Let's just start this off by saying there are people who's stomach capacity and digestion I envy. There are those of us who have stomachs that operate on capacity with the Death Star's trash compactor in Star Wars. Even yelling “no, shut them ALL down!” wouldn't stop these people. Maybe they even have a secret stomach monster lurking in the depths, feeding on Luke Skywalker-type food particles. Maybe, I don't know.
I've always had a steady stomach, though. Blood, vomit and all manner of bodily fluids and nasty things never grossed me out. I rarely get sick or nauseous. But somewhere along the way from high school to now I picked up some annoying habits. Like NOT being able to digest any significant amount of dairy, which is a real bummer. I love milk. I love cheese. I love yogurt.
However, I also don't want to have constant gas, bloating and lead-gut feeling just because I am so adamant about eating the foods I love. I know lots of people who feel this way and live with digestive issues, some times not even knowing what they stem from. Don't get me wrong, though; I do NOT want to be a hypochondriac, thinking every little food is causing this or that issue or that all I can eat is meat, oil and lettuce. That's where I had to draw the line with Paleo. They have so many awesome suggestions and implementations and if you seek out many successful coaches you might find that they tend to eat Paleo-esque without even subscribing to it. However, there is no way I am cutting out tomatoes, eggplant and heavy cream. Why? Because they don't affect me.
Buuuuut......over the last couple years I have had issues with something. Something mysterious and nagging. At seemingly random times throughout the day and/or week, I would have gas, bloating and a heavy feeling in the stomach. At one point a year or two back, I was trying to get all my carbohydrates from Paleo sources. So, after a workout, I might consume 3 or 4 large sweet potatoes. I never felt like it was too much food in that I wouldn't be overly stuffed, plus I spread them out over two meals. But I kept getting this gas and bloating that lasted all night and into the morning and it was really frustrating.
John Kiefer and Jason Ferrugia have popularized white rice as a post-workout food recently. Jason Ferrugia especially, as he is really educated on digestion and prefers white rice because of its ease of bulk cooking, digestibility and glycemic index and load. So, for a time I switched to white rice only and what do you know? No gas, no bloating, even when eating 300 grams of carbs a day from mostly white rice.
Out of experimentation I started peeling my sweet potatoes before boiling them, or stripping off the skin after baking. Same wonderful epiphany! No digestives issues at all. From here, I started to delve deeper into why the hull of grains and skin of tubers was such an issue. I figured there were some starches that were not being digested and were fermenting in my gut, the same fate as lactose in those who lack sufficient lactase enzyme.
Without making this story any longer, there are a few key issues that can cause this intestinal stress, especially in my experience:
- Lack of enzymes/hydrochloric acid
I don't want to make this a lectin article as this issue has been done to death from the Paleo movement and it certainly is worth checking out. The basic premise is that your intestinal lining relies on something call “tight-junctions” to hold the cells together so no foreign material pass through unwarranted. Normally we rely on our own active transporters to move nutrients through the cell wall. If not, bacteria break it down and we excrete the material.
All this passage of glucose, fatty acids and amino acids cause some cellular damage through the intestinal lining and lumen (the wall of the inside space in the intestine), which is normal. However, lectins cause excess damage, weaken the tight junctions and create gaps in the lining, allowing foreign material to pass through. This can cause inflammation if foreign materials are floating around our bloodstream and anything fermentable that we don't have the enzymes to break down can make their way through and aggravate the lumen, creating gas, bloating and pressure on the organs. High amounts of lectins are found in wheat, nuts, seeds and the hulls of things like brown rice, tuber skins and other similar foods.
Enzymes and Hydrochloric Acid
Again, I'll keep this section brief. Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is mainly necessary in the stomach for starting the digestion of protein as well as killing bacteria and unwanted pathogens we may ingest in our food. HCL also signals the release of pancreatic enzymes as it enters our duodenum (the beginning of our small intestine), which is necessary for the actual chemical digestion of food, further down the line. We also rely on brush border enzymes in our intestines to breakdown all the constituent parts of fat, proteins and carbohydrates to their simplest forms, such as glucose, fructose, amino acids and the like. So, unless you have sufficient HCL and enzymes, other digestive issues might take a backseat. Simply raising HCL and/or enzymes can help a lot and can be a really easy fix, so address that before anything else, if needed.
Here's the real meat of the article. Despite having taken out almost all dairy, and switching to white rice and peeled potatoes, now and again I was STILL having trouble with digestion. What the heck?! Some research on fermentable carbohydrates led me to this.
F.O.D.M.A.P's stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Yowser, that's a mouthful. Without knowing, you are probably already familiar with some of these. Oligosaccharides are found in many of the probiotics we take as prebiotic food and polyols are the artificial sweeteners found in many processed foods, as well as a few natural ones. Here's a quick list:
The FODMAPs in the diet are:
Fructose (fruits, honey, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), etc)
Fructans (wheat, onion, garlic, etc)(fructans are also known as inulin)
Galactans (beans, lentils, legumes such as soy, etc)
Polyols (sweeteners containing sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol, stone fruits
such as avocado, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, etc)
Basically, these foods belong to a class of carbohydrates that have the potential to be fermented in our guts. They are also osmotic which means they draw water into the intestines which can lead to diarrhea in some people. However, since the fermentation causes gas it can either further diarrhea or contribute to constipation. Methane can cause constipation while hydrogen can increase GI motility.. Heavy production of gas can even distend the intestinal lumen in some people, causing pressure on the visceral organs. This can cause real discomfort and pain in some people which is called Visceral Hypersensitivity. Paul Chek has even discussed how this extension of the visceral organs can actually reduce the tone of the abdominal muscle, which relaxes them, causes some extension and leads to that extended belly, round low-back look. I can't say if this is backed by research but still......an interesting consideration.
We ALL know how galactans affect us. We've eaten beans and gotten gas. That's because humans lack the enzymes necessary to breakdown the carbohydrates, so intestinal bacteria ferment them and produce gas. Same with polyols; these artificial sweeteners are too large to pass through the intestinal wall (which is why they are calorie free) and are fermented by bacteria. Packaged foods with these polyols even warn you on the label that they may cause gas and diarrhea, so it isn't just some fraction of the population affected by these carbohydrates. Mushrooms and avacados contain these polyols as well.
Now, oligosaccharides and polyols are the only ones who definitely effect everyone, it is just that some of us have more tolerance to these than others, so it may take a larger serving of them to show issues. However, lactose and fructose may be tolerated by some of us, or in varying degrees. We are all pretty versed on lactose causing issues, and the basic premise holds true for these other carbohydrates, so it shouldn't be a stretch of the imagination to accept that these issues exist.
Fructose is one carbohydrate that humans do not have as many transporters for in the gut, meaning that an excess consumption of them can cause issues. Mostly dried fruit(concentrated sources) and excess fructose fruit CAN be issues. What's interesting, though, is that glucose has LOTS of transporters in the gut, so when fructose is consumed in equal portions of glucose (or less), there isn't an issue, as the fructose crosses the intestinal wall by hitching a ride with glucose transporters.
What I've Discovered
Once I read this information and went through the F.O.D.M.A.P food list, a light bulb went off in my head. I saw that inulin, garlic and onions were some of the most common and worst offenders. Well, I cook with lots of garlic and I was eating raw onions day in and day out in my salads. Furthermore, the amino acid supplement I was taking during my workouts contained inulin. WHAT?! Inulin is often added as a fiber to foods, which is great but if it's going to make you gassy for the next 12 hours, it isn't really worth it in my book.
So, I switched to an amino acid powder with no inulin, cut out raw onions and started making garlic oil instead of adding whole garlic to foods. (F.O.D.M.A.P's are not fat soluble which is why garlic oil is fine). Problem solved almost immediately and I notice less of that abdominal distension and discomfort after meals, even when I was eating lots of carbohydrates.
Cutting out onions was a bummer for me, but I can live with it. One of the major annoyances now is that garlic powder (which really affects me), is in EVERYTHING. It's added to pickles, chili powder, mustards, store bought sauces, spice mixes and just about anything that is jarred, canned or pickled. But being diligent has really paid off and now I just roast garlic, let it sit in oil for a few days and use that to add garlic flavor.
I'll post the list of common F.O.D.M.A.P foods as well as a link to the primary F.O.D.M.A.P research site. Keep in mind that not all of these may affect you, as some of the foods I thought were bothering me were just ingredients that happened to be combined with F.O.D.M.A.P foods such as lots of cocoa powder( a F.o.D.M.A.P) with my protein powder.
Research suggests that F.O.D.M.A.Ps have a cumulative effect, meaning that you may only experience negative reactions if you are eating lots of them together, or frequently, rather than just one or two here and there.
Interestingly, this is a diet to address I.B.S and that is not something I suffer from, but apparently I am sensitive enough to these foods (or were eating too many of them) to experience adverse affects, possibly similar to how some people can drink a glass of milk and be fine, but 3 glasses would give them digestive issues. The first step may be reducing or cutting out the biggest F.O.D.M.A.P offenders and seeing if things improve. Dr. Alison Siebecker, who's interview I will link below, suggests that people cut out ALL of these foods at first to reduce symptoms and then slowly add them back in one at a time to see which cause problems. I doubt most people are eating all of the foods on the list, or consuming many of them in large amounts, but if you are and experience lots of gas, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation it may be worth considering trying this diet out.
****Let me know if you have any questions and check out these links below:
1. Dr. Alison Siebecker Podcast on F.O.D.M.A.Ps here.
2. Cassandra Forsythe Also Posted An In-depth List of F.O.D.M.A.Ps here.
1. CassandraForsythe.com. Low FODMAP Diet Has Been Great for My Gut, 2010.
Web. March 10, 2014.
2. StanfordHospital.org. Digestive Health Center Nutrition Services, 2008.
Web. March 10, 2014.
3. med.monash.edu.au. The Monash University Low Fodmap Diet, 2012.
Web. March 10, 2014.