Paleo vs the Low FODMAP Diet for IBS
People are always searching for the perfect diet. I use the word diet, not as in the restricted way of eating to lose weight but the type of food a person consumes day to day. We are constantly bombarded with celebrities and experts taking about the latest diet – 5:2, low carb high fat, vegan, Mediterranean, Weight Watchers etc. Being a student nutritionist I find this all very fascinating, particularly those diets that claim that they are good for gut health and IBS. Some of these diets are backed by scientific research, some are based on personal experience, but they all have one goal in common and that is to improve your health.
Over the past few years the two main diets I have tested on myself to help with IBS are the paleo diet and the low FODMAP diet.
The Paleo diet
The Paleo diet aims to use the food we have available now to mimic the traditional hunter gatherer diet by consuming lean protein, seafood, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and healthy fats and oils. It avoids grains, dairy, legumes, processed foods and sugar. This should improve many areas of health including digestion.
The biggest benefit I found was that I ate so many more vegetables and whole foods rather than packaged and pre-made food. Because I was then consuming more vitamins, minerals and fiber etc. from these foods, my overall health improved. This also had the effect of producing more regular bowel motions and reducing bloating and abdominal pain at times. I also had more energy and felt less fatigued once I got used to it.
It was very time consuming preparing most of my food from scratch, which was difficult when initially dealing with IBS fatigue. It was also difficult to find a consistent message about what should be included (some would say yes to potatoes, others no). It also didn’t make all of my symptoms disappear and I still couldn't always pinpoint what was causing me issues.
The Low FODMAP diet
The low FODMAP diet was developed through scientific research about the types of carbohydrates that are difficult to digest and can trigger IBS symptoms. By eliminating foods that are high in FODMAPs like milk, cashews, soybeans, wheat, apples etc for a period of time and then gradually reintroducing them, we should be able to figure out what types of carbohydrates we have trouble digesting and which ones don’t cause any IBS symptoms.
I noticed an immediate reduction in my IBS-C symptoms, particularly the bloating after meals. Through the reintroduction phase I was able to figure out which foods were definite no-no's for me. It also helped me understand what I could put up with if needed. So if I was craving an ice-cream and really wanted one, I could if I wanted to, because I had a good idea about what affect it would have on me.
I found that after figuring out most of my main trigger foods, sometimes a safe food would still cause issues, and something I thought I couldn’t eat, would cause no issues at all. So often I had to look for other possible triggers like stress and hormones. It was also difficult at times to figure out what amounts of what foods I could tolerate and also when I would reach my FODMAP tolerance in one meal or one day.
So which one is better?
Both of the diets have taught me so much about my symptoms and food triggers and both have helped improve my health. I don’t think one is better than the other and neither has been a ‘cure’ for my IBS. However, I do think that the lessons I learnt from both diets helps me manage my IBS better and that was worth the effort of trying them out. Now I take what I've learnt from both of them to work on a 'diet' that is right for me and my unique triggers and symptoms.
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