When I first started the elimination phase of the low-FODMAP diet, I experienced a lot of positive results. I rarely felt my symptoms and when I did, it was whenever I ate something that I knew was high in FODMAPs and would affect my gut.
However, as time went on, I started to experience IBS symptoms from time-to-time on days that I seemly ate only low-FODMAP meals. Knowing that many factors can influence my gut, I often blamed it on stress, my period, eating meals too quickly, or ones that were too large.
When things didn’t seem to change, I started to analyze my low-FODMAP diet a little closer. My regular diet was mostly low-FODMAP but it also included higher FODMAP foods that did not normally trigger me. Knowing that triggers can change over time, I swapped out some of those foods and changed some portion sizes. BUT regardless of what I ate I seemed to have flares. Daily.
It was extremely frustrating to feel bloated, like really bloated, yet was being quite restrictive with my diet. I felt like I was sacrificing variety for no reason.
This is when I reached out to a dietician for advice. And this was where I was fully introduced to the concept of,
FODMAP stacking is one potential concept that could explain why people on the low-FODMAP diet, are still experiencing symptoms.
FODMAP stacking is defined as eating 2 or more foods in their low-FODMAP portions sizes, within the same meal or close together, which can then lead to an overload of FODMAPs in your gut. These foods can contain FODMAPs of the same category, (Fermented, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, or Polyols) or different ones, either way, leading to a seemly low-FODMAP meal becoming a high-FODMAP one.
Here's an example to explain:
Let’s say this oatmeal bowl is your go-to breakfast.
Each morning you mix up the following ingredient:
Now. All of these ingredients on their own are low-FODMAP. At higher doses, some of them can be considered high FODMAP, but you keep them below that portion size because you know that is also important.
But. Flax seeds and almonds do contain some FODMAPs, and so do bananas and raspberries annnnnd quick oats. And that granola, although mostly made from low-FODMAP ingredients, may have a few untested products.
This is FODMAP stacking.
Although each individual ingredient is considered low-FODMAP in the portion size that you used, combined, they can create a meal that is considered high in FODMAPs.
I initially felt really naive for missing this, but not knowing about this unique concept is totally normal. We all have good intentions to be following the 'rules' and this concept can be super hard to catch without someone looking in from the outside.
And the truth is, FODMAP stacking isn’t something that everyone has to worry about.
We are all individuals and all have our own triggers. Some people may only have one or a few FODMAP categories that bother them, so they can have more of the others and FODMAP stacking doesn't seem to affect them.
Or your gut may plainly be able to tolerate the stacked low-FODMAP foods, and often this can be the case.
Personally, this was one thing that seemed to make a difference for me. I have recently started to make small changes to my diet to try to reduce the symptoms I have been feeling. AND it is helping!
So although FODMAP stacking may not be a phenomenon that affects everyone that has IBS, if you are experiencing symptoms while being on a low-FODMAP diet (whether you are in the elimination or maintenance phase), this could be something to look out for to help reduce some of your symptoms.
Here are a few things I am doing right now to try to avoid FODMAP Stacking (especially during breakfast):
Simplify My Meals. a.k.a. Use Less Toppings
Yes, I know, sad. I loooove loading up my breakfast with all the fruit, nuts, and seeds. But the more you add the more you increase the risk of creating a high FODMAP meal. So try one yummy topping per meal.
In terms of nuts & seeds I use one or two per meal, that way I still get the variety from one meal to the next - you know, to keep it interesting, but I reduce the risk of upsetting my stomach. And I still get to use all of the nuts & seeds I love, just spread out across the week rather than all at once.
With fruit I have stuck to one fruit per meal, kept them in their low-FODMAP portion size, and ensured it was truly a low-FODMAP food. Although ripe bananas have not been triggers for me in the past, I wanted to really keep the FODMAPs low so I switched to greener bananas. I will consider adding the ripe bananas back into my diet once I enter the reintroduction phase.
Add Some Variety into Your Day!
There are two ways that I am using variety to help me avoid FODMAP stacking. Switching up my breakfast from day to day and having variety throughout the same day.
It can take our bodies 12-24 hours to digest our food, so it's good to change up what you are eating for breakfast two days in a row, so you are less likely to run into FODMAP stacking.
For example, I may eat some oats topped with chia seeds and a green banana one morning, but the next day I might grab a piece of low-FODMAP toast and a poached egg instead.
This is a way that we can decrease the load on our digestive system and again, decrease the chance of stacking up those FODMAPs.
I also try to use this same concept to guide how I eat within the same day.
For instance, instead of eating toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a pizza for dinner, I try to keep it to one or two pieces of bread a day. The reason that this can be important is the same food means the same FODMAP groups, even if at a low level. And again, if you have enough low-FODMAP foods from the same category you can run into some FODMAP stacking, even if they are not in the same meal.
Swap out your regular choice of fruit for a very low FODMAP fruit!
Just like I spoke to above, food triggers can change over time. Swapping out the ripe banana for a green one, was one way that tried to reduce any risk of triggering my symptoms.
Also ! Did anyone see my post on strawberries last week!
Strawberries have a ton of nutritional value, look pretty, and according to Monash University they do not contain any FODMAPs at the portions they were measured (up to 10 strawberries per serving). So you are technically free to eat them until your heart's content!
And it can be fun to try some new fruit that you never used before! Some good options include kiwis, yellow papaya, mandarins, dragon fruit, and grapes.
Slow ‘er Down
Okay, okay, I know I have said this before, but I found this to be so important along my FODMAP journey.
Slowing down while you are eating is really important to help you avoid triggering symptoms with whatever you are eating. BUT it is also important to slow down before you eat as well.
Planning what you are going to eat, and being mindful about what you are putting into your meals can really help you avoid FODMAP stacking.
As shown in my example, slowing down can also help you prevent increasing the FODMAPs in your meal by just simply adding too much of one ingredient and going over you low-FODMAP portion size. I may get a little sprinkle happy with my granola. So, I slow down and measure out my foods more than I used to, so I know if I am going over my low-FODMAP portions or not.
I now slow down and read my labels more closely as well. And if I don’t know an ingredient I look it up and make sure the products that I am using don’t include high-FODMAP foods without me knowing.
Granola is huge for this! The granola I was using for a while now actually had some high-FODMAP ingredients that I didn’t realize until my dietician pointed it out. And even when granola contains only low-FODMAP ingredients, the mix of them all together can lead to, yes you guessed it, FODMAP stacking.
Lastly, I look at the meal as a whole. And ask myself if I have too many ingredients that are lower in FODMAP but all together might make my meal overall higher in FODMAPs. The Monash FODMAP App is the most helpful for this, to remind me of the foods that may contain more FODMAPs and in what portion size.
We don’t always have the time to slow down. Trust me, I have experienced this first hand. But a lot of us (those that haven’t also added homeschooling to their list of to-do’s :|) have been gifted the time right now to slow down. We can take some time to consciously think about what we are putting in our bodies that may be the reason we feel off track on our gut journey.
Also, keep in mind that this is my experience with FODMAP stacking, what I have learned so far, and strategies that have been working for me, but they may not be for everyone. Always remember if you have any specific medical issues or questions please reach out to a local health professional for help. As always, what I share is for information only, and should not be considered a substitute for medical advice.
For more information please visit our Disclaimers page .