We need to have a little talk about your gut issues and how they’re doing.  

It’s one thing to feel frustrated by your persistent gut issues but it’s a completely different story when you strictly follow a nutrition plan designed to resolve gut issues and you STILL struggle to experience relief!

Agree? Thought so. 

Every week I see unresolved gut issues in my office. As a result, I decided to write about the many pitfalls I see on a regular basis. 

In today’s article, I am going to address some of your most commonly asked questions and pitfalls when it comes to the low-FODMAP diet plan. After all, if many of my athletes are experiencing the same obstacles and asking the same questions, there is a great chance these answers will benefit you on your gut health journey as well.

Alright, let’s get rolling.  

Top 3 Pitfalls to Avoid on the Low FODMAP Diet Plan

Question #1: I see that certain dairy products are included on low-FODMAP food plans but I still feel poorly after consuming these foods. How can this be?

It is critical to understand that the low-FODMAP diet is not meant to treat food allergies or food sensitivities. High FODMAP foods are foods that contain specific, highly fermentable carbohydrates.  These carbohydrates have the power to cause a gastrointestinal disturbance when they interact with our gut bacteria, especially for those of us who have been diagnosed with SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth).

Lactose is Not Always the Issue

Please also keep in mind that there are various components to dairy products. For example, lactose is the sugar (AKA carbohydrate) found in cow’s milk while whey and casein are two forms of protein in the milk. Most people assume their intolerance to dairy is a lactose issue. However, it is often the whey and or casein producing their symptoms!

Lactose is the high FODMAP carbohydrate found in dairy such as cow’s milk and ice cream. Kefir and yogurt still make their way on to the low-FODMAP food list because their lactose content is generally quite low.  While lactose content may be low in these items, casein and whey are still present in these foods. If you have a sensitivity, allergy, or even an intolerance to whey or casein, you will still react to these foods despite them being low-FODMAP foods.

Question #2: I am an athlete trying to eat more plant-based while following a low FODMAP diet. However, sometimes I do not feel well eating so many legumes as a protein source. How else can I meet my daily protein requirements as a plant-based athlete?

Whether you are a vegan athlete or simply trying to eat more plant-based, it is definitely possible to eat plant-based on a low-FODMAP plan without experiencing gut turmoil or starvation.

Organic tempeh, a form of fermented soy, is an excellent protein source for those hoping to follow a more plant-based low-FODMAP approach.  Tempeh, originally an Indonesian dish, is made by soaking then cooking soybeans. Once cooked, the soybeans are naturally cultured and fermented then formed into a cake-like block.

While tofu tends to be more of a household name, most individuals seem to prefer the taste and texture of tempeh. (I promise, it tastes much better than it sounds!)

Are you curious why tempeh is often much better tolerated on a low-FODMAP food plan whereas tofu is not? This is because tempeh is fermented. During the fermentation process, the fermented carbohydrates are digested and separated in the manufacturing process, thus making it a low-FODMAP food. If tofu remains your preference, be sure to purchase firm tofu as it contains less fermentable carbohydrates.

When Soy is Not Your Friend

On the other hand, if soy does not agree with you, consider incorporating ¼-1/2 cup canned (liquid fully drained) legumes such as chickpeas or lentils once a day. Start with ¼ cup and note tolerance. Increase to ½ cup if you are able to tolerate ¼ cup.

If you anticipate having trouble digesting legumes, you may want to try pureeing a ¼ cup of legumes to start. While this may sound strange, pureed legumes are an awesome base for dips and thick creamy soups. For those that love Mexican food, refried beans are also a hit.

Another great option for the low-FODMAP, plant-based athlete is hemp or spirulina protein powder (Try these links to purchase our favorite brands of each powder. We receive a small commission with each purchase which comes at no cost to you and helps support his blog).  Hemp protein powder comes from ground hemp seeds. Spirulina, often dubbed as the world’s first superfood, is a blue-green microalgae comprised of 60-70% protein.  Spirulina is touted for its ability to increase energy and promote better digestion.

These powders can be used as the base for a meal replacement shake or a post-workout recovery shake. While extremely convenient, these powders tend to have a unique taste. Therefore, I would recommend adding a few teaspoons of your favorite spice such as cinnamon or turmeric and a flavorful, FODMAP friendly fruit such as ½ of a banana or ½ cup of pineapple.

Last but not least, we can’t forget about all of the wonderful nuts and seeds available on the low-FODMAP diet plan. Just ¼ cup of almonds contains 6 grams of protein. Add 2 TBSP of chia or flax seeds to your morning oats or smoothie and you have an additional 4g of protein.  Dip your strawberries in 2 TBSP of walnut butter and you have 8 grams of protein!

At the end of the day, proper portions remain key. Measure your food and track your symptoms. While 2oz of tofu may work well with your gastrointestinal system, 3 oz may put you over the edge, and ¼ cup of lentils may sit just fine, whereas just 2 TBSP more might trigger a reaction.

Question #3: I am at the point of food reintroduction on the low-FODMAP diet plan but I don’t seem to tolerate anything? Help!

Fear not my friend. This is a very common complaint. The food reintroduction process needs to be a very strategic and carefully executed plan. Otherwise, most individuals do not experience success.

Step 1: First things first. Make sure that you followed the low-FODMAP approach for the appropriate length of time. The goal is to allow your immune system to relax a bit before reintroducing possible offenders. This usually takes 3-6 weeks.

Step 2: As mentioned before, be mindful of your portion sizes when reintroducing. I understand that you might be having dreams of that big juicy Honey Crisp apple, but that doesn’t mean you should initiate the reintroduction process with the entire apple. Instead, chop off ¼ of the apple and monitor your tolerance. Then, work you way up to half and eventually a whole.

Step 3: Consider going in order according to each carbohydrate group. If you start with the lactose group, plow through these foods before moving on to the polyols group and so on and so forth. It is often much easier to detect issues this way.

If you discover that the first handful of foods in one subgroup is giving you trouble, stop and move on to the next. Chances are high that you will not be able to tolerate the remaining foods at this time. It would be best to discuss the reintroduction of that category at a later date with your healthcare practitioner.

Need a refresher on the low-FODMAP diet plan categories? Check out my original article outlining the theory behind the low-FODMAP approach and which foods to avoid.

Step 4: When you reintroduce a new food, make sure that food is consumed in its “naked” state as I like to say. For example, you may be longing for hummus but start the reintroduction process with a small serving of plain, cooked chickpeas instead.

Why? There are various other ingredients in hummus such as garlic, spices, oil, etc. we want to make sure that you are (or are not) in fact reacting to the tested food which is chickpeas. If you react to the hummus, we will not know whether it was the chickpeas themselves causing the issue or the garlic, spices etc. Ideally, you would reintroduce the chickpeas over a few days, then garlic, and so on and so forth before you enjoy all of these items together.

Step 5: Allow your body 3-4 days ALONE with one new food before you move on to the next item. This is the best way to determine tolerance.

Step 6: Be strategic about timing. If you are getting ready to reintroduce a food that you think may cause you to experience unpleasant symptoms DO NOT start the reintroduction process the week of a competition or intense training regimen. Mentally, there is nothing worse than poor performance, especially when it could have been prevented.

I want you to have faith that chronic illness and fatigue can and will come to an end. I see the results every week. I understand the struggle and I know with perseverance you can get better.

It is important to note that there is not yet a gold standard for the reintroduction protocol. FODMAP researchers are still determining the best approach. Until then, continue to listen to your body, consider mindful eating techniques to improve digestion (and weight loss if so desired), and take notes during and after each new food reintroduction. Your future healthy gut will thank you.

Are you experiencing any pitfalls when it comes to the low-FODMAP diet plan? Better yet, have you successfully resolved your gut issues using this approach? Please share your comments and questions below. We’d love to hear from you!