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Will fructan-free be the next food trend? If a new study holds true, fructan, a carbohydrate found in wheat, will replace gluten as the guilty party in causing digestive distress in those with non-celiac wheat sensitivity.

After a 2013 study of people with non-celiac wheat sensitivity who ate gluten-free revealed no difference in symptoms after eating identical meals that either had gluten or were gluten-free, researchers looked at the carb as a possible culprit.

In the new study, researchers from the University of Oslo in Norway and Monash University in Australia have found evidence that the familiar complaint of bloating after eating foods with wheat may be due to fructan, not gluten.

Here’s the thing: Foods with gluten often contain fructans, so it’s hard to tell what’s to blame.

To find out, the researchers performed a double-blind crossover challenge of 59 non-celiac individuals on a self-instituted gluten-free diet. Participants were randomly assigned to groups placed on muesli bar diets containing gluten (5.7 g), fructans (2.1 g), or placebo, for seven days.

Following a minimum seven-day washout period (until the symptoms induced by the previous challenge were resolved), participants crossed over into a different group, until they completed all three challenges (gluten, fructan, and placebo).

Symptoms were measured by gastrointestinal symptom rating scale irritable bowel syndrome (GSRS-IBS) version using a linear mixed model for analysis.

Overall, GSRS-IBS scores for participants consuming fructans was significantly higher than participants consuming gluten. There was no difference between those who experienced symptoms on the placebo bars and those who ate the gluten bars.

Researchers notes this is an important discovery since some research has shown that following a gluten-free diet may put people at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

As much as 13 percent of the population have a gluten sensitivity. The reaction to gluten does not damage the cells of the intestines, however it causes similar symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, headaches, “foggy mind,” fatigue, and depression.

In patients with the sensitivity, removing the protein from the diet resolves the symptoms. But if going gluten-free doesn’t resolve these issues, what will? A low-FODMAP diet (FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols.) The diet eliminates bread products with fructans as well as other sources of the carbohydrate, such as onions, garlic, asparagus, and some other vegetables, in addition to other short chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed by the small intestine.

The research was published in Gastroenterology.

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