FODMAP: new direction in digestive health

FODMAP: new direction in digestive health

New low-FODMAP foods have potential to outdo gluten free.

The launch by Melbourne, Australia-based dietitian Sue Shepherd of a new range of low FODMAP foods is a world-first. It heralds the beginning of a new segment of the free-from market that—with its explicit promise to improve digestive health—has the potential to rival gluten-free.

The FODMAP diet—low in certain naturally-occurring fibers and sugars—was originally developed as a dietary therapy for patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). The name is an acronym for fermentable, oligosaccharide, disaccharide, monosaccharide and polyols and the diet has solid, if somewhat limited, scientific evidence as a treatment for IBS.

“Many in the food industry view the scientific basis of FODMAPs as controversial,” said Julian Mellentin, editor of New Nutrition Business, which profiles the diet and the new product range in its June issue. “Some will deny that it is anything more than a niche medicalized concern of little broader relevance.

“However, gluten-free eating was also – not very long ago – dismissed as just such a niche,” he pointed out. “Thanks to the web, consumers can do their own research, conduct their own personal eating experiments and find what they believe works for them.”

Results of the diet can be immediate for many patients and the Sue Shepherd range fulfills the need to help FODMAP followers find convenient foods that are low in the relevant fibers and sugars. Shepherd, a digestive health expert in Australia, is the first person to have developed a range of foods specifically formulated to meet the needs of a FODMAP diet.

The FODMAP concept has a large potential pool of consumers: in Australia alone, there is an estimated 5 million people with IBS and non-celiac gluten intolerance. Worldwide, the condition, depending on how it is defined, can affect up to 20 percent of the population, with the highest rates in the United States and the European Union, according to figures from the World Gastroenterology Organization.

“These forces might yet make FODMAPS a force to be reckoned with—after all, digestive health has been one of the biggest trends in the business of food and health for over 20 years,” said Mellentin. “Addressing digestive health issues is the basis of successful brands such as Activia probiotic yoghurt. Digestive health also lies at the core of why many people choose gluten-free foods. And addressing digestive health issues is the aim of the FODMAPS diet.

“Who’s to say that more consumers won’t find information about it on the web and favor ‘FODMAP-friendly’ foods? Or that it won't steadily grow to become a force—a niche force perhaps but a force nonetheless—a gluten-free has done? “Smart companies will keep an eye on FODMAPS,” he concluded. 

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