe to kick off your low FODMAP diet

Enjoy this classic comfort food meal with a low FODMAP twist. For lower carbs, replace gluten-free pasta with spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles, both of which are low FODMAP.

Low FODMAP Gluten-Free Spaghetti Bolognese

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

8 ounces gluten-free noodles, cooked
1 tablespoon garlic-infused olive oil
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
½ cup green leeks, finely chopped
1 lb. lean ground turkey
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried basil
2 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp black pepper
¼ cup tomato paste
1 ½ cup boiling water
Grated parmesan and fresh basil for topping (optional)

Preparation

  1. Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium-high heat, and cook the carrots, leeks and beef with the seasonings.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the tomato paste and boiling water. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Serve the bolognese sauce over pasta and top with parmesan and basil, if using.

Nutritional values per serving

Calories: 509
Carbohydrates: 45 g
Protein: 20 g
Fat: 37 g

Can I meet my nutritional needs while following a low FODMAP diet?

Because the FODMAP diet is meant to be followed for the short term under the guidance of a doctor or dietitian, you can meet your nutrient needs if you follow the plan to the letter.

However, incorporating nutrients can help support your gut health.

Studies suggest that adding nutrients such as glutamine to a low FODMAP diet may help ease IBS symptoms and work with the FODMAP diet for IBS management. Additionally, some studies suggest that probiotics, digestive enzymes and other nutrients for bloating may be beneficial.

About the Author: Mia Syn, MS, RD is a national on-air nutrition expert, host of Good Food Friday on ABC Charleston and one of the most recognized and trusted young dietitians in the media. With a master's degree in human nutrition from Columbia University and over 500 TV appearances, she has helped millions of viewers, readers and clients learn and implement healthier, sustainable eating habits. NutritionbyMia.com

References

Scientifically Reviewed By: Holli Ryan, RD, LD/N

By: Mia Syn, MS, RDN