Gluten-free diets have become increasing popular in the US and Europe, but scientists are still struggling to identify the exact effects of gluten on people without Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten causes damage to the small intestine. Many people self-diagnosed as “gluten sensitive” report feeling better on gluten-free diets, but gluten might not be the culprit.
According to NPR’s food blog, The Salt, “Gastroenterologists around the world who’ve been trying understand the gluten puzzle say they’re increasingly convinced of two key things: One is that the number of people who are truly non-celiac gluten sensitive is probably very small. Second, they say that the people who say they feel better on a gluten-free diet are more likely sensitive to a specific kind of carbohydrate in the wheat — not the gluten protein.”
That carbohydrate, called fructan, may be responsible for digestive tract irritation causing gas, bloating, diarrhea, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Fructans occur in a variety foods such as agave, artichokes, asparagus, leeks, garlic, onions, yacon, jícama, and wheat. Fructans, characterized as built up of fructose residues, fall into a larger category of charbohydrates that have been linked to bowel irritation called FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols).
The low-FODMAP diet, developed by a team of scientists at Monash University in Australia led by Peter Gibson and Susan Shepherd, has been shown to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms in people with gluten sensitive IBS far better than the gluten-free diet.
FODMAPs occur in a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy products. More information about the low-FODMAP diet and foods high and low in FODMAPs can be found on the Monash University website.
The moral of the story? If you’re experiencing symptoms you attribute to gluten sensitivity, you may want to give the low-FODMAP diet a try and let your body decide. No matter what diet you choose, it’s always best to stick to whole foods like fruits,vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes and meats and to avoid highly processed ones.
Happy eating and be well!