FODMAP Sensitivity & Food Chemical Intolerance: Deciphering the Differences

FODMAP Sensitivity & Food Chemical Intolerance: Deciphering the Differences

Written by Lisa Kunstler, FodShop Nutritionist, Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that can significantly affect quality of life. Fermentable oligosacchardies, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) found in foods like vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, and dairy, are poorly digested by the gut in a person with IBS. Once FODMAPs reach the large intestine, they are rapidly devoured by gut bacteria, causing the production of gas and uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms range from mild to severe, including cramping, bloating, constipation, flatulence, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea. 

For more information on diagnosis and management of IBS, click HERE.

What is Food Chemical Intolerance?

There are some natural chemicals in foods, like vegetables, fruit, meats, packaged foods, and cheeses, that can cause gastrointestinal issues in individuals who are sensitive to them. These triggering chemicals are mainly amines, glutamates, salicylates, and some food additives. When these are consumed by the intolerant individual in high amounts, the chemicals can irritate nerve endings in the body. Your tolerance level of these chemicals will be completely individual to your own circumstance and so it is always important to contact an Accredited Practising Dietitian or GP to discuss your symptoms and treatment plan. 

Symptoms of food chemical intolerance include: skin irritations (eczema, rashes, hives), airway irritations (asthma, sinuses), nervous system irritations (headaches, fatigue, aches and pains), and/or gastrointestinal issues (reflux, cramps, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation). For this reason, gastrointestinal symptoms can sometimes be confused with those of IBS.


The Differences Between Food Chemical Intolerance and IBS

Despite similar gastrointestinal symptoms, the two conditions are quite different. Food chemical intolerances are a cause for a variety of other symptoms in other areas of the body including the skin, neurologically, and airways, unlike in IBS.

IBS symptoms only last 4-24 hours after eating problem foods whereas food chemical intolerances involve more of a build up in the system, unless a high dosage is consumed. 

Furthermore, a low FODMAP diet can quickly resolve IBS symptoms unlike with food chemical intolerances, where it can take the kidneys 3-4 weeks to fully excrete absorbed chemicals. Therefore, symptoms can last longer than those in IBS. 

If you have IBS and the low FODMAP diet is not entirely working for you, it might be time to consider a food chemical intolerance as a possibility. If you have non-IBS related symptoms like itchy skin, rashes, or chronic mouth ulcers, this could be a sign of food chemical intolerances. 

For more information on the difference between FODMAPs and food chemicals from Practicing Dietitian Frances Walker, click HERE

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