FODMAPs and Bulletproof Coffee

Posted on July 31, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
Woman drinking water

Hemlines are lower, the summer’s top fashion colour is aquamarine and there’s another new diet, or several, to consider. I haven’t even quite caught up with the GI index foods, and now there is “FODMAPS”, which are carbs that get broken down into sugars during digestion.

This is regarded as more of a health diet—as opposed to a weight loss diet—since following it claims to help people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS as it’s typically referred to. IBS is pretty widespread and I know, as a one-time sufferer who developed it from excessive stress, that it’s really unpleasant. So, anything that helps, and alleviates the need to take medicines, is welcome news.

What are FODMAPS?

This rather bizarre acronym stands for Fermentable-Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols. Thank goodness they shortened it to FODMAPS, even if I’m tempted to type ‘foodmaps’ and autocorrect tends to agree. Oligo-saccharides contain fructans and are found in foods like garlic, onion, wheat and rye. Then there are galacto-oligosaccharides, which are found in some pulses, plus legumes and nuts, especially pistachios and cashews.

What is the problem with FODMAPS?

These oligosaccharides are not well absorbed by the body, according to dietitians at Kings College London. Lee Martin, one of the research team, explains that “humans don’t have the enzyme needed to break down oligosaccharides,” and as a result, when they are in the large bowel, the bacteria living there digests them. Unfortunately, these bacteria create a fermentation process that leads to bloating, gas and painful wind. Plus, the bacteria can draw water into the large bowel and cause diarrhoea. These symptoms may well sound familiar to IBS sufferers.

Other foods in the FODMAP group

Monosaccharides – and disaccharides – include foods that an increasing number of people seem to have a problem with. First, there is the food group that includes lactose: that’s yoghurt, milk and cheese and any foods containing them, such as chocolate, cheesecake and ice cream.

Foods containing the monosaccharide fructose also create problems in a sensitive digestive system. The foods in this group include honey, fruit juices and fruits like the mango that have more fructose than glucose.

Finally, there are the polyols, which are effectively ‘sugar alcohol’. Sorbitol is a polyol and you find it in sugar-free gum; it’s also found in avocadoes and broccoli. Mannitol, which is a relative of sorbitol is found in cauliflower and sweet potatoes.


Coffee in a cup surrounded bby coffee beans

Who discovered FODMAPS?

Peter Gibson, a professor of gastroenterology and Susan Shepherd a research dietitian at Melbourne’s Monash University can claim the discovery. Shepherd had been conducting research on the effect of certain food groups on IBS sufferers and the pair decided to extend the study and firm up the theory. According to data from King’s College London, at least 70% of IBS patients are seeing an improvement by following a diet primarily made up of foods that are low-FODMAP.

A word of caution

Please don’t assume that you have IBS because baked beans tend to make you a bit windy. The condition requires a proper medical diagnosis. Some clinicians claim that a low-FODMAP diet also benefits people with Crohn’s or coeliac disease. However, they also say that you shouldn’t simply put yourself on this diet; you should seek medical advice and consultation with a qualified dietitian.

The effective use of the FODMAP diet requires 6-8 weeks of working with a dietitian to eliminate and introduce various foods and observe the effects. Anyone who has been through testing for food allergies will be familiar with the process. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders provides a balanced and medical view of IBS and FODMAPS for anyone who would like to investigate it further. The UK’s IBS Network is another reputable source of advice.

Bulletproof coffee

So, taking a leap from health diet to weight reduction method, it was impossible to resist including the 2015 fad for Bulletproof coffee. Is it possible that a cup of filter coffee, to which you add two tablespoons of grass-fed butter and two tablespoons of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil will actually cause weight loss? Its fans believe so!

Allegedly, this combination trains the body to burn fat instead of sugar, while the fats in the coffee give you more energy and increase your brain power. It was the rejuvenating effects of Tibetan yak butter tea that inspired Dave Asprey, the Silicon Valley investor responsible for this beverage and The Bulletproof Executive. However, despite his impressive claims for the coffee, one cup does contain a whopping 468kcal and 52g of fat. It may be intended to replace breakfast, but clinician Professor Paul Garner of Liverpool University calls it “extraordinary” and “unreliable and highly selective”.

We’ve been warned about the perils of fad diets and there have been plenty over the decades to entice us with promises of rapid weight loss. FODMAPS at least has the benefit of clinical support, but if you decide to ‘become Bulletproof’ it is a personal choice. In the end, we all know in our hearts that there are few fast fixes for weight loss, but it’s good to know that there are diets that do improve specific conditions, such as IBS.

Eleanor McKenzie

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.