The Low-FODMAP App for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A diet that has the potential to manage symptoms in three out of four people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is now at your fingertips. Researchers from Australia's Monash University have been implementing the low-FODMAP diet for some time, noting its ability to help many people with digestive woes gain back their life. And newly released app lets people with IBS bring the low-FODMAP diet wherever they go.

What Is a FODMAP?

Although the name may sound like the latest GPS technology, FODMAP is actually an acronym coined by a pair of Australian researchers: Sue Shepherd, a dietitian; and Dr. Peter Gibson, a gastroenterologist. FODMAP means:

Fermentable (Produce Gas)
Oligosaccharides (Fructans and Galacto-oligosaccharides)
Disaccharides (Lactose)
Monosaccharides (Fructose)
And
Polyols (Sorbital and Mannitol)

 Simply put, FODMAPs are a group of small carbohydrates found in common, everyday foods such as: wheat, apples, onions, milk and even watermelon, that can contribute to bloating, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation in individuals who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  The FODMAP family includes: lactose, fructose (only when found in excess of glucose), fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides (also known as GOS), and polyols.

The concept of the low-FODMAP diet was developed through research at Monash University. Dr. Jane Muir, head of translational nutritional science, led the first group in the world to measure the majority of FODMAPs in food. "The purpose of accurately measuring FODMAP content is so we can design a diet where we actually know what we are changing," Professor Gibson says. "In the past there have been many diets which were proposed to help IBS symptoms, whereas our research at Monash has been done to profile the evidence that enables doctors, dietitians and health professionals to accept the information and change how they manage patients with IBS."

How Do FODMAPs Impact IBS Symptoms?

Poorly absorbed FODMAPs draw water into the intestine, which can contribute to diarrhea and fermentation by intestinal bacteria, causing gas and bloating.

Individuals who have IBS seem to be more vulnerable to the aftermath of poorly digested FODMAPs, perhaps because the amount of gas produced in their large intestine is greater or their gut is hypersensitive to the osmotic effects of FODMAPs.

To begin to navigate the world of FODMAPs, start with this FODMAP checklist on my blog. It separates the cautionary foods—those notoriously high in FODMAPs—from the FODMAP-friendly foods which contain negligible amounts.  Individuals that embark on the low-FODMAP diet should seek guidance with a registered dietitian experienced with the diet to help ensure it is followed accurately and is nutritionally balanced. Although shopping for a low-FODMAP diet may seem daunting at first, this easy to read low-FODMAP grocery list will help streamline the process.

Yes, There Is an App for That!
Monash University Low-FODMAP Diet

The research team at Monash recently launched a new smartphone application that provides accurate information about foods that trigger IBS reactions. The app is in response to the increasing interest in the FODMAP content of food. "We had a growing database and wanted to make this information available" says Dr. Muir.  "A smartphone application is an ideal way of delivering information to where it's needed—to IBS patients, health professionals and scientists in the field."

On the Monash-developed app, foods are listed in the application using a traffic light system (red=avoid; green=eat without fear) and according to serving sizes.  For instance, a half cup of broccoli may be well tolerated but more than that could trigger symptoms.

The application will be updated every 12 months. It is currently available only at Apple's iTunes Store (with a planned launch in Android devices next year).  All proceeds from the sale of the application go to the Department of Gastroenterology at Monash University to fund further research.

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Kate Scarlata
Kate Scarlata, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eating Well with IBS. Read her blog at KateScarlata.com and follow her on Twitter.