The gut plays a crucial role in your overall health and well-being, but can sometimes be overlooked. There has been a lot about gut microbiome in the media lately, so we thought we’d share a little bit more about it for you, with a focus on supporting your gut microbiome while on the low FODMAP diet.
So – what is the gut microbiome? Your gut microbiome helps break down foods, produce vitamins, support your immune system and can even impact your mental health. This means keeping it healthy should be a top priority.
This article will cover:
- FODMAP Chat Video with registered dietitian Chloe Swiney from Monash FODMAP Team
- What is the gut microbiome?
- Why is a healthy gut microbiome important?
- What impact does the low FODMAP diet have on the gut microbiome?
- How can you support your gut health while on the first phase of the low FODMAP diet?
- Why is the reintroduction phase of the FODMAP diet important for long-term gut health?
- Where do prebiotics and probiotics fit?
FODMAP Chat Notes
Supporting Your Gut Microbiome while on the Low FODMAP Diet
Host: Alana Scott from A Little Bit Yummy
Monash University FODMAP Dietitian: Chloe Swiney
What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome is a big topic and it can be quite confusing. When people talk about the gut microbiome you might hear them refer to it as gut bacteria or gut microbiota. Essentially, the gut microbiome is all of the gut bacteria that you can find within your gastrointestinal tract which stretches from your mouth, all the way through your stomach, and intestines to the end of your digestive tract (your rectum).
You have trillions of gut bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract and most of them reside in your large intestines. We want to focus on having a lot of bacteria and we also want to have lots of different varieties – this variety is called diversity. Having a balance of all these different types of healthy bacteria is really important when it comes to overall health.
Why is a healthy gut microbiome important?
Your gut microbiome isn’t just idle and sitting there in your intestines, we’ve got all these bacteria working on our vitamin production, our immune system, our digestion, and there are even links now between our mental health and our microbiome. Essentially, your gut microbiome is like having another organ in our body that we need to stay healthy, so we do not want to neglect it and instead, want to help keep it nourished.
What impact does the first phase of the low FODMAP diet have on the gut microbiome?
Our gut microbiome is impacted by our diet and lifestyle. This means dietary changes, like the low FODMAP diet, will have an impact on our gut microbiome. Essentially our gut bacteria live off fermentable carbohydrates (aka high FODMAP foods), it’s their favourite thing to eat. When you are on the first phase of the low FODMAP diet, removing these high FODMAP foods impacts your gut microbiome as it reduces their energy source and what they can digest. It’s really important that as you go through the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet you do it in a supported way to make sure you’re still providing these gut bacteria with nutrients, so they can do all the great work to support our bodies. It really becomes a balancing act between having enough food for the bacteria and helping you to reduce symptoms.
How can you support your gut microbiome while on the low FODMAP diet?
It’s really important to find those foods that have a good amount of fibre but also have these low FODMAP green-rated serves. Lots of foods that are listed as red (high FODMAP) in the Monash University FODMAP Diet App still have smaller serving sizes that are low FODMAP (these are the green-rated serves). You can include these green-rated serving in your meals during the first phase of the diet.
Another good option is to include resistant starch, which is a type of fibre that is less fermentable. This type of fibre is less likely to cause gut symptoms but is still a great food for our gut bacteria. Foods that contain resistant starch include underripe bananas (ones that are on the greener side), oats, potatoes and other root vegetables. When it comes to potatoes these need to be cooked and then cooled to produce the resistant starch – so think about dishes like potato salad or having leftovers where the potato has been cooked, stored in the fridge, and then reheated the next day.
We also have some prebiotic foods that have low FODMAP serving sizes. For example, beetroot, oats, nuts, canned lentils, and canned chickpeas. Yes, these foods can be high FODMAP but they still have low FODMAP serving sizes that you can use during the first phase of the low FODMAP diet. Check the Monash University FODMAP Diet App for information on the serving sizes of these foods.
Why is the reintroduction phase of the FODMAP diet important for long-term gut health?
The reintroduction phase is about figuring out which of the FODMAP groups trigger your symptoms so you can bring more foods back into your diet. In the long term, we want you to have as many foods in your diet as possible so your gut bacteria get lots of variety. The reintroduction phase gives you a systematic approach that helps you figure out what foods to bring back in while keeping your symptoms settled. It might feel really scary, but hopefully, you’ll discover foods that are full of these rich fibres that our gut bacteria like that you can bring back in to support your long-term health.
Where do prebiotics and probiotics fit? Should they be used during the low FODMAP phase or the reintroduction phase of the diet?
Prebiotic fibres are food for our gut bacteria that are often found in high FODMAP foods. You don’t need to eliminate prebiotic fibres entirely just focus on using the green-rated serving sizes for foods in the Monash University FODMAP Diet App.
In terms of prebiotic supplements, we would recommend avoiding those unless they have been tested and certified as low FODMAP by the Monash University Low FODMAP Certification Programme. Once you’ve finished the reintroduction phase you can test your tolerance to different prebiotic supplements and fibres to see how they affect you.
Also, take care with foods that are advertised as high in prebiotics – you want to check the labels and check that the food hasn’t been fortified with high FODMAP ingredients like inulin/chicory root, or fructooligosaccharides (FOS). If the food product contains these ingredients then we’d recommend avoiding them during the first phase of the low FODMAP diet.
Probiotics are often advertised as having the ability to ‘fix’ gut symptoms or improve gut health. Probiotics are products (either supplements or foods) that contain live bacteria, and you’ll often see them in cold foods or fermented foods like yoghurt or sauerkraut. There’s not a lot of strong evidence on probiotics and their use with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) at this stage. As we’ve mentioned, everyones’ journey with IBS and gut health is different so probiotics might be beneficial for some people, for others they might have no effect, and for a few they could make symptoms worse.
During the first and second phases of the low FODMAP diet, we don’t want you to try too many things at once, otherwise, you won’t know if the low FODMAP diet is working for you. Our suggestion is to not worry about probiotics during the low FODMAP diet – if they are already in a low FODMAP food (like lactose free yoghurt) then that’s great, but we wouldn’t suggest starting a probiotic supplement. If you want to try probiotics then either try them before you start the low FODMAP diet or once you are in the long-term phase of the FODMAP diet.
There are plenty of ways you can support your gut microbiome while on the low FODMAP diet. Make sure you keep your diet varied by using the green-rated serving sizes of high FODMAP foods and try including some resistant starch in your meals. Remember that the reintroduction phase is important and you should be moving into that phase after a few weeks on a strict low FODMAP diet.
Image credit: Helena Nechaeva/Shutterstock.com