Note: this article does not address celiac disease. For people with celiac disease, a strict gluten-free diet is required.
Stomach issues are frustrating, which is why many people will try anything and everything to solve their gut woes! Many people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) think that gluten is a trigger for their symptoms, and when they eliminate gluten they often feel better. But is gluten the problem? FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates that are commonly found in gluten-containing foods, and these may actually be the trigger. We asked Registered Dietitian Stephanie Dang to walk us through the research to learn more.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Gluten affects the elasticity of dough, and acts as a “glue” which helps hold food together and maintain its shape.
What are FODMAPs?
FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. FODMAPS are types of carbohydrates that are found in a variety of different foods and are highly fermentable when digested. This fermentation process is a normal, healthy part of digestion. However, someone with IBS can experience unpleasant symptoms as a result of the fermentation process, including bloating, abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation.
The most largely researched, evidence-based elimination diet for irritable bowel syndrome is the low FODMAP diet, which was created by Monash University and has been shown to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If you have not already read Stephanie’s blog “What is the Low FODMAP Diet”, check it out to learn more about the Loaw FODMAP diet.
Gluten vs. FODMAPS
For someone with IBS, reducing their intake of gluten can significantly improve gastrointestinal symptoms. But we know that gluten is not a FODMAP, so why do gluten free diets seem to work? Well, there is some overlap because many gluten-containing products are also high in FODMAPs. So when gluten is eliminated from someone’s diet, so are some of the FODMAPs. For example, wheat, barley, and rye all contain gluten but are also all high in fructans (a type of FODMAP). To make things more complicated, many gluten-containing foods are also consumed with high FODMAP foods! For example, is it the lactose in your milk that is causing tummy distress instead of the gluten in your cereal? Or perhaps it’s the FODMAPs in your hummus, not the gluten in your crackers. Could it be the high FODMAP avocado in your breakfast, and not the gluten in the toast?! Unfortunately there is no test to diagnose gluten sensitivity or IBS, so it can be very difficult to tell what a person is reacting to. If you are feeling confused, book an appointment with your local dietitian. Your gut will thank you.
Examples of low FODMAP foods that contain gluten
Do I Need to Cut Gluten Out of my Diet?
Everyone’s gut health and nutritional needs are unique, so there is not one diet that fits everyone. While cutting out gluten may help some people, preliminary research suggests that FODMAPs may likely be the problem, not gluten. If you are unsure whether gluten or FODMAPs are affecting your gut health, seek the advice from a Registered Dietitian.
The information provided is strictly for informational purposes, and not intended to provide medical advice or to diagnose or treat medical conditions. Please seek advice from your physician or registered dietitian if you would like to know more about the low FODMAP diet.
Biesiekierski, Jessica R, et al. “No Effects of Gluten in Patients with Self-Reported Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity after Dietary Reduction of Fermentable, Poorly Absorbed, Short-Chain Carbohydrates.” Gastroenterology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23648697.
Parrish, Carol Rees. “When a Registered Dietitian Becomes the Patient: Translating the Science of the Low FODMAP Diet to Daily Living.” Nutrition Issues in Gastroenterology. https://med.virginia.edu/ginutrition/wp-content/uploads/sites/199/2018/05/Low-FODMAP-Diet-May-18.pdf
Sapone, Anna, et al. “Spectrum of Gluten-Related Disorders: Consensus on New Nomenclature and Classification.” BMC Medicine, BioMed Central, 7 Feb. 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22313950.
Team, Monash FODMAP. “Gluten and the Low FODMAP Diet – Part 1.” Gluten and the Low FODMAP Diet (Part 1) – A Blog by Monash FODMAP | The Experts in IBS – Monash Fodmap, Monash Fodmap, 10 Aug. 2015, https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/avoiding-wheat-how-strict-on-low-fodmap/.
“The Low FODMAP Diet.” Low FODMAP Diet | IBS Research at Monash University – Monash Fodmap, https://www.monashfodmap.com/.
“What Is Gluten?” Celiac Disease Foundation, https://celiac.org/gluten-free-living/what-is-gluten/.