Gut health and the rise of FODMAP brands
What started as a solution to people with irritable bowel syndrome in Australia has become a global trend in the gut health space. But what is a FODMAP-friendly food, and who are the early movers?
Gut health is a nutrition trend that is here to stay; we have seen this movement through the rise of fermented foods, microbiome-friendly and gluten-free products. The term FODMAP, however, is a relative newcomer.
The notion of FODMAP-friendly food is often associated with diets for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease. It has even started to appear on food product labels, too. However, what does it mean and where does it come from?
The FODMAP diet first appeared over 15 years ago from a body of research conducted by Monash University in Melbourne. The study identified that a diet low in FODMAPs can be helpful in managing the symptoms of IBS, a disease which affects 15-20% of people in the UK and around one in seven people globally.
The term is an acronym that stands for food products that contain fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs).
Common examples of FODMAP food ingredients are wheat, onion, milk (lactose), fructose, sweeteners (sorbitol and mannitol), and some pulses such as chickpeas. A full list of FODMAP products and ingredients can be found on the Monash University website.
For IBS sufferers it is often the quantity of the FODMAP content per serving that makes a food product to be considered FODMAP-friendly or not, which makes it difficult for food manufacturers to label, and tricky for consumers to identify these foods.
In the UK, for example, consultancy firm Health Nutritionist helps consumers learn what to eat through personalised guides. There is a range of mobile apps guiding consumers, too. The slow introduction of FODMAP-friendly labels on food brands is also helping consumers make informed decisions.
It is important to note that for most of us, continuing to consume a range of foods regularly will ensure our diets are nutritionally complete. The food and nutrition industry has a responsibility to ensure the term ‘low FODMAP’ will not be misrepresented as a ‘healthy option’ or a health marketing opportunity.
The label of FODMAP-friendly food should be seen as a functional and personalised nutrition label: it should be a guide for individuals that are seeking to eliminate FODMAP products for their personalised IBS diets.
Low FODMAP diets: From Australia to the world
Low FODMAP diets are gaining acceptance globally among clinicians and IBS sufferers alike. Qualified nutritionists are running specific programmes and placing individuals on a low FODMAP elimination and reintroduction plan to help them work out what foods will offer symptom reduction.
Australia appears to continue leading the way with Monash University championing the promotion of this trend also on the food label front.
Even browsing the website of Coles, Australia’s health food retail, you can find aisles of FODMAP-friendly snacks and food products. Cafés in Australia have also started to advertise FODMAP-friendly dishes.
This trend is also moving to the UK, with more FODMAP-friendly product sections often found in the free-from aisle.
Hayley Burdett, the young entrepreneur who founded the low FODMAP food company Bays Kitchen, has spoken openly about her IBS condition. The start-up has launched a range of sauces in Ocado and Morrisons after a subsequent six-figure investment.
Bays kitchen is not alone. Between 2014 and 2018, there was a 130% annual growth of food and drink launches tracked with a low FODMAP claim. This label is also spreading across different food categories, from sauces to cereals and snacks.
Brands to watch out for in this space include Fodilicious, a UK brand making cookie buttons boasting fewer than 100 calories in a 26-gram pack; Fodmapped for you in Melbourne producing soups, stock, simmer sauces and pasta sauces; and Fody Foods, a Quebec-based brand making sauces and snacks.
Low FODMAP brands enter the market with the opportunity to serve a wider consumer group, which makes them even more attractive to investors. Products have no wheat or lactose so with further considerations they can tap into the free-from space.
The low FODMAP trend is just getting started on a global scale, but all signs point to it becoming a category and food label to watch, as consumers are becoming more aware of the role food ingredients play on their digestion and gut health.