Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is thought to affect 10 to 20% of people in the UK. Luckily for sufferers, the world has recently seen the arrival of the low FODMAP diet, which in the last year or so has gone beyond niche well-being sites and entered the mainstream.
Yet despite the growing awareness and studies to back up the hype, there are still surprisingly few options aimed at the sizeable potential customer base. In comparison, gluten-free eaters are far better catered for, even though the Brits who actually suffer from coeliac disease make up just 1% of the population.
So are we going to see a surge in demand for low FODMAP food products in the UK?
What are FODMAPs?
FODMAP stands for ‘fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols.’ Put more simply, they are short-chain carbohydrates or sugar alcohols that are found naturally in some items or added to foods as flavouring.
These compounds can cause bloating and abdominal pain in people with IBS, which is why a low FODMAP diet is often recommended if initial clinical assessment and dietary and lifestyle advice has been ineffective.
The low FODMAP diet has been shown to improve up to 86% of a person’s symptoms. However, it should only be followed under the supervision of a dietitian and for a short time, before beginning to introduce some foods back into the diet.
What is a low FODMAP diet?
The low FODMAP diet was created by researchers at Monash University in Australia in 2008, and in 2009, researchers at St Guys and St Thomas’ hospital and Kings College London began investigating and adapting it to suit the UK population. One year later, the low FODMAP diet appeared in the British Dietetic Association IBS Guidelines.
It involves excluding (for a short time) foods high in FODMAPs, before reintroducing carbohydrates gradually while monitoring symptoms. The aim is to find a regimen suitable in the long term to the individual’s own tolerance.
Foods high in FODMAPs include wheat, onions, garlic, beans and pulses, some vegetables, honey, milk and dairy, and some fruits and fruit juice. In fact, the complete list of high FODMAP foods is quite long, which makes the diet very complex and time consuming for individuals to follow, as many meals need to be prepared and cooked from scratch.
Essentially, any dishes and snacks have to be wheat free, dairy free, lactose free and free from some very common ingredients such as onions, garlic and pulses.
Why the lack of low FODMAP food products?
One of the biggest challenges for people following a low FODMAP diet is the lack of pre-prepared ready meals or on-the-go snacks. With up to one in five people in the UK suffering from IBS, there certainly seems potential for significant consumer demand. As public awareness grows with more low FODMAP articles and recipes appearing in magazines and on social media, the food industry may have to step up to the challenge.
There are currently only a few FODMAP friendly brands, mainly in Australia and the US, offering pre-prepared foods. These tend to be sauces, soups and stocks that are likely to be technically simpler to develop and with a good shelf life.
However, one company in Scotland, Fodilicious Ltd, is on the verge of launching a range of low FODMAP ready meals.
Lauren Leisk, director at Fodilicious, says she was inspired by personal experience: “After suffering from IBS for years, and often finding it time consuming to make suitable meals from scratch, I wanted to make healthy FODMAP-friendly convenience foods more available for people.”
Making it more accessible
Registered dietitian and IBS specialist Lesley Reid recently worked with the Atlantic Brasserie in Glasgow, the first restaurant in the UK to provide a low FODMAP menu for its customers. Reid notes that “finding suitable low FODMAP food options when eating out can be a challenge, so it was great to help develop a whole menu of nutritious, suitable meals.”
The options are surprisingly subtle. You’d never even know the courgette and fresh mint soup with sunflower seeds was designed for low FODMAP diets except for the gluten-free bread, while the Barbary duck a l’orange with duck fat roasted potatoes, slow-cooked Belgium endive and an orange-scented chicken jus doesn’t hint at its free-from credentials.
There is actually a variety of FODMAP-friendly food products already on supermarket shelves, though not identified as such. Apps such as FoodMaestro, developed in partnership with Kings College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust, identify these options and help patients manage and track progress when following a low FODMAP diet.
With ready meals already a common choice with UK consumers, there are great opportunities to develop suitable convenience foods for those following the time-consuming diet. It may be a bit of a mouthful to say, but low FODMAP is a palatable alternative to bellyaching.