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An Insight into Low FODMAP Diets

By Dr Jane Muir PhD (Head of Unit) and Dr Jane Varney PhD (Senior Research Dietitian) from the unit of Translational Nutrition Science, Department of Gastroenterology, Monash University.

The Department of Gastroenterology at Monash University conducts a major research program into the use of diet to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  IBS is characterised by chronic and relapsing symptoms, including lower abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, wind, distension and altered bowel habits (ranging from diarrhoea to constipation), but with no abnormal pathology. The Monash team has discovered that IBS symptoms are relieved in 75% of sufferers, when a group of poorly absorbed short chain carbohydrates (FODMAPs, which stands for Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Disaccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols), is restricted from the diet. FODMAPs are found in a whole range of foods including garlic, onion, wheat, rye, legumes, lentils and certain fruits and vegetables.

Owing to the restrictive nature of this diet, the Monash team emphasises that it is not appropriate for healthy individuals with no gastrointestinal disorders to follow a strict low FODMAP diet.  Rather, a low FODMAP diet should be trialled under the guidance of an experienced dietitian, for a period of 2–6 weeks. After this time and under the guidance of the dietitian, FODMAP containing food should be gradually re-introduced into the diet.

The team at Monash is focussed on translational research and has developed a number of tools which enable them to communicate their research findings to people suffering IBS. These include the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet Booklet and the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App suitable for iPhone and Android devices. These tools draw on data from Monash research that has quantified the FODMAP content of different foods. The App and booklet provide accurate information about foods that may aggravate IBS symptoms, enabling sufferers to better manage their IBS symptoms. The App has been overwhelmingly successful having been downloaded in over 60 different countries and having reached number one in over 30 countries. In Australia, the App remains number one in the medical category for both android and iPhone.

Consistent with their translational research agenda, the team at Monash has launched the Monash University Low FODMAP Certification Program. The certification program aims to make it easier for consumers with medically diagnosed IBS to identify and select low FODMAP food choices. Membership of the certification program enables food manufacturers to have their brand specific product information (including product pictures and website links) included in the App, thus low FODMAP certified food products display a green light against their branding to clearly indicate to consumers that the food is low in FODMAPs. Some food manufacturers may also display the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet Stamp  on their food packaging, enabling consumers to quickly and easily identify low FODMAP food choices on the supermarket shelves.

The certification program seeks to promote the consumption of high quality, healthy foods, thus only foods which meet strict nutrient criteria for FODMAPs, fat, saturated fat, sugar, salt and fibre are eligible. Major categories of foods that are suitable for the certification program include: cereal grain products; legumes, nuts and seeds; fresh fruit and fruit products; fresh vegetables and vegetable products; milk, dairy products and alternatives, and quality convenience foods.

The certification program will be launched in October 2014. Should food manufacturers wish to learn more about this exciting new initiative, they should contact med-lowfodmap.certified@monash.edu

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