Lindsay Watts, RDN
Every year, professional organizations release their annual predictions on food and nutrition trends. Gut health and digestive wellness rose in popularity over the last couple of years and will likely show up again this year. More than ever, people want to promote a healthy gut and manage food sensitivities with foods that fit their lifestyle.1 Along with general gut health, awareness of specialty diets, like the low FODMAP diet for people struggling with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), are also gaining more attention. According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, IBS is one of the most common digestive issues, affecting 25-45 million Americans.2 The low FODMAP diet is one possible option for many people suffering with IBS.3 So, what is a low FODMAP diet and how can food and nutrition professionals learn more?
Low FODMAP Diet Basics
Under the guidance of a health professional, the low FODMAP diet can help people manage symptoms of IBS and has three phases. The first phase is a short-term Elimination diet, about 6 weeks, that removes sources of fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs) to relieve symptoms associated with IBS, like bloating, gas, and pain. In the Challenge phase, the IBS patient slowly adds foods back, one at a time, by FODMAP subgroup, to help identify what triggers symptoms for them. The third phase is a maintenance phase or Modified Low FODMAP diet where each person follows an eating pattern that only excludes the foods that cause symptoms for them.3
Going Low FODMAP-
When I learned about the growth of low FODMAP diet and that Prego® would be launching Prego® Sensitive Recipe, a FODMAP-Friendly Italian sauce, I knew I needed to learn more. I no longer counsel patients,
so I took direction from our marketing and consumer insights department to do a consumer immersion experience. As part of this experience, I created a mock order from a restaurant menu that would be
compliant with the diet, prepared low FODMAP recipes, and ate a low FODMAP diet for three days. I found the consumer immersion experience to be more effective than dietary assessment methods at building
empathy for people struggling with IBS. Throughout my experience, I went through three distinct stages of emotion:
- Overwhelmed: I have a pretty good understanding of food and even I found this diet confusing. I understand the basics of FODMAPs, but the foods that contain them felt mostly unpredictable and random. If it weren’t for resources like Kate Scarlata RDN’s grocery list and high/low FODMAP diet checklist, or FODMAPs Friendly certified products, this diet would have been even more overwhelming. This experience helped me learn what types of resources are most helpful when first starting a diet and better relate to the initial shock of following a restrictive diet.
- Annoyed: I love cooking, but sometimes my Monday through Friday gets a little hectic and I need more convenient meals. I felt irritated by the amount of time I had to prep food, especially on weeknights. I craved the convenience of having meal solutions I could pull from my pantry in a pinch. At the time, there were some convenience products in the market, but they were not available at my regular grocery store and were expensive. These were minor inconveniences for a couple of days, but for someone following this diet longer, it would be very challenging.
- Non-Compliance: I would have been in trouble if I really needed to follow this diet. I caught myself mindlessly munching on foods that would not have been safe for the elimination phase of the FODMAP diet several times throughout the three days. I also couldn’t resist an impromptu date night out with my husband for Italian food. This was the most eye-opening part of my experience. Eating a restrictive diet can be isolating and requires people to think about every morsel they put in their mouth.
Consumer Immersion-A Teaching Tool for Health Professionals
Since this experience, Prego® released their new Sensitive Recipe Traditional Italian Sauce. It is FODMAP Friendly certified and made without garlic or onions which are common triggers for many people with digestive issues. Prego® Sensitive Recipe is also priced similarly to their other products, making it more affordable and accessible than many other options. I enjoyed combining my expertise as a dietitian and my consumer immersion experience to work with Prego® on developing new recipes and communications around the product.
This immersion experience taught me that health professionals need to understand consumer lifestyles, challenges, emotions, and motivations in order to truly understand their food choices. If you’ve never tried this approach or if you have not done it since your internship, I recommend you give it a try. Regardless of whether or not a diet is medically necessary or just a trend, it is helpful to understand how it could impact your patients’ lives. Remember to shop within your clients’ budgets, live within the constraints of their lifestyle, and try to eat the types of foods they like to eat. Immersion experiences like this can help us understand patients’ points of view, experiences, and challenges so that we can be better partners in health.
Live it to learn it,
Lindsay's BioLindsay is a nutrition communications analyst at the Campbell Soup Company where she coordinates health professional and consumer communications. She also works with internal and external partners on retail health and wellness programs. Prior to her role at Campbell, Lindsay worked as an in-store retail dietitian. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from West Chester University and completed her dietetic internship with Pennsylvania State University. Currently, Lindsay is studying for her Master of Science in Health Communications and Marketing with Boston University.
- International Food Information Council. 2018 Food & Health Survey. Published May 2018. Available at: https://www.foodinsight.org/2018-food-and-health-survey Accessed December 2018 2018.
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Facts About IBS. Published November 2016. Available at: https://www.aboutibs.org/facts-about-ibs.html. Accessed December 2018.