The gluten scare gripped our nation by its nether-regions, so swiftly and so brutally that now it has become almost a parody of itself. Before the gluten epidemic, it was practically impossible for a person suffering from gluten intolerance to eat normally at a restaurant. Now, there are millions of gluten-free options available and gluten-free products have become a multimillion dollar industry. It has become so crazy that now there’s a stigma attached to people who claim they’re gluten intolerant. If a person asks politely for gluten-free options, their friends give them dirty looks, laugh, and say, “Oh I see, you’re one of those morons who thinks gluten is the root of all evil and is the key to weight loss. Gawd you’re dumb”.
Gluten intolerance/allergies, Celiac disease, and Crohn’s are very real and nothing to be laughed at. So all you people judging the poor folk who suffer from debilitating pain and intestinal distress from eating a cracker should be ashamed of yourselves. Not only do those people have to come to terms with the fact that they will never be able to enjoy a freshly baked loaf of bread ever again (a nightmare in itself), but now they have to bear the brunt of your ridicule? Would you mock a person refusing peanuts who had a peanut allergy?
However, on the other side of things, the gluten obsession has gotten completely out of hand, with many people cutting out grains who don’t have an issue with them. Not only do people use it as a crutch for weight loss, but most of the gluten-free products out there are actually worse for you (from a health perspective) than bread. They’re full of fillers, sugar, and unhealthy fats to make up for the fact that there’s no wheat in them. So if you don’t have a gluten allergy, you’re probably more likely to gain weight eating those products than giving in to a dinner roll once and awhile. And if you do have an allergy, you’re better off skipping those products altogether.
But what if I told you there was something more sneaky causing all the symptoms of gluten intolerance that has nothing to do with gluten? Well, there is. Research has been coming out showing there’s a different culprit causing what people think is a gluten allergy. And, that 77% of people eliminating this culprit showed improvements from the following symptoms: weight gain, bloating, diarrhea/constipation, gas, intestinal/stomach pain, etc. All of which sound exactly like symptoms from gluten intolerance.
So what is it?
The little buggers potentially messing with your mojo are called: FODMAPs. FODMAPs is an acronym for a bunch of crazy terms:
No wonder they made an acronym out of those words, who the heck could remember them? The terms listed are types of short-chain carbohydrates that sometimes are not absorbed properly in the small intestine. Most people can eat these foods with little issues, but people who have a digestive issues, IBS, and/or not enough healthy gut flora can suffer horrible GI (gastrointestinal) distress from them. In order to explain, I’ll need to go into how your food is processed in your intestines. Yay! I get to talk about poop again!
Bacteria: Friend or Foe?
About 70-80% of your immune system is in your intestine, most of your immunity coming from the millions of little creatures who’ve decided take up residence unbeknownst to you. They work hard all day to fight bad bacteria and to break down the food you shove into your face.
And boy, do these guys love to be fed! The food they love the most is actually a lot of the foods listed as FODMAPs; food high in fiber and fructose such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. When they’re fed plenty of these items, they freak out, ravenously feasting and simultaneously expelling the wastes after feeding (just like how we poop and toot after eating). This process is called, “fermentation”. However, when you feed them processed foods, tons of meat, and cheese (food we love and they hate), the good bacteria dies off, being deprived of their beloved food source. It’s like if you locked me in a closet for a month without Whataburger or Jameson… I would die. When this happens bad bacteria overtakes the good bacteria, causing your digestion and immune system to go out of whack.
Normally, this process works awesomely in a healthy individual. You’re feeding the good guys and helping to fight against the bad guys. However, if you’re someone with a compromised immune system, suffering from some sort of digestive disorder, and/or have starved your good bacteria all your life through diet, antibiotics, and/or being too clean (yes that can be a problem), then the bacteria can actually become your foe when feeding them the food they crave.
Because your system is compromised, typically healthy foods are not processed as easily as they normally would. The normal process of fermentation instead causes symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, and gas. FODMAPs are the worst contributors of these issues because they are the exact types of food the bacteria goes nutso over.
To drive this point home even further, I’ll use the analogy of when you have the stomach flu. When you’re sick, your digestion is compromised and can’t handle breaking down the types of healthy foods you should eat on a regular basis. The worst things you could possibly eat at that time are foods like salads, raw veggies, and fruits because your digestion is working at a suboptimal level. Instead, it’s recommended that you eat easily digestible foods until you are better, such as broths, white bread, rice, and bananas.
What Types of Food are FODMAPs?
Here’s the sad part; so many foods fit into this category it can almost be overwhelming. And most of these foods are considered extremely healthy and are recommended by most doctors and nutritionists to consume on a regular basis. So while you think you’re doing everything right, you could be contributing to the problem.
Some of the top offenders are:
- Certain types of Wheat
The types of people who should investigate a possible FODMAPs issue are people who have cut out wheat and dairy products, but still suffer from IBS-like symptoms. Also people who have a compromised immune system, have taken antibiotics on a regular basis, and/or have mostly consumed a diet of processed foods. If you don’t fit into any of those categories, good for you. You can stop reading and go back to browsing Buzzfeed.
What Should You Do?
Start small by cutting out the top offenders such as onions, garlic, and apples. Monitor your diet by keeping a food journal, recording what you ate and how you felt that day. It may be that some of these foods trigger symptoms in you but not all. We are all different and have different issues with food, so there’s not a “one-size-fits-all” solution.
If you notice improvements after cutting out the top offenders, congratulations! You’ve finally discovered what was causing your GI issues this whole time! If you’re improved but still have issues, start cutting out more items on the list. It’s honestly not that difficult because you can just replace old favorites with new friendly foods that aren’t FODMAPs.
Healing Yo Gut
The next step I would recommend is to work on healing your gut. The issue you have with FODMAPs may be caused from years of damage you’ve accumulated by treating your body like a second-class citizen. The good news is that the damage is reversible! After healing your gut, you’ll want to try testing FODMAPs again to see if your new and improved digestion can handle the foods. And trust me when I say you want to be healed enough to reintroduce FODMAPs foods because they are perfect for building a healthy microbiome in your gut.
A few ways to being the healing process:
- Cut out FODMAPs (if you have a FODMAPs issue).
- Cut out processed foods (sometimes FODMAP foods could be snuck in there)
- Work broths and stocks into your diet. They require little digestion and are packed with nutrients. I would highly recommend making your own. Not only will they taste better but they’ll have a ton more nutrients.
- Introduce probiotics into your diet either through supplements or food.
- Only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary.
- Get dirty once and awhile! Work in the garden and get some dirt under your nails. Take all of your antibacterial soaps and throw them in the trash, switching them out for plain ol’ regular soap. Give a homeless dude a high five!
- To feed the probiotics you’re adding in, increase your intake of low FODMAP vegetables and fruits. If your digestion is extremely compromised, introduce cooked veggies as opposed to raw, and gradually work your way up to uncooked veggies.
So good luck citizens! If you’re looking for more information including recipes for eating on a low FODMAPs diet, here’s a book you can check out: The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet: A Revolutionary Plan for Managing IBS and Other Digestive Disorders.
For more detailed information on FODMAPs, please reference the links below!