Certain symptoms after eating like abdominal pain and cramping can make you wonder if you have a food allergy or sensitivity. You can visit an allergist or have blood tests done, but they won’t always pick up possible food intolerances that could be causing your discomfort. One such possibility is that you are sensitive to FODMAPs, or fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Let’s learn a little more about food intolerances and how you may be able to figure out if you have a FODMAP sensitivity.
What is a food intolerance?
A food intolerance is different from a food allergy. Although a food intolerance can impact quality of life in a negative way, it’s not life-threatening like a food allergy. For example, if someone with a milk allergy consumed milk, then they could develop anaphylaxis, which could constrict breathing in severe cases. However, if someone had a food intolerance to the milk sugar lactose found in cow’s milk and milk products, then they would primarily experience digestive symptoms like gas, abdominal pain, and bloating.
The difference biologically between the two conditions is that a food allergy occur when a person’s immune system has an abnormal reaction to a protein found in a particular food. On the other hand, food intolerance occurs when someone cannot absorb or digest a food component well leading to primarily digestive symptoms.
Besides lactose intolerance, examples of food intolerances include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Sulfite sensitivity
- Celiac disease
When it comes to FODMAPs, those diagnosed with IBS generally experience less symptoms when they follow a low FODMAP diet. But, what exactly is a FODMAP and why does it cause symptoms?
FODMAPs, as mentioned above, are certain types of carbohydrates (sugars) that can trigger digestive symptoms in people who cannot absorb them properly in the gut. Such symptoms may include gas, bloating, abdominal pain and cramping, as well as diarrhea and/or constipation. These symptoms occur in many people with the condition IBS.
Common foods that contain high levels of FODMAPs include grains like wheat and barley, vegetables like garlic, onion, asparagus, and cauliflower, dairy products like cow’s milk, and fruits like apples, cherries, and mangoes. Those with a FODMAP sensitivity cannot tolerate very much of such foods, if any of such foods at all, before developing uncomfortable digestive symptoms.
How do I know if I have a FODMAP sensitivity?
Although there is not one gold standard test for detecting food sensitivity, there are a few options you can try such as:
- Antibody-specific food sensitivity tests: These tests measure your production of immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to foods. Research shows that those with IBS that eliminated foods that they tested high in IgGs for found symptom relief.
- Breath tests: Breathing tests, such as a hydrogen breath test for lactose intolerance, measures the level of H2 and CH4 gases in a person’s breath. These particular gases are produced when the bacterial fermentation of unabsorbed intestinal carbohydrate is excreted in the breath.
- Elimination diet: Basically, an elimination diet is a regimen that cuts out certain foods from the diet for a short period of time before slowly reintroducing them. A food and symptom diary is recommended during this time to help determine if certain foods you reintroduce cause any symptoms. If they do, then it is likely that these are your symptom trigger foods that you may have to cut from your diet for the long-term to prevent symptoms.
What to do if I have a FODMAP sensitivity
The low FODMAP diet is an example of a regimen that includes an elimination diet phase that can be done to determine if you are sensitive to FODMAPs. If you find after this regimen that you are sensitive to FODMAPs, then according to Monash University, you should take the following steps:
- For two to six weeks, substitute any high FODMAP foods in your diet for low FODMAP foods such as the ones on this list.
- Over a period of eight to twelve weeks, slowly introduce one high FODMAP food into your diet every three days. It’s important that you don’t rush this process since you want to give your body time to process each food so you can determine as accurately as possible which foods, if any, that you reintroduce cause you symptoms.
- Once you know which foods cause symptoms and which don’t, then you can customize your diet to meet your digestive health needs.
It may be helpful to work with a registered dietitian who specializes in gut health issues to help you get started on the low FODMAP diet. And if the low FODMAP regimen doesn’t seem to help your symptoms lessen, then it may be helpful to visit a gastroenterologist or other qualified healthcare provider for more extensive testing to see what may be causing your symptoms.
Take home message
When you have digestive discomfort, it can be a frustrating and painful journey to figure out what is causing your symptoms. However, with the help of a qualified healthcare provider like a registered dietitian that specializes in gut health and/or a gastroenterologist, you can find relief. They can guide you towards a proper diagnosis and help you find a regimen that will prevent and manage symptoms. For more information on gut health and the low FODMAP diet, be sure to visit the Casa de Sante website.