Forget Gluten-Free—is Your Diet FODMAPS-Free?

A new study suggests we've been pointing the finger at the wrong culprit.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

When exactly did "gluten" overtake "fat" and "carbs" as dieters' Kryptonite? Gluten-free food is now such big business (sales hit approximately $10.5 billion last year alone) that millions of people have eliminated it from their diet in the belief that doing so will improve their health—despite the fact that few of us know what gluten really is.

But is gluten really to blame for all our ills—most notably fatigue, bloating, nausea, and general gastrointestinal distress? Yes, 1% of the population has celiac disease and thus can claim gluten-derived damage to the small intestine. But for the rest of the 99%, there's a big question mark about gluten-anything.

Here's new reason for skepticism: A study in Australia reports that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also reported they suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Researchers concluded "in two double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over trials, specific and reproducible induction of symptoms with gluten could not be demonstrated." Put simply: No evidence was found that gluten was causing the study subjects' symptoms.

A new culprit, however, has emerged as public enemy #1, and it's a doozy of an acronym: Folks, say hello to FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols). This short-chain carbohydrate, and not gluten, may be the source of your gut problems. Especially among sufferers of IBS, FODMAPs are a known major irritant to the GI tract, leading to symptoms like bloating, stomach pain, gas, and diarrhea. Dietary reduction of FODMAPs has been found to significantly improve these symptoms. Coincidentally, some of the major sources of FODMAPs are also gluten-containing foods like bread and bread products made from wheat and rye, cereals, pasta, and cookies—the same things people ditch when they go gluten-free.

Keep in mind, however, that many non-gluten-containing foods are also high in FODMAPs—apples, peaches, plums, garlic, onions, broccoli, and dairy products to name a few—and people sensitive to these foods may drop gluten in an effort to control their symptoms, continue to eat these foods, and find they still have problems. What's clear from the research is that a diet low in FODMAPs often brings relief, as the Aussie study showed.

So based on all of this is the anti-gluten hype all hooey? Definitely not if you have celiac. And even if you don't, the fact that there is a large crossover between gluten-containing foods and high-FODMAP foods suggests limiting both is a worthy endeavor for chronic sufferers.

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