Monday, 23 March 2015

Can A Gluten Free Diet Help IBS?

And how is that different from a low-fodmap diet?

Hi again Fodmappers

I've noticed that there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding gluten and whether going gluten-free can help reduce the symptoms of IBS, so that's what I want to talk about today. I also want to look at why you need to avoid wheat, barley and rye as part of a low-fodmap diet, and, finally, why some gluten-free products are not suitable for a low-fodmap diet. But first lets look at the difference between gluten and FODMAPs.

Gluten vs FODMAPs

Gluten is a protein (or more accurately a combination of two proteins) found in grains, particularly so in wheat but also in rye and barley, and it is this which gives dough it's stretchy quality. If you have bought flour for baking bread you will probably have bought a 'strong flour' as this type contains more gluten than the flour you might use for cakes or biscuits as bread making needs the elasticity that gluten provides. It's gluten that is a factor in coeliac disease.

Approximately 1 in 100 people in the U.K have coeliac disease. 'Coeliac disease is not a food allergy or intolerance, it is an autoimmune disease. In coeliac disease, eating gluten causes the lining of the small intestine to become damaged.' (1) People who have coeliac disease need to avoid ingesting even the smallest amount of gluten as to do so can cause further damage to the lining of the gut.

Fodmaps, on the other hand, are a group of carbohydrates found, not only in grains, but also in fruit, vegetables, nuts, pulses and dairy produce. 'Current research strongly suggests that this group of carbohydrates contributes to IBS...' (2)

IBS is much more common than coeliac disease, affecting between 1 in 4 and 1 in 10 people at any given time. (3) Though it is a chronic condition, it is a functional disorder. That is to say, the problem is in the way the gut functions, rather than in any damage to the gut itself.

Though wheat, barley and rye contain gluten they are also high-fodmap, and this seems to be where the confusion arises.

If you have IBS you may have discovered that you feel better if you eat gluten free products rather than wheat-based breads, biscuits, cakes, pastas and cereals. However, this is likely to be because, by choosing gluten free, you are also removing high-fodmap grains (such as wheat, rye and barley) from your diet.

A Gluten Free Caution

But if you have IBS, you do not need to avoid gluten, you need to avoid fodmaps. In fact fodmappers need to be careful when choosing 'gluten-free' as these products are designed for people with coeliac disease not IBS. Just because they are gluten-free doesn't mean they are necessarily low-fodmap. Remember fodmaps are found in more than just grains, and gluten-free products may also contain soya flour, apple fibre or inulin (from chicory) all of which are high-fodmap.

So the short answer to the question, 'can a gluten free diet help IBS?', is yes. But it has nothing to do with gluten. I hope that's cleared things up a bit?

'Til next time Fodmappers - Stay Fabulous. x



  1. What an interesting post! Gluten free sounds like something that I should try. If you have a minute please check out/follow my blog!

  2. Ahhh! Now I am beginning to understand what FODMAP is - thank you so much, really interesting article and one I'm going to share with a friend of mine x

    1. That's great! Nice to know you found it interesting Callie. I'm guessing your friend has digestive problems so I really hope she (or he) finds this helpful. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's turned my life around. Wish them luck from me. x

  3. Awesome post, Susie! It's so true, we really can't label everything 'gluten free' as healthy, or even safe. It's important for us all to know more about what makes up our food, especially if we have issues like IBS. Thank you for such an informative post!

    1. Exactly Samantha. I thought I was eating healthily before FODMAP but it turns out a lot of those 'healthy foods' were actually contributing towards my health problems. I've learned a lot about food this last year!

  4. What an intelligent blog.

    The doctor suspects my son has IBS so I'll direct him this way.

    1. Thank you Liz. Some of the doctors here are beginning to recommend a low-fodmap diet but they are still a long way behind Australia and the U.S. But by all means direct him here and if I can help at all I'd be happy to do so.