Low FODMAP diet: What is it, can it help IBS and what foods should you avoid?

A low FODMAP diet can bring blessed relief to those blighted by IBS, but knowing where to start can be daunting.

The term 'low FODMAP diet' may leave you scratching your head - but not for much longer, if Emma Hatcher, a long-term sufferer of IBS and a sensitive gut, has anything to do with it.

[Read more: TV's Nick Knowles: ‘It’s okay to be a part time vegan’]

What are FODMAPs?

FODMAPs - fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols - are types of short-chain carbohydrates that can be tricky to digest, and they can wreak havoc for some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common condition associated with digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and cramps.

They can be found in a wide range of foods, including certain fruits, veggies, grains and nuts - onions, garlic and apples are prime examples (though not everybody with IBS is affected by the same foods in the same ways).

Can a low FODMAP diet help IBS?

But cutting out, or cutting down on key culprits can help - and if anyone can vouch for the effective of a low FODMAP diet it's Emma.

"It was a light bulb moment of, 'Oh my God, this could actually really help'," the 23-year-old recalls of her dietician's suggestion to try the plan, following years of cutting out various foods to no effect.

"You don't realise quite how much it affects your life until after your symptoms have gone, and you think, 'Wow, I'm not thinking about when I'm next going to need the bathroom, or what I'm going to eat on my work lunch break today'.

"It's been a massive life-changer for me, and by the sounds of it, for a lot of other people out there as well."

Research has even shown that 76% of IBS sufferers who follow a low FODMAP diet see a significant improvement in their symptoms.

How can I follow a low FODMAP diet?

Essentially, high FODMAP foods are eliminated from your diet for six to eight weeks and replaced with suitable alternatives.

They are then reintroduced in small quantities in an effort to find a tolerance level while still keeping symptoms at bay.

Not everyone’s symptoms will be triggered by every FODMAPs. Some may find their symptoms are brought on by one or two of the food groups, while others could be sensitive to all five.

So for some this may mean cutting out dairy and fruit, while others may have to avoid vegetables and legumes.

The main groups to avoid are vegetables and legumes (particularly garlic and onion), fruit, processed meats, dairy, cereals, grains, pasta, breads, nuts, cakes, beer and fruit juices.

[Read more: Thinking about private health cover? Get a free, no obligation quote]

What can you eat?

Discovering that the information available was minimal - Emma recalls initially being handed "a very uninspiring, four-page leaflet with a big long list of foods to cut out" - the forward-thinking millennial embarked on a one-woman mission to show that the diet needn't be restrictive.

She's since been a pillar of support for countless others in a similar position, via her brilliantly titled lifestyle blog, She Can't Eat What?! Now, Emma's sharing her insights in her debut cookbook, The FODMAP Friendly Kitchen.

Initially "slightly scared" at the lack of resources, Emma explains the tome - a colourful smorgasbord of recipes, helpful meal plans and tips - was created with the intent of "distilling" the diet into digestible chunks.

"I wanted to make it easy for other people, to provide them with another resource that's not really science-y but simplifies and relays it from a personal experience.

"Food is a massive part of IBS and dealing with symptoms, but at the same time, there's the anxiety and stress side of things," she elaborates. "There's the question of, 'What am I going to do when I go out to a restaurant with my friends and order food?'

"I was really conscious I wanted to answer some of those questions."

As well as avoiding processed foods and sugars, Hatcher devised a menu of simple, healthy and delicious dishes, that all require no unobtainable ingredients.

"I'm not a chef, so if I can make them, anybody can," she insists. "These 100 recipes were designed to be that foundation; they're all completely low FODMAP, people can tailor them depending on their personal tolerances, and they're all really easy."

"If you do make a slip up, you might have rubbish symptoms for a day, but tomorrow is a new day," she says. "I was terrified to eat certain things, but you can't be so hard on yourself. Life is hard enough as it is, and at the end of the day, food is delicious and really fun, and should be there to be enjoyed."

[Read more: 6 top tips to beat irritable bowel syndrome the natural way]

"It's not a sugar-free diet, it's not a fat-free diet," she concludes. "You can still eat the foods that you could eat before, you just have to make those simple swaps, which might actually be better for your gut in more ways than one."

More from BT