Q. I’ve had a sensitive stomach for years, and have been hearing about a low-FODMAP diet. Is this something that I should be doing?

A. Getting a terrible stomachache after eating might be your gut telling you that it is not happy with the foods you’re eating. You are smart to listen to what your body is telling you because gut health is tied to overall health, so by focusing on gut health, you are actually helping care for your whole body.

Not everyone suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but it is still important to be in-tune with your digestive health. One way to start doing this is to increase your knowledge about the digestive system. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked gut health questions.

What is the gut microbiome? The gut microbiome is the combination of microorganisms, including healthy bacteria that reside in our digestive tract. This population of microorganisms plays a role in the function of our digestive system, contributes to our metabolic functions and supports our immune system. Keeping a healthy and flourishing gut microbiota can not only help support your gut health, but also your overall health and wellness.

What is the difference between probiotics and prebiotics? Probiotics are what we call the live microorganisms that can be consumed to help boost the population of healthy bacteria in the digestive system. These can come in the form of shelf-stable or refrigerated capsules, as well as in yogurt, kefir or other fermented foods. Prebiotics are what we call the food that we feed the microorganisms in our digestive tract. Prebiotics are a form of fiber and we can get them from whole foods and in a variety of supplement forms.

Should I be following a low-FODMAP diet? FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are all types of short-chain carbohydrates that can cause digestive distress in some people when they eat them. A low-FODMAP diet is a type of elimination and reintroduction diet that can be used to identify certain food intolerances. It is not a diet that is meant to be followed long-term; it is a diagnostic tool that should be done under the guidance of a physician or dietitian.

It’s important to consult with your physician to see if a low-FODMAP diet is an appropriate choice for you. But there may be hope, as approximately 75% of people who suffer from IBS find some relief in symptoms when they correctly follow a low-FODMAP diet. It is important to work with a health professional who is certified in the diet to make sure you are still meeting your nutritional needs and are able to include as much variety as possible.

April Graff is a dietitian for Hy-Vee.

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