I have had a rocky ride with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I was diagnosed with it as a university student in 2007, after I had agnoising abdominal pains that kept me awake and horrific belching.
Blood tests ruled out coeliac disease and I had an ultrasound which was clear. I was offered an endoscopy – an investigation where a tube is shoved down your throat – but mum warned me off, telling me what a traumatic experience it was for her.
I tried all sorts of remedies. Peppermint tea which helped in the short term, a low dose of antidepressant medication, which completely stopped symptoms but induced vivid nightmares, and psyllium husk (found in the brand Fybogel) which made me feel sick. You had to quickly drink grains floating in water. It was hard to pinpoint which particular foods set me off. No pain relief medication helped.
A 2013 medical study concluded that the low FODMAP diet offers leads to significant improvement for the majority of those with digestive disorders, around 15% of the world’s population. Research suggested that certain carbohydrates were responsible in 1988 and the diet was developed following further studies. I have found that I no longer have stomach pains before or after eating and I no longer get bloating. It has given me significant relief.
Around 75% of patients in two small studies found that their symptoms had improved. More research needs to be undertaken as this could be a cheap option for the National Health Service rather than relying on medication. It should be recommended to all patients complaining of digestive discomfort. A Gastroenterology journal entitled A FODMAP Diet Update: Craze or Credible? concluded: “evidence indicates that the FODMAP diet provides an effective approach to managing patients with FGID [digestive disorders].”
I discovered the FODMAP diet through online research. This stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols.
The theory is that some fruits, animal dairy products, wheat products, beans, garlic and onion (containing Fructose, Lactose, Fructans, Galactans and Polyols) are incompletely absorbed and are harder to digest. IBS sufferers appear to be particularly sensitive to them. For a full list click here and go to the bottom of the page.
A main plus point is that it is not a restrictive diet. You could still have trigger foods, just less of them. It was only onions and garlic that the diet recommended completely avoiding. This only caused a problem with curries. Spring onions were a decent substitute for stir fries and garlic puree in stir fry sauces did not cause me any trouble.
The aim is to try the diet for six weeks and then introduce one trigger food a week and see how much it affects you.
A typical day included:
Porridge or muesli with lactose-free milk, banana and coconut flakes
I like lacto free milk by Arla, it is still cow’s milk and tastes the same, but with an enzyme added to break down the lactose. There is no point trying goat or sheep milk instead – it still contains lactose.
Almond milk tends to stick in the back of the throat, hemp milk tastes too watery and coconut milk is too sweet. Forget soya milk as soy beans are on the list of foods to limit.
I’ve saved money by bulk buying a kilograme of oats rather than ready-made porridge sachets. Simply add a quarter of a cup of oats to half a cup of milk and half a cup of water (or 40g oats, 175ml water, 175ml milk) and microwave for two minutes, microwave for two minutes more. You may need to practice this on a weekend first as it depends on your microwave wattage.
I got ready-baked oats which are a minute or two quicker, but they don’t taste as nice as standard Scottish ones.
Pasta or potato salad (I was able to handle the small amount of gluten pasta for lunch)
Green salad with mozzarella slices
Gluten-free pasta and sauce or
or steak, spinach and potatoes (for days when I’m tired and need an iron boost).
Snowconut frozen yoghurt – gluten and lactose free as it is made from coconut milk this is a tasty alternative
Melon (not watermelon – this is high FODMAP)
Strawberries and a little cream
Unfortunately there is not much lactose free yoghurt available but I find that in small quantities I can usually tolerate it.
I recently had wheat pasta again and as anticipated, I had a sore tummy approximately an hour later. Rice pasta is just as good if you get thicker varieties such as penne and fusilli. I will be eating lunch portions only. Before sport I avoid any trigger foods. I have also cut down on my alcohol intake as this makes my symptoms flare too. If I am out drinking I try to alternate with juice.
If you try it let me know how it goes. You can find checklists online to take when you’re shopping, such as this one. Remember you need to reduce/avoid intake of any high FODMAP foods for six weeks before you start reintroducing foods on this list. It may be helpful to keep a food diary during this time.