Guide to low FODMAP label reading

Guide to low FODMAP label reading

Reading food labels can be a tricky business full stop, but decoding them whilst following the Low FODMAP Diet can be even more distressing.

Whether you’re eating out, searching for a sauce, or are in a rush on your lunch break and need to grab something quick, FODMAPs are present in so many different prepared foods and it can be hard to know where to begin. Ingredient lists are often a full paragraph long and regularly contain different and rather complicated chemical names, leaving you confused, frustrated and more likely to give up and grab something you shouldn’t.

So what can you do to help make it easier?

The list of high FODMAP ingredients commonly found in prepared foods is a long one, so instead of overwhelming yourself trying to remember every possibility, start by being aware of these most common high FODMAP culprits:

  • Sweeteners such as honey, high fructose corn syrup and agave
  • Wheat, barley or rye
  • Sugar alcohols ending in ‘-ol’ such as sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol
  • Onion and garlic, as well as onion/garlic salt or powder. Packets might also have ‘spices’, ‘natural flavours’, or ‘flavours’ written vaguely
  • Fibres including inulin and chicory root
  • Fruit juice concentrates, or purees made from high FODMAP foods such as apples or pears

Items such as cereal bars, pre-prepared sandwiches or ready meals, chewing gums, medicines, sauces, stocks, yogurts, ‘free-from’ products, marinated meats, breakfast cereals and jams are often common sources of sneaky high FODMAP ingredients. Take extra care when looking at the labels of these.

Remember that ingredients on food labels are listed in order of weight. So the first ingredient listed is in the highest quantity and the last ingredient listed is in the lowest quantity. When your gut is feeling better and you’re starting to re-introduce higher FODMAP foods, you may choose to eat products which have high FODMAP ingredients such as onion powder listed right near the end. As always, it’s recommended to go slowly and try foods that are new to you in small amounts to see how you tolerate them. It might be delicious but you can eat more later!

Whilst label reading is a really important way to spot FODMAPs, be aware that high FODMAP ingredients aren’t always easy to identify. Even if you find a product that looks like it would be safe, go easy and use trial and error to confirm that you are able to tolerate it.

Look out for products that are certified Low FODMAP by FODMAP Friendly (a product testing and certifying body with a green logo) or Monash University (a blue logo) so you can be sure they’re safe to eat.

Don’t expect to be a perfect shopper from the start! If you’re new to the Low FODMAP Diet, be patient with yourself and allow extra time for label reading when you’re out grocery shopping or picking up some lunch on the go. Over time reading labels will become easier and you’ll build up a bank of go-to products you know work for you and your gut.

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not a medical or FODMAP nutritional professional. I am simply sharing my own experiences and tips on this post. The table above is not exhaustive.

Beginners guide to the elimination phase

Beginners guide to the elimination phase

Information surrounding the Low FODMAP Diet can be complicated and as a result misconceptions often arise. A common misunderstanding is that once on the diet, all FODMAPs should be avoided long-term, but (as you might be pleased to know), this isn’t true at all!

The Low FODMAP Diet can be split into three phases:

1) the elimination phase

2) the re-challenge/reintroduction phase

3) the maintenance phase

In this article, we’re going to break down the elimination phase, which is the only time where all foods high in FODMAPs should be strictly avoided. Two to six weeks  long, the goal of this initial phase is to identify that it is indeed foods high in FODMAPs that are causing your gastrointestinal symptoms. All high FODMAP foods need to be removed from your diet and the focus placed on eating low FODMAP foods instead. Ideally, significantly reducing the amount of FODMAPs you eat should significantly reduce your IBS symptoms. Some people might feel better in the first week, while others can take longer – it’s important to remember that everybody’s different.

It’s recommended that the elimination phase continues only for 2-6 weeks while you gain symptom control. Think about it as if you’re giving your gut a lovely holiday; a break from food that might be irritating it. Once your symptoms are under control you can then start the next phase: reintroduction, with the guidance of your dietitian. It’s really important that some high FODMAP foods are reintroduced back into your diet as they’re super important for long term gut health. As a general rule: the more diverse your diet is, the healthier your gut is likely to be.

Starting the elimination phase can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are five tips to help give you a great start on your FODMAP journey:

  • Set up a food, mood and symptom journal. This can be a really useful tool to help to identify triggers; whether they might be as a result of a food, mood or both. Symptoms can appear up to 48 hours after you eat, so it’s a great way to help keep track of them.
  • Download a FODMAP smartphone app (such as the Monash University or FODMAP Friendly apps) and do your research. Understanding the diet and exactly how your digestion works can be really empowering and help you feel more in control. If you’re working with a doctor or dietitian they should have given you some information too.
  • Have a clear out. That’s not to say you should throw all high FODMAP containing foods away – especially if you’re living with others. But it might help to create a section in the kitchen that’s yours, whether that’s a cupboard, or a shelf on the fridge. Know that it’s your food safe space that you can return to in confidence.
  • Get your shopping list at the ready. Although you’re avoiding high FODMAP foods for two to six weeks, this part of the diet is not about deprivation. Be prepared with delicious low FODMAP foods that you can eat, so you’re not tempted to munch on something you’re meant to be avoiding.
  • Have some go-to recipes and put together a meal plan! You don’t have to stick to either rigidly, but starting with a solid base can help make things feel more manageable.

Good luck. You’ve got this!

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not a medical or FODMAP nutritional professional. I am simply sharing my own experiences and tips on this post. Everybody is different and this is a guide to help explain this phase of the diet.

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