Gluten-free foods may be big business, but there is a backlash on the horizon. The trouble with gluten is that while it’s a multibillion-pound industry linked with beating bloat and promoting weight loss, there isn’t actually any robust scientific proof to suggest that this protein causes problems in anyone who doesn’t have coeliac disease. Researchers at Monash University in Melbourne are claiming that it’s not gluten that causes IBS but FODMAPs instead. Ditch the FODMAPs and you could start to beat the bloat in as little as a week. So what are FODMAPs? And how can you follow the diet that claims to relieve a huge 70% of IBS sufferers of their symptoms? Keep reading to find out…
What are FODMAPs?
Ready for it? It’s a bit of a mouthful. You see, FODMAPs is an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. They are compounds that pass undigested into the colon, where they are quickly fermented by the bacteria that has colonised your colon. While this process is normal, the gas produced causes the bowel to stretch, and some people are just more sensitive to this physical reaction than others and suffer from IBS-type symptoms like bloating, cramping and excess wind, in response.
So how do you know if FODMAPs are in your diet? Well, they’re in a host of unprocessed and processed foods. A lot of the same foods that gluten is in, hence why the confusion linking gluten to IBS could have occurred. Think bread, pasta and grains, but also healthy foods like grapefruit, garlic and coconut water. You can view the full list of FODMAP foods here. Most FODMAP foods are natural and healthy foods, the key with the FODMAP diet is to eliminate these foods for a short period of time, two to six weeks; then gradually start to reintroduce foods to see how you react.
Free yourself from gluten-free.
In Australia, where this new diet originated, stores are already selling FODMAP-free foods. So does this mean we should be forgoing the gluten-free options lining our local supermarket shelves? Monash researchers carried out a study measuring the effect of a gluten-free diet in people with IBS and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. Participants ate a gluten-free, low-FODMAP diet for two weeks before being randomly assigned a high-gluten, low-gluten or zero-gluten diet. While all test subjects experienced an improvement in their symptoms on the initial diet, no independent, gluten-specific effects were observed. This suggests it’s FODMAPS, not gluten, that triggers symptoms in people with IBS and NCGS.
Will the FODMAP diet help you?
The FODMAP diet is not designed to be followed long-term. “Prebiotics are mostly FODMAPs, so the theoretical risk is that by eliminating them or cutting down on them significantly, you’re going to create an environment in your bowel where you won’t have as many health-promoting microbiota,” says renowned gastroenterologist Peter Gibson, MD. The key with the FODMAP diet is to relatively quickly reset the gut (within two to six weeks) and reintroduce these healthy foods to your diet. A varied diet will ensure a varied population of gut bacteria. “Today, the population of bacteria in our gut is narrow and the ability to break down bacteria diminished,” explains clinical nutritionist Peter Cox at Omniya, London.
It’s not the diet for everyone. The thing is, while you may be suffering from IBS symptoms, it is an umbrella term. “You could be suffering from small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, where you bacteria has migrated to the mid-gut, making it difficult for you to digest carbohydrates and fibre, which leads to bacteria producing lactic acid and in turn bloating,” explains Cox. “Or your IBS could be caused by dysbiosis, where you don’t have enough good bacteria. In this case cutting out these prebiotic FODMAP foods won’t help,” he adds.
Is your IBS caused by stress, not diet?
Your IBS or SIBO could be stress-related rather than caused by your diet. “Adrenaline concentrates in the gut. If you’re overly stressed, your body switches off digestion and you don’t produce digestive enzymes, which means your food is not properly broken down. The gut can then become inflamed,” Cox says. In this case, where stress is the culprit, he suggests supplementing with digestive enzymes, namely Bio-Care Bio-Enzyme (£20).
While you can undertake a FODMAP elimination diet at home, there are plenty of books to guide you. Cox advises you visit a clinical nutritionist who can use various tests to find out what is causing your IBS and whether the FODMAP diet will help. “They can help you reconstruct your diet. You can end up relatively undernourished on the FODMAP diet,” he warns. “You need to be quite strategic about what’s taken out and then put back in.” So are FODMAPs going to be the downfall of the gluten-free craze? Only time will tell, and while it may not be good news for gluten-free champions, for IBS sufferers, it certainly is.