Fructan Intolerance Or Gluten Intolerance? | What's With Wheat

You may have seen some recent studies suggesting that fructan, rather than gluten, is the real offender when it comes to gluten sensitivity. We knew that fructans can be a huge issue for some people with abnormal gut flora, though we didn’t realise it could be more of a culprit than gluten itself when it comes to digestive problems.

However, whilst this is important information, don’t be too alarmed – the advice still remains somewhat the same, due to fructans being higher in gluten-containing foods.

Fructans are a type of fermentable oligosaccharide, disaccharide, monosaccharide and polyols (FODMAP), food molecules that some people find hard to absorb. They can be the reason why people react to foods like garlic and onions. When it comes to digestive issues, it was found that fructans resulted in more symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome and bloating than gluten.

Why Would Someone React To Fructans?
We know that the huge prevalence of gluten sensitivity is likely due to the chemical hybridisation that has occurred to the wheat grain, as well as a failure to properly prepare the wheat (such as fermenting it before consumption, as a sourdough, for example).

With fructans, there is probably more than one reason why someone would be sensitive to them and more research is required on this particular topic. However, humans do not produce the enzyme to break down fructans in the small intestine, and instead they are fermented by our beneficial gut flora so they can be efficiently digested. If you have low beneficial microbes, such as Bifidobacteria, then you may find you react to fructans.

I would, however, like to make one thing clear – that those with gluten sensitivity may not react to fructans as well. I see this a lot in my clients. For example, some individuals experience huge amounts of inflammation, migraines, skin problems, body aches and pains, hair loss and so on with gluten, though will be fine with fructan-containing foods like those below. It is about finding what works for your body.

Where Can Fructans Be Found?
Fructans can be found in:
• Gluten-containing foods: wheat, barley, kamut, rye, spelt, which includes foods like bread, pasta, bagels, cous cous, soy sauce and more.
• Onions
• Shallots
• Garlic
• Cabbage
• Artichoke
• Leek
• Spring onion bulb
• Snow peas
• Beetroot
• Savoy cabbage

Can You Overcome Fructan Intolerance?
Unlike cases of gluten sensitivity, fructan intolerance may be overcome if you correct existing dysbiosis (abnormal gut flora). It is important to correct this, as it can lead to many other problems if left as is. To correct dysbiosis, you will need to build up your beneficial gut flora, and reduce potential overgrowths of other microbes living in your gut. It is best to seek professional support from someone you trust if you want to dive deep into this area of healing.

Should You Be Avoiding Fructans?
If you currently tolerate fructans, then please don’t stop eating them! Fructan-containing foods are highly beneficial prebiotics. We know that beneficial microbes in our gut contribute to 80% of our immune system, so we need to ensure we are providing them with the food they require to flourish.

Also, fructans are a type of fibre and the consumption of these particular carbohydrates has been linked to a number of health benefits, such as improvement in gastrointestinal disorders, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Moreover, some fructan-containing foods are high sulfur compound foods (like garlic, onion, leeks, cabbage, and so on) and sulfur is essential to our health. For example, sulfur is required for the synthesis of glutathione, which is a master antioxidant and crucial for detoxification. Sulfur compounds are also considered a possible cancer-preventative agent.

I hope this helps you with some of your digestive problems, and encourages you to take further action if needed!

If you have had problems with fructans, let us know in the comments below.

With love,

Sheridan Austin
Nutritionist & GAPS Practitioner