The Low-FODMAP Diet for Children

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The low-FODMAP diet has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms for many people who have IBS. If your child is struggling with IBS or its close diagnostic relative, functional abdominal pain (FAP), you will want to be as informed as possible about the diet to assess whether the diet might be of help to your child.

What Is the Low-FODMAP Diet?

The low-FODMAP diet is based on the theory that certain carbohydrates, collectively known as FODMAPs, exacerbate digestive symptoms in people who have IBS.

FODMAPs stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccarides, and Polyols. FODMAPs are found in many common foods.

Research has shown that approximately 75% of people who have IBS experience a significant improvement in their digestive symptoms when they follow a diet low in FODMAPs. The diet is designed to be followed strictly for a period of four to eight weeks, followed by a gradual reintroduction of the various types of FODMAPs. It is highly recommended that the diet be undertaken under the supervision of a qualified dietary professional.

Research on the Diet in Children

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, there are no published clinical trials on the safety of the diet in children. However, I have heard that such studies are in the works. Research on the diet for adults have not revealed any negative side effects for people following the diet for the short-term. It is unknown if there would be a negative health effect if one were to follow the diet over a long period of time.

One of the major concerns regarding following the diet over the long-term is the risk for nutrient deficiencies. There are also concerns as to whether the diet has a positive or negative effect on the balance of the gut flora.

Special Considerations for Children

If you are thinking of trying the low-FODMAP diet for your child, the following three factors must be in place:

  1. Your child must have a firm diagnosis of IBS or FAP.
  2. The diet must be approved of by your pediatrician.
  3. Your child's diet must be supervised by a qualified dietitian.

Diet Success Tips

Tell key adults: Be sure to inform teachers, child care providers, camp counselors and relevant friends about your child's dietary needs. Luckily, with the growing awareness of food allergies and celiac disease, people who work with children are much more accommodating to special dietary needs than they might have been in the past. You don't need to go into great detail -- just inform them that your child is currently on a special diet to address their stomach issues.

Involve your child in the process: Depending on your child's age, you can explain to them the theory behind the diet and how you think the diet may help them to feel better. Ask for their input regarding food substitutions and menu planning. Adherence to the diet is very much correlated with symptom improvement. Making your child feel like they are an integral part of the process will help to increase their ability to comply with the necessary dietary restrictions.

Don't sweat the small stuff: In a very significant way, the low-FODMAP diet is significantly different from the dietary restrictions required for a child who has a food allergy or celiac disease -- eating a restricted food is not going to cause any health-threatening harm for your child. They may experience digestive symptoms in response to eating a high-FODMAP food, but they will not be putting their health in jeapordy. Therefore, you do not need to be excessively vigilant, and you can offer your child some freedom of choice as to what they decide to eat.

Pack food ahead of time: We live in a fairly FODMAP-filled world. For example, wheat, garlic, onions, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), all of which are to be restricted on the low-FODMAP diet, are key ingredients in most of the foods of a typical Western diet. Therefore, you will find that home-cooking and sending your child off with his or her own foods will be necessary in order to ensure that they have something appropriate to eat.

Don't skip the reintroduction process: Not everyone reacts to the same types of FODMAPs. Reintroducing foods with the various types of FODMAPs in a systematic way will help to identify which foods are particularly troublesome for your child. This process is best done under the guidance of a qualified dietary professional. Gaining in-depth knowledge as to which foods your child can and cannot tolerate will help to ensure that they are eating as wide a variety of foods that they can without becoming symptomatic.

Don't lose sight of the notion of FODMAP load: One of the key aspects of the FODMAP theory is that it is not only the type of FODMAP that can cause symptoms, but the amount of FODMAPs consumed within a day that can be problematic. Therefore, you may find that your child can tolerate small amounts of a particular food or FODMAP, as long as the amount consumed is kept low. This factor helps to broaden the range of foods that can be eaten, helping to ensure that your child is getting their nutritional needs met.



Shepherd, S. & Gibson, P. "The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet" The Experiment 2013.

Staudacher, H., et.a. "Mechanisms and efficacy of dietary FODMAP restriction in IBS" Nature Reviews 2014 11:256–266.  

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