Eating gluten-free is a health trend that has skyrocketed in America over the last ten years, even among people who have not been diagnosed with celiac disease. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye that is known to cause bloating, diarrhea, and weight loss. Many people began avoiding gluten in attempt to reap the benefits in this dietary change. Restaurants and food companies have certainly expanded their production of gluten-free options for bread, pastas, and desserts to meet the needs of this growing trend. However, an interesting study reveals that gluten may not be the culprit of the non-celiac stomach issues with which it is associated. Fructan may actually be the ingredient to blame.

The Details Of The Study

The study was conducted by researchers from The University of Oslo in Norway and Monash University in Australia. The researchers gathered a group of 59 people who had a self-diagnosed intolerance to gluten. Each volunteer was given muesli bars to eat over the course of several weeks and asked to record how they felt after eating the bar. Some of the bars contained only fructan, others only gluten, and the rest contained neither ingredient. After observing the records each volunteer kept, the researchers determined that bloating and other symptoms associated with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) were only recognized after the bars containing fructan were consumed. Symptoms were not recorded by the volunteers after eating the bars with gluten or the bars with neither gluten or fructan. This leads researchers to believe that foods containing fructan may be more irritating to the digestive system than foods with gluten.

What Is Fructan?

Fructan is a carbohydrate containing both fructose and glucose molecules that is difficult for the human digestive system to break down. Because of this, fructan remains in the colon and ferments which produces gas. This is particularly problematic for people who have IBS. Foods that contain fructan include dates, figs, grapefruit, watermelon, garlic, leeks, onions, scallions, cashews, black and kidney beans, wheat, barley, and rye. More research is needed in order to fully understand if the intolerance to wheat products is actually a result of fructan rather than gluten.

So What’s My Trigger?

Many people who are not diagnosed with celiac disease, the most severe form of a gluten intolerance, still experience adverse reactions to gluten. Coupled with digestive issues, a gluten intolerance can reveal itself by headaches, fatigue, skin problems, iron deficiency, or joint and muscle pain after consuming wheat products. If you experienced some of these symptoms and have since cut gluten out of your diet, this new information about a fructan intolerance may seem confusing. Determining whether or not your digestive issues are a result of gluten or fructan may be even more difficult to discern because fructan is in so many different foods. You can pay attention to whether or not you still feel bloated or uncomfortable after eating a gluten-free pizza crust that contains garlic and onion in the pizza sauce. Or try a gluten-free dessert with dates and see if your symptoms return. Symptoms of fructan intolerance are similar to those associated with IBS such as diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, gas, and bloating. If you are experiencing symptoms related to IBS or think you may have a gluten or fructan intolerance, it’s important to talk to your doctor before adjusting your diet.

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