Gluten May Not Be What’s Making You Sick—This Could Be the Real Culprit

Feel bloated after eating bread or pasta? It turns out gluten might not be to blame—here's what you need to know about fructans.

If you’ve cut foods with gluten out of your diet to help relieve an upset stomach, listen up: Gluten may not actually be to blame for your symptoms. Let’s take a deeper look at gluten intolerance and learn about fructans, which may be the real culprit for your gut ache.

What Is Gluten?

It’s a protein found in wheat, rye and barley products that gives bread products their structure and texture. However, about 1% of the population has an autoimmune disease called Celiac disease which causes the body to attack the digestive system when gluten is eaten. It could be due to awareness of Celiac disease that many people have connected their stomach upset to a sensitivity to gluten.

But it might not be gluten after all.

Fructans and the Low FODMAP Diet

A new study done in Norway predicts that it might actually be the fructans found in wheat and other foods causing your tummy troubles. Fructan is part of a group of carbohydrates called FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols). When eaten, these carbs have been associated with symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, gas and constipation. (Sound familiar?)

The low FODMAP diet is frequently used to treat these symptoms. Fructans are found in wheat products, but also onions, shallots, scallions, garlic, barley, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and artichokes. That Norwegian study compared symptoms between participants in either a fructan, gluten or placebo diet group and found that fructans were more likely to induce symptoms in people with self-reported gluten sensitivity! That explains why removing gluten from the diet doesn’t always resolve your tummy troubles.

You might be surprised by what other foods cause gas and bloating.

Recommendations from a Dietitian

So where should you go from here? It could be worth your while to try cutting out other fructan-filled foods from your diet and seeing how you feel. The recipes for garden quinoa salad, gluten-free flour mix, herbed squash with goat cheese and turkey and apple arugula salad are all low in fructans!

If removing fructans doesn’t make a difference in your symptoms, then it’s time to ask your primary care doctor or a registered dietitian for a hand.

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Christina Manian, RDN
Christina Manian is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist based out of Boulder, Colorado. Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, she has been involved with the nutrition departments of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Mass General Hospital. She completed her nutrition education at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on medical nutrition therapy and most recently practiced clinical nutrition at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. While her background has largely been in the clinical setting, Christina embraces and is shifting her focus towards wellness nutrition as the backbone to optimum health.