I was recently talking to a woman who had attempted the low FODMAP diet on her own. She shared with me that, on her first grocery shopping trip, she ended up spending three hours in the store reading labels and trying to figure out what she could buy. That’s not surprising! There are so many products on supermarket shelves, and so many claims on packages (organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, and more)! With long lists of ingredients, label reading and grocery shopping can be overwhelming when you are following a low FODMAP diet.
5 Tips for Label Reading on a Low FODMAP Diet
My biggest recommendation to anyone starting a low FODMAP diet is to mainly buy whole foods – those that don’t have a label. As a side, this is a great strategy for anyone who wants to eat healthier. For example, buy fruits, vegetables, sourdough bread, lactose-free dairy, eggs, fish, and poultry, rather than relying mostly on processed products. Whole foods are not only the easiest ones to identify as either high or low FODMAP but also more nutritious.
Nonetheless, I recognize that some processed products can be handy at times, especially when traveling or on the go. Here are some tips to help you with label reading when following a low FODMAP diet. Keep these in mind when trying to decide whether a product is suitable for the elimination phase.
Tip # 1 – Check for common high-FODMAP ingredients
Some ingredients such as garlic, onions, apples, cashews, milk, wheat, etc. (you can check the Monash FODMAP App for the most accurate list) are obvious. However, there are other, lesser-known common ingredients in processed products to watch out for:
- Sugar alcohols – any word ending in “ol” (mannitol, sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol) and isomalt
- Added fibers – inulin, chicory, vegetable, or other fibers
- Sweeteners – apple and pear juices, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, honey, agave, high-fructose corn syrup, dried fruit
- Soy, fava bean, chickpea, coconut, lentil flours; almond meal, barley
When reading labels, it’s important to remember that FODMAPs are carbohydrates. Protein-rich foods such as meats, poultry, and fish, are FODMAP-free unless they are marinated or processed with garlic/onions (such as sausages or deli meats/bacon).
Tip # 2 – Look at the position of the ingredients on the list
Ingredients on a food label are listed in descending order based on their weight. Therefore, the first three or four ingredients will make up a bigger proportion of the food product. If a high-FODMAP ingredient – let’s say, honey – appears at the top of the list, the product is likely high FODMAP.
However, if it is at the very end, it is present in very small amounts, and, most likely, the product will be low FODMAP. That’s because the FODMAP status of many foods and ingredients depends on the serving size. On the other hand, there are some exceptions. For example, you need to avoid garlic and onion, as even minute amounts of these can trigger symptoms in people with IBS.
Tip # 3 – Watch your portion sizes
Even though a product is low in FODMAPs, you still need to pay attention to portion sizes. Some of the ingredients listed may become high-FODMAPs at higher amounts (the Monash FODMAP App can show you which ones). Always test a small portion first, and note how you react before consuming more of that product.
Tip # 4 – Remember that “gluten-free” doesn’t always mean low FODMAP
It is a common misconception that the low FODMAP diet is a gluten-free diet, and that, consequently, gluten-free or wheat-free products are all suitable. It’s true that most gluten-free grains (rice, corn, quinoa, millet, buckwheat) and some minimally processed products such as pasta made from these ingredients are low in FODMAPs. However, many processed gluten-free items such as bread, crackers, and cookies – often contain high-FODMAP ingredients (those listed above).
Tip # 5 – Look for the Low FODMAP Certification symbol
With the increased awareness of the low-FODMAP diet, several companies have started making certified low-FODMAP products. You can recognize them by a certification logo on the label: Monash University or FODMAP Friendly. These products have been laboratory tested and certified to be low in FODMAPs so you don’t need to review the ingredients. Even if a high-FODMAP ingredient appears on the label, the overall product is low FODMAP at the serving size suggested.
BONUS Tip – Use your judgment and listen to your body
When in doubt, skip that product. If the product contains an ingredient that has not been tested, skip it while in the elimination phase. You can test it and find out your own tolerance once your symptoms have subsided and you start the FODMAP reintroduction process.
In conclusion, label reading can be challenging when trying to figure out whether a product is suitable for a low FODMAP diet. Relying mostly on whole foods and keeping in mind the tips above can help you make sure you don’t accidentally eat hidden FODMAPs. Most importantly, remember that the low FODMAP diet is temporary. After you figure out your triggers, you will be able to reintroduce many more foods and shopping will become easier and less stressful.