We’ve dealt extensively with how pre-and probiotics can influence your gastrointestinal tract and why it’s vitally important to keep your digestive system functioning optimally – we all know happy guts equal happy bodies. But in an age of ever-increasing food sensitivities, another topic is raising its head as a potential culprit of digestive issues: FODMAPs.

FODMAP is short for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols; and in laymen’s terms they are short-chain carbohydrates that some of us are unable to digest.

Studies have shown a link between these tiny carbs and stomach problems like bloating, cramps, constipation and diarrhoea. For those unaffected by digestive disorders, FODMAPs will pass through their system without issue, but for those prone to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other stomach ailments, FODMAPs can wreak havoc. So, what exactly happens when we eat these short-chain carbohydrates? Well, as these simple sugars reach the far end of the intestine, they are normally used as food by the friendly gut bacteria, but while the friendly gut bacteria tend to produce methane gas, the bacteria that feeds on FODMAPs tends to produce hydrogen gas which can cause distention of the gut and lead to the aforementioned bloating, cramps and constipation. In addition to this, FODMAPs also tend to draw water into the intestine which in turn can contribute to diarrhoea.

According to FODMAP 101 by Authority Nutrition, common FODMAPs include: Fructose – these are the simple sugars found in many fruits and vegetables. Fruits very high in FODMAPs range from apples and cherries to peaches and watermelon; high vegetables range from artichokes and asparagus to broccoli and peas. Lactose – the carbohydrate found in dairy products, from milk and ice cream to cheese and yoghurt. Fructans – found in wheat and all its forms like bread, pasta, crackers and waffles; and other grains like barley and rye. Galactans – found in many legumes from beans, lentils, and baked bean to chickpeas. And Polyols – found in sweeteners like xylitol and sorbitol, and also honey and high fructose corn syrup.

It’s quite disheartening reading though this list, and it’s by no means exhaustive, but the important thing to remember is that for the majority of people, many of the above foods are actually healthy foods; it’s only if you’re in the minority battling IBS or similar symptoms that researching a FODMAP intolerance might be valuable. It’s said that up to 15% of the population are suffering with IBS and while there’s no well-defined cause, what we eat – along with our stress levels – definitely impacts on the severity of the symptoms. So, if you know someone struggling with digestive issues, it might be worth their while (along with the help of a doctor or dietician) taking a closer look at FODMAPs – with any luck they can identify and eliminate their specific trigger foods so that they too can have a happier gut.