Are you sacrificing bread and pasta for nothing? Maybe Fructans (not Gluten) are causing your digestive upset?
When I first heard the term “fructan intolerance” I thought it meant a sensitivity to fructose, or sugar, when in fact it’s actually a condition that mimics the symptoms of celiac disease. Fructans are naturally occurring carbohydrates found in common foods like wheat and onions. When you don’t have enough enzymes to break fructans down, they can start to ferment in the bowel, causing uncomfortable digestive symptoms.
Diagnosing can be tricky – how do you actually know if you’re gluten intolerant or fructose intolerant? Read on for the breakdown.
Symptoms like bloating, stomach pain and accompanying fatigue generally indicate some sort of bowel issue. While many people are quick to point the finger at gluten as the cause, new research points to other foods like garlic, onions, artichokes, apples, pears, mangoes, milk, cheeses, rye, wheat bread and crackers, and cashews and pistachios as the real instigators of gas, pain and bloating.
These foods are only a handful of what nutritional experts have identified as fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, (FODMAPs) foods.
FODMAPs are a collective group of carbohydrates. They include the fructose in fruits and vegetables, the lactose in milk products, the fructans in wheat and rye, and the galactans in legumes. Human bodies don’t possess the right kind digestive enzymes to break these types of carbohydrates down.
A study published in the journal Gastroenterology showed that gluten-sensitive subjects actually experienced more stomach upset symptoms from high fructan foods than foods high in gluten.
Less than one percent of the population actually suffers from celiac disease. Another 16 percent have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. But when researchers delved a little further into the causes of their symptoms, they realized that there was something else besides gluten that was responsible for the gas, pain and bloating the subjects experienced.
This led them to FODMAPs which arrive at the large intestine undigested. They are then fermented by bacteria in the gut and stomach upset results. People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) find that their symptoms worsen after eating FODMAPs foods.
If you suspect you suffer from fructan intolerance, try following a low FODMAPs diet for two weeks incorporating the following foods:
Vegetables: Bean sprouts, bok choy, alfalfa sprouts, carrots, fresh herbs, bell peppers, lettuce, cucumber, tomato and zucchini
Fruits: Grapes, melons, oranges, bananas
Dairy: Lactose-free milk, yogurt
Proteins: Chicken, fish, red meat, tofu
Snacks: Corn chips and crackers, rice crackers, gluten-free cookies
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds (no more than 10 at a time), pumpkin seeds
Researchers found that more than 70 percent of IBS sufferers experienced reduced symptoms when following a low-FODMAPs diet. It’s important not to go overboard and cut out all FODMAPs foods.
They have a prebiotic effect on the gut which means they spur healthy bacteria into action, so even though they might cause uncomfortable symptoms if eaten in large quantities, a little bit of fructans might provide some digestive benefit.
The trick is how to know how much is too much for your body to tolerate.
Eat This Not That
If you’re still unclear what to cut out of your diet and which foods are okay to replace those foods with, here’s a short list:
Wheat: substitute whole wheat bread and pastas with those made from quinoa, buckwheat, millet, brown rice, oats and tapioca
Garlic: replace with ginger, turmeric, chili, chives and lemongrass
Onion: use Spanish onion which has the lowest levels of fructans if you’re a real onion fan
Sweeteners: Choose Stevia, maple syrup, sugar and sucrose over honey, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar and all the polyols added to sugar-free candy and gum (sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, isomalt)
Beverages: Chai and chamomile tea, and coconut water are high in fructans so go with black, white, green and peppermint teas, coffee and water instead
We always recommend you consult with your healthcare practitioner if you have digestive concerns.