FODMAP refers to fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. The ingredients are not digested but draw water while they pass through the small intestine and produce gas as they are fermented by the gut bacteria in the large intestine, causing bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms in susceptible people.
High FODMAP foods include dairy products containing lactose, fruits and sweeteners high in fructose, onions, garlic, and some beans and vegetables.
Research into FODMAPs has been driven by scientists at Monash University in Australia, which certifies low FODMAP products and offers an app to help consumers find low FODMAP ingredients and products in their area.
“Food manufacturers are now seeking low FODMAP certification of their products under the Monash Certification program, due to an increase in consumer demand,” explained Dr Marina Iacovou from Monash University.
'For over 45 million North Americans living with IBS, eating is a constant source of stress'
In the US, companies such as Nestlé are investing in the category with its ProNourish ready-to-drink meal replacement for individuals adhering to a low FODMAP diet, explained Derek Timm, PhD, RDN, functional ingredient technology expert for Taiyo International, which offers the low FODMAP Sunfiber ingredient, a partially hydrolyzed guar gum.
“In addition to selling a product, they are also providing education on FODMAPs through the Low FODMAP Central website. Several other companies are launching low FODMAP varieties of conventional foods, which will continue to grow this category,” said Dr Timm.
Indeed, an important trailblazer is Canada-based FODY Foods, which sells low FODMAP products including snacks, sauces, marinades and dressing, and soup bases. The company recently announced that it has raised $2.25 million in a Series A financing round led by Avrio Capital, a leading Canadian food-specific private equity investor.
Steven Singer, FODY’s founder and CEO, was co-founder and CEO of gluten-free brand Glutino, which was acquired by Boulder Brands for $66 million in 2011. He told us: “FODMAP seems so much more complex than gluten-free. People have to think about 12 or fewer almonds and no garlic. Dietitians told me that some people with IBS are afraid to eat. They suffer anxiety in grocery stores because they don’t know what to eat. People should still be allowed to have ketchup.”
FODY has been in the market for about 18 months now and the company offers over 20 items. Initially the products were only available online, and then via Amazon, but are now available in Wegmans (which was the first US retailer to carry the brand) and Hy-Vee, with more to come this year, said Singer.
“We’ll see a major change in retail in 2018. Low FODMAP foods will have a much bigger retail presence. 2018 is the year that low FODMAP is going to explode,” said Singer.
The challenge? Awareness
In order for that to happen, awareness needs to improve, admitted Singer. “People don’t get it enough, and that’s the challenge. Gastroenterologists understand it more and more, while dietitians truly get it. They’re the sales team for low FODMAP.”
The US market may follow a similar trajectory to Australia, where awareness of FODMAP is widespread. “In comparison to Australia, the FODMAP market in the US is relatively new, however, we believe that there is rapidly increasing awareness of the low FODMAP diet by consumers in the US who contact us every day seeking low FODMAP products and recipe ideas,” said Monash’s Dr Iacovou.
“We are frequently seeing more and more information on websites and in the media promoting the use of the low FODMAP diet for the treatment of IBS around the world – so awareness is only going to keep growing.”
Taiyo’s Dr Timm thinks that the path to increasing consumer understanding of FODMAPs shouldn’t be too difficult since they already understand how lactose affects lactose intolerant individuals.
“Once consumers learn that lactose is also a FODMAP, it will help increase their overall understanding of how other FODMAPs affect the digestive tract,” he said. “Eventually consumers could associate high FODMAP foods with digestive discomfort and may seek gentler, Low FODMAP Certified varieties of products they already habitually consume.
“The Monash University Low FODMAP Certification symbol helps consumers identify and trust that foods are truly suitable for low FODMAP diets due to the rigorous certification process,” explained Taiyo’s Dr Derek Timm.
“It is very important that this does not become the next ‘fad-diet’ or promoted as a ‘healthy-diet’ for everyone,” cautioned Monash’s Dr Iacovou.
“This is not a diet ‘free’ of any component of food – meaning it is not a gluten-free, FODMAP-free or dairy-free diet. We are simply reducing the FODMAP content in people’s diet to a dose that is suitable for people with IBS and helping food manufacturers provide consumers alternative options that they can trust. This is done by clear recognition of Monash trademarks on product packaging.”
IBS and beyond
“A Low FODMAP Diet is now backed by a strong body of evidence for the treatment of IBS,” explained Dr Marina Iacovou from Monash University.
“There is some evidence for managing IBS-symptoms associated with other conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and endometriosis, but it does not treat the underlying medical condition of these conditions. There is also some evidence for its use in athletes and breastfeeding mothers who have infants with colic.”