We’ve all come across people who have banned gluten from their diet, and felt all the better for doing so. You’ve perhaps already done so yourself and you are not the only one! According to a recent survey in Australia, nearly 10% of the population follows a gluten-free diet, while only 1% of the population actually suffers from celiac disease1. To explain why some people would benefit from the gastrointestinal point of view, the medical community created a term to identify this syndrome: non-celiac gluten-sensitivity (NCGS).
In fact, the reduced gastrointestinal symptoms experienced by some people who stop consuming foods with gluten may not necessarily be due to gluten itself, but perhaps due to FODMAPs* instead!
Let us understand exactly what gluten and FODMAPs are, before proceeding any further.
Gluten is a protein found mainly in wheat, barley and rye. It is this product which gives the soft texture in baked goods. It is also added to various processed products to improve the texture and structure.
For people with celiac disease, and probably those with other diseases caused by gluten, the latter creates an immunological response in the small intestine. It is this reaction that makes the intestinal wall inflamed and jeopardizes the absorption of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). In some people, the intestine might also become more permeable due to this inflammation. This is the famous “leaky gut syndrome”. The effects are highly variable, and according to studies, they are mostly related to an underlying disease rather than to the syndrome itself. In fact, this increase in permeability can be found in people with celiac disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis), and even in people who abuse substances (alcohol, aspirin, etc.) that can irritate the intestinal wall.
FODMAPs are carbohydrates that are found, among others, in grain products such as wheat, barley and rye. Unlike gluten, FODMAPs create no inflammation, or very little in any case. Instead, their action mechanism is fermentation! They attract water in the intestine and ferment, causing symptoms (bloating, intestinal gas, diarrhoea, bloated stomach, cramps) in people who are sensitive to them, mainly those suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
*FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates that are partly responsible for causing symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). For more info, read this article.