Expert Tips for Reading Low FODMAP Food Labels
Written by EA Stewart, owner of Spicy RD Nutrition
Confused about how to read a food label on a low FODMAP diet? You’re not alone. With my food label reading tips and tricks, you’ll be a pro in no time at all!
- Don’t be dazzled by all the health claims on the front. Step number one is to find the ingredient list-usually on the side or back of the product. That’s where all the important information is. Unless a product is clearly labeled “Low FODMAP”, the rest is just fluff.
- Speaking of which, don’t discount a food because it’s not labeled “Low FODMAP”. MOST foods you can safely eat on a low FODMAP diet, won’t be labeled as such.
- On the flip side, not all “Low FODMAP certified” foods, such as those certified by Monash University or the FODMAP Friendly Certification Program, will be labeled low FODMAP. For instance, many Schar products have been certified low FODMAP by Monash University, but won’t necessarily display the certification on the packaging.
- Know that ingredients on ALL food labels are listed by weight. When you’re ready to try reintroducing high FODMAP foods, you might start with ingredients, i.e. garlic, that are listed towards the end of the ingredient list, as they will appear in smaller amounts than ingredients at the beginning of the list.
- Have fun with it! Embrace low FODMAP label reading as a chance to ditch food additives, and start filling your pantry with minimally processed foods. This will go a long way towards enhancing your overall health.
- And, remember! Manufacturers change ingredients from time to time. Always read ingredient labels, even if you’ve consumed a product 100 times before.
A Few Tricky or Confusing Ingredients to Watch Out For…
Agave and honey. Often used as “healthier” sweeteners, you’ll find them in a lot of organic and/or gluten free breads, baked goods, and energy bars. In addition, concentrated fruit juices from apple and/or pear are often added as sweeteners to “natural products”. Tip! Regular honey is considered low FODMAP at 7 grams (~1 teaspoon) or less per serving, and agave is low FODMAP at 5 g or less, so if they’re at the end of a long ingredient list, they may be safe to consume.
Corn. An ingredient that shows up in many different forms, and may, or may not be, low FODMAP. For instance fresh corn, depending on the serving size is high in FODMAPs along with canned corn and some varieties of corn flakes. Corn tortillas, corn chips, corn starch, and polenta are considered low FODMAP. Tip! While regular corn syrup is low FODMAP, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not. Smaller amounts of some products that contain HFCS, such as ketchup, should be ok to consume.
Fiber/Prebiotics. With gut health and the gut microbiome being hot topics these days, inulin, chicory root, and FOS (fructooligosaccharides) are appearing in many “health foods” these days. While these may or may not be beneficial for someone with IBS, it’s best to wait to experiment eating/drinking foods with these products after the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet.
Natural Flavoring. You may find this listed on broths and stocks. And, since it’s hard to know if onion, garlic, or high FODMAP vegetables are a source of the ingredients, when in doubt, keep it out.
Soy. Similar to corn, there are a wide variety of ingredients made from soy, some of which are low FODMAP (soy oil, soy sauce*, edamame, soy milk from soy protein, firm tofu), and some that are high FODMAP (soy milk from soybeans, textured soy protein-tvp, silken tofu). Tip! If you don’t have celiac disease or aren’t gluten sensitive, regular soy sauce should be safe to consume.
Spelt. Spelt, a grain that’s closely related to wheat, is considered high or low FODMAP, depending on its’ use. For example, plain spelt flour is high FODMAP, but sieved organic spelt flour is low FODMAP, and spelt sourdough bread may be high OR low FODMAP. Tip! Someone with celiac disease should NEVER consume spelt, as it does still contain gluten.
The “ol’s”. As in mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. These are all examples of high FODMAP sugar alcohols, and should be avoided during the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet. Tip! Erythritol is low FODMAP per MONASH and can be consumed during the elimination phase of the diet. It should be avoided during the fructose challenge phase however, as research suggests it may increase fructose malabsorption.
Have fun becoming an expert food label reader! You’ll likely discover a whole lot of ingredients you didn’t know existed in the foods you commonly eat. And, when in doubt, ask a gut health support expert to assist you on your journey to good health!
EA Stewart, MBA, RD
EA is an integrative dietitian and owner of Spicy RD Nutrition where she specializes in digestive health, autoimmune disease, and wellness nutrition. In addition, EA loves creating easy, healthy and DELICIOUS gluten free and low FODMAP recipes for her popular blog, The Spicy RD.