Many people who suspect they’re sensitive to gluten may be sensitive to something else in wheat, a carbohydrate:
That carbohydrate, called fructan, is a member of a group of carbs that gastroenterologists say is irritating the guts of a lot of people, causing gas, diarrhea, distention and other uncomfortable symptoms. Altogether, these carbs are called fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols, or the cumbersome acronym FODMAPs.
If you’re someone with a sensitive stomach and you’ve never heard of FODMAPs, listen up. In addition to fructan in wheat (and garlic and artichokes), FODMAPs include fructose (found in some fruit), lactose (found in some dairy products) and galactans (found in some legumes).
While most people can digest FODMAPs with no problem, for many with chronic gut disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, they’re poorly absorbed by the small intestine and then fermented by bacteria to produce gas, which leads to those unpleasant symptoms. IBS affects up to 20 percent of Americans.
After a team of scientists at Monash University in Australia led by Peter Gibson and Susan Shepherd linked FODMAPs to IBS in 1999, they designed the low-FODMAP diet. According to William Chey, a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, the diet was swiftly embraced by doctors and dieticians as a treatment for IBS because it’s as effective as the drugs on the market. (In most trials, 70 percent of patients see improvement in their IBS symptoms when they go on the low-FODMAP diet.)