Help! I’ve improved my diet and now I have worse digestive pain and bloating - I should feel better not worse!
It is ALWAYS a good thing to clean up your diet by reducing processed foods and increasing nutrient rich fruit and vegetables, wholefoods etc.. but what if you do this an you actually feel WORSE rather than better?
Most of the time, people begin to feel a whole lot better with a few simple diet changes. Reducing sugar and refined foods and being more mindful of getting adequate fruit and vegetables, healthy fats and proteins and adequate fibre and water is always good from an overall health perspective.
A small amount of people however, may begin to notice some positive health changes such as clearer skin and more energy but may also actually begin experience more digestive symptoms than prior to changing their diet.
How can I be feeling worse?
When we clean up our diets, one of the things we often increase are fruits and vegetables and wholegrains or legumes.. and this is a good thing!. However, some people can experience difficulties digesting the fibres or naturally occurring carbohydrates found within these healthy foods..
This is such a common issue that these food groups have been given an acronym of FODMAPS foods.
What are the FODMAPS foods?
FODMAPS is an acronym for:
Fermentable Oligosaccharides- found in grains and some vegetables
Galactans/galacto-oligosaccharides- found in legumes
Disaccharides- such as lactose found in milk
Monosaccharides such as fructose found in fruits in varying amounts
Polyols- found in some fruits and also in artificially sweetened foods.
The FODMAPS are groups of short-chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols (polyols) which are a natural component of many commonly eaten foods and are only problematic in some individuals. These naturally occurring carbohydrates actually have some health benefits in that they provide fibre and prebiotics to support digestive health, but where gut function is compromised they can begin to cause issues.
This may be due to them not being well digested, therefore remaining in the digestive tract for longer periods causing fermentation to occur which results in symptoms such as bloating and stomach distension, gas and wind.
FODMAPS commonly cause problems in people who experience IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or IBS like symptoms. They also draw water into the intestines which can increase bowel motions and promote diarrhoea.
Where the FODMAPS foods are causing issues, it is not uncommon for there to be bacterial dysbiosis (imbalance of beneficial and not so beneficial gut flora/bacteria) and bacteria which normally resides in the bowel(large intestine), can be found in overgrowth in the smaller intestines. This bacteria begins to break down and metabolise these carbohydrates causing bloating, wind and gas.
How do you find out if FODMAPS are causing your symptoms?
The most effective way is via a temporary elimination of all FODMAPS containing foods and then a re-introduction of one category at a time and a monitoring of symptoms. Whilst the list of FODMAPS foods may seem long, most people are reacting more to some than others.
Once the aggravating foods have been identified, it can be a good idea to continue to avoid them for a temporary period of time whilst addressing overall gut function to increase digestive capacity and rebalance gut flora etc.
Once your gut is functioning better, you are more likely to be able to tolerate a gradual reintroduction of the previously eliminated foods.
There is also a breath test which can measure your ability to digest FODMAPS which requires a referral from your GP to see a Gastroenterologist.