Gluten is one of the most hotly debated topics in the health world. While it’s agreed that people who have celiac disease should absolutely avoid it, there are differing opinions on other instances of gluten intolerance—aka not having a celiac diagnosis yet appearing to have a reaction to gluten. According to some experts, that reaction could actually be caused by something completely different: FODMAPs. We know what you’re thinking: First, What the heck are those? And second, You mean we could have been eating bread this whole time? We tapped Kate Scarlata, RDN, LDN, to answer our questions and (fod)map it all out for us. Here’s what we learned.
Blame It On The FODMAPs
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. "FODMAPs are a certain group of poorly absorbed carbohydrates—sugars and fibers—found in everyday foods such as wheat, onion, garlic, apples, pears and even watermelon," Kate says.
"Wheat, barley and rye contain FODMAP carbohydrates and the protein gluten. When you eliminate gluten from your diet, you also reduce your FODMAP intake, especially since wheat is prevalent in the American diet," Kate explains. "Some people assume their digestive symptom improvement is due to the elimination of gluten, but often, it's in fact the reduction in FODMAPs." (Hear that? It's the sound of our minds collectively exploding.)
"FODMAP intolerance occurs with abdominal pain and cramping, gas, bloating and alteration in bathroom habits. Sounds fun, right?" says Kate. (Um, no.)
"Before changing your diet, I recommend a visit with a registered dietitian and/or your health-care provider to evaluate for other concerning health conditions that may warrant further testing. Don't self-diagnose!" Kate warns. "If an individual starts a low FODMAP diet on her own, she'll reduce gluten in her diet. That reduction can result in inaccurate testing for celiac disease (an autoimmune condition in which gluten is toxic to the small intestine). Adequate gluten in the diet is essential to test for celiac. Individuals with digestive complaints are often tested for celiac, so wait on any impulsive diet changes until you visit with a doctor!"
There are two main things Kate wants people to know about a low FODMAP diet. First: "It's not a forever diet! It's a three-part plan that involves removing high FODMAP foods to settle your symptoms, followed by the systematic reintroduction of FODMAPs to help determine which foods were triggers and lastly the integration phase where you add back the FODMAP-rich foods your body can tolerate and continue to eliminate those that trigger gut distress."
The other thing to remember? "FODMAPs are healthy for most people. Some contain prebiotic fibers that feed probiotic (health-promoting) gut bacteria. Don't eliminate them if you don't experience digestive symptoms."