A common refrain when people begin a ‘diet’ is that they feel so much better. Most of the time, the specific difference they are feeling is less gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort: gas, bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and/or constipation.
Excess sugar, a topic for a future blog and the focus of the upcoming Nutrition Challenge (Feb. 2017), is a known problem in American diets and offers a feast to large intestine organisms. Excess sugar and refined carbohydrates there may result is significant intestinal discomfort. Other, less common causes of intestinal distress, include gluten (covered in last week’s blog) and fructans and FODMAPs which are briefly covered here.
Some portion of people, how many is not known, have intestinal discomfort when they consume fructans or FODMAPs.
Fructans are constituents in food that are several fructose molecules connected in varying lengths. The most common fructan containing foods, by far in the American diet, are onion and wheat. Fructans are also in garlic, artichokes, asparagus, barley, and rye, at times, making it difficult to distinguish from non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
FODMAPs are fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols. Oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides are several, two, or one sugar molecules in foods. Polyols are sugar alcohols which can be naturally occurring in foods and can also be artificial like those that are sugar substitutes (e.g., sorbitol, mannitol and others).
Tolerance to some or all fructan or FODMAP containing foods varies from person to person with some people tolerating some fructan or FODMAP containing foods and some people tolerating only very limited amounts of fructan or FODMAP containing foods.
What can you do?
Many people may jump on the gluten-free diet bandwagon thinking eliminating gluten will solve their GI problems. However, they may not have gluten intolerance, but intolerance to another diet constituent, such as, fructans or FODMAPs or another substance all together.
So, begin here:
- Drink the minimum recommended amount of water per day: at least ½ your body weight in ounces. This helps promote more normal bowel function.
- Get into BIG! Exercise also helps promote more normal bowel function.
- Try more consistent food intake throughout the day and/or more fiber intake, both of which promote more regular bowel movements.
- Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates in your intake. These are a feast for less desirable organisms in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Slow down when eating. Eating quickly can be associated with swallowing more air.
- Discuss any GI concerns with your health care provider.
- Your health care provider may also recommend that you see a specialist or have specific medical tests to uncover the cause of the problem.
- Your health care provider may also recommend an elimination diet. This is best done with professional nutrition assistance since it includes eliminating many foods initially with a gradual reintroduction of foods one at a time over a period of time. This is not the same as ‘elimination diets’ touted on the Internet as some of these focus only on sugar or dairy or gluten or another diet component. This is a complete elimination diet removing gluten, fructans, FODMAPs, AND lactose, sugar, refined carbohydrates, and possibly foods that are associated with the major food allergens. The gradual reintroduction phase very important to narrow the potential causes of GI distress.
Consistent GI distress is not fun. Being proactive and taking steps toward addressing it is essential to a feeling of wellness!
Happy and healthful eating,
Donna G. Pertel, MEd, RD, LDN
Questions about setting nutrient-dense eating goals for the year ahead? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.