Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal condition that is estimated to affect around 1 in 7 people around the world. (1) It is characterised predominantly by abdominal pain, altered bowel patterns, bloating, distention and excessive gas. While the exact cause of IBS remains unknown, symptom management for sufferers remains the key focus.
A team at Monash University has dedicated research for close to 20 years on a diet that can improve IBS symptoms. Initially, this research involved establishing a comprehensive food composition database that quantified FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) content in many common foods. (2,3)
Following the establishment of this database, research was undertaken as to how FODMAPs act in the gut to cause symptoms. This led to multiple studies that compared the symptom management for individuals following a low FODMAP diet vs a typical Australian diet high in FODMAPs. Ultimately, this research found that following a Low FODMAP Diet can improve IBS symptoms in up to 75% of individuals with diagnosed IBS. (1,4)
Since then, the low FODMAP diet has been heavily researched and become a scientifically proven and globally recognised diet therapy for IBS. Monash has dedicated this time and research to producing a range of resources for both patients and healthcare professionals alike, to ensure a comprehensive and personalised approach is taken. Let’s delve into the network of resources to see how Monash is helping the community behind the scenes.
When a patient is first diagnosed with IBS by their healthcare professional, it is likely that they will be encouraged to try a Low FODMAP diet for symptom management. The Monash FODMAP website is the perfect starting point on a patient's journey as it offers numerous pathways for support and education in platforms suited to support every individual's needs. To ensure a patient does not go through the experience alone, there is a Dietitian Directory that lists Monash FODMAP-trained dietitians, their country and practice details. Monash strongly encourages individuals to go through the Low FODMAP diet with a dietitian trained in the area.
The Monash University FODMAP Diet App was created to offer users all of the essential tools to navigate the diet in the palm of their hands. Most importantly, the app contains hundreds of foods and their FODMAP serve sizes, in addition to recipes and tools to complete the diet. It is regularly updated with new foods, including all of the brands and products under the Monash FODMAP Certified program. Foods are listed following an easy-to-follow traffic light system: low FODMAP (green), moderate FODMAP (amber) or high FODMAP (red). To aid the 3-step process of the diet, there is a Diary section that allows users to record food intake, IBS symptoms and foods reintroduced along with their tolerance. The app supports users from over 120 countries and has been translated into a number of languages including; French, German and Spanish, aiming to instil confidence in users on their food choices wherever they may be.
To ensure that the low FODMAP diet is implemented correctly, the expert team at Monash have created online courses to provide in-depth information on the foods and symptom management. The online patient course provides newly diagnosed patients seeking comprehensive information on IBS and how to navigate the FODMAP diet step by step, in simplified terms. For dietitians and other health professionals working in the management of gastrointestinal disorders, dietitian online courses have been developed to guide health professionals in upskilling clinical knowledge to ensure they support patients with IBS with the most up-to-date evidence-based practice in mind.
Reading the ingredients list or fine print on food labels can be time-consuming and difficult. Having products tested or recipes carefully reviewed by the experts removes guesswork and uncertainty. Due to growing consumer demand, Monash created the Monash University Low FODMAP Certification Programs. These programs cover everything from everyday supermarket products, raw manufacturer ingredients, delivered meals and written recipes. This is achieved by working closely with the food industry, including product manufacturers, meal delivery companies, and recipe producers, to test their products or assess their recipes. The programs are voluntary and open to brands and businesses of any size from around the world. Certified foods and recipes are identified by the blue Monash FODMAP gut logo.
Monash is dedicated to continued research into the field of FODMAPs and the importance of the diet in IBS sufferers. A main focus of the research team is ensuring that more foods are analysed and added to the app. Our food supply is constantly changing and expanding so it is important that foods are also retested. On a broader scale, Monash continues to research the impact the diet has in managing symptoms and overall health in individuals with IBS and other conditions.
Trying to navigate a new diet and lifestyle approach can feel overwhelming, so Monash created some resources to keep close by for guidance. The first being a printable summary of the 3 step FODMAP Diet guide. This 2-page guide outlines the steps taken during the low FODMAP Diet, whilst highlighting some key foods and whether they are high or low in FODMAP content. There are also printed resources: a small FODMAP diet guide booklet and the Monash University Low FODMAP cookbook. The Cookbook contains 120 low FODMAP recipes using flavours from all around the world. For those looking to take a more in-depth and interactive learning approach, there are online courses available.
In this modern era, social media has created a growing impact for people achieving a sense of community on a global scale. The Monash FODMAP team have created dedicated Instagram and Facebook pages where FODMAP news and research updates, recipes, infographics, myth-busting posts and certification posts are shared. The pages have a combined global following of 267k+. The @monashfodmap page is dedicated to announcing updates relating to the app, food testing, research, and other relevant news to keep the audience in the loop. The @monashfodmapcertified page is dedicated entirely to showcasing Monash Certified low FODMAP products from around the world, where to purchase and how to incorporate them into an ‘everyday’ cooking approach. These pages have created a way for individuals experiencing similar journeys to interact and connect with a broader geographic group than ever before.