Cutting gluten? Might want to try a low FODMAP diet instead

Is gluten really the enemy?.
Is gluten really the enemy?. Martin Bureau/Getty Images

While gluten-free diets have been getting a lot of buzz in recent years, new research is touting the benefits of a low FODMAP diet.

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols; they are fermentable, poorly absorbed short-chain carbs.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that those suffering stomach and gut issues — particularly irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — showed relief from symptoms with a low FODMAP diet.

READ MORE: Canadian researchers developing treatment for celiac disease

The diet sorts food as high (avoid) FODMAP or low (good to eat). Garlic, mushrooms and yogurt are among the foods to avoid, while pretzels and wheat pasta get the green light.

In some people, high FODMAP foods can cause symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea.

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The researchers followed 90 people suffering from IBS symptoms for six weeks. About half followed a low FODMAP diet; the other half followed a “common sense regimen” commonly suggested for IBS sufferers.

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After six weeks, 50 per cent of patients following a low FODMAP diet found improvement from their abdominal pain, compared with 20 per cent of those not on the diet.

“Low FODMAP is not a new treatment, but we are now convinced that it really works,” said lead researcher Dr. Shanti Eswaran in a U-M release.

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“Our next step will be to more precisely determine the underlying chemistry of how and why particular foods can yield dramatically different results for different people.”

For those suffering from digestive pain, working with your doctor or dietitian to figure out exactly what is causing your symptoms can make a world of difference.

READ MORE: 6 misconceptions about nutrition and healthy eating

“Once celiac is ruled out…it is very helpful to work with a dietitian to manage IBS symptoms,” says Kate Comeau, dietitian and spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada. “They can help identify if eliminating FODMAPs might be right for you and guide you through the process.”

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Gluten-free industry booming

The gluten-free food industry has exploded in recent years, and is projected to be worth US $4.8 billion by 2021.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and related grains. It’s in bread, cereals and beer, but also hidden in salad dressings, chocolate and countless other products. This can make eating a gluten-free diet tricky, and expensive.

WATCH: Myths about carbs, glutens and sugar 

While celiac disease is very real, it’s been suggested that non-celiac gluten sensitivity doesn’t exist.

Following a low FODMAP diet can be beneficial for some, but it’s not recommended to be followed long-term.

“A dietitian would recommend reintroduction of single foods after six to eight weeks to assess individual tolerance, promote variety and reduce the risk of nutrient inadequacies,” says Comeau.

With files from Carmen Chai