I was born and bred in Perth. Perth is a boom/bust town so I know a boom when I see one and we are most certainly going through a gluten-free boom. It has been irritating me for a long time but a few things, lately, have made me really grumpy.
Choice Magazine, the Australian Consumers Association magazine, ran an article last month that got me going. The article advised:
“Coeliac Australia estimates that while just 60,000 (0.3%) of Australians have been diagnosed the coeliac disease, at least 10% of the local population are strictly controlling gluten consumption, and a further 18% are loosely controlling their gluten intake.”
Thirty three times more people than need be are strictly controlling their gluten consumption! Why? Choice Magazine advised that 65% of the population believe that gluten-free foods are healthier than foods containing gluten. This is despite the fact that “gluten-free foods are more likely to be filled with additives such as gums and stabilisers to help create the texture of wheat products.”
The article then went on to illustrate some supermarket rip-offs that people on a gluten-free diet have to tolerate. Ordinary rice crackers cost $.99/100g but, with the words “gluten free” on the packet, they cost $2.49/100g. Rice and potato chips cost significantly more in a packet containing the words “gluten-free” than in a packet without those magical words. The article was full of similar examples and I recommend everyone read it.
A couple of days later, I noticed that Woolworths was releasing its own brand of gluten-free products and was offering 20% off the normal price for one month. I assume this is to get people to try the products so that, after the one month trial, they may still buy them for up to seven times more than a similar product containing gluten.
I was more than shaking my head at this stage – I was really really grumpy. How did this happen? Clearly, there is demand for these over-priced products.
Most of the people who adhere to a gluten-free diet will tell you they are gluten intolerant. The Choice article strongly suggests that “gluten intolerance” is a myth. According to Choice: “there is no test for gluten sensitivity accepted by mainstream medicine”. The article then got exciting. It indicated that those who don’t have coeliac disease but report feeling better when gluten is removed from their diet, may actually have a problem with FODMAPS.
My interest peaked. I had never heard of FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Disaccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols) before. A quick internet search and I found the Monash University Medicine/Nursing and Health Services site and the Low FODMAP Diet for irritable bowel syndrome.
According to the site, irritable bowel syndrome is a common gastrointestinal disorder affecting one in seven Australian adults and is also common in the USA, Europe and many Asian countries. “This condition is characterised by chronic and relapsing symptoms; lower abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, wind, distension and altered bowel habit (ranging from diarrhoea to constipation) but with no abnormal pathology.”
The research team at Monash University has developed a diet to control gastrointestinal symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome.
According to the site, FODMAPs can be poorly absorbed in the small intestine. Mal-absorbed carbohydrates are fermented by gut bacteria to produce gas. Current research strongly suggests that this group of carbohydrates contributes to irritable bowel symptoms.
Monash University has an app and a little booklet for sale. I bought the booklet. It appears FODMAPS are found in a wide range of foods. Fructans (found in wheat, rye, onions and garlic) and GOS (galacto-obigosacharides) (found in legumes such as a chickpeas) are malabsorbed by all of us resulting in irritable bowel symptoms in some. Humans do not have enzymes to break down fructans or GOS.
Fructose (found in certain fruits and honey), lactose (found in milk products) and sugar polyols – sorbitol (found in some fruits and vegetables) are only malabsorbed in some people.
It appears there is a breath test which identifies individuals who malabsorb fructose, lactose and/or sorbital. The breath test does not cover fructans and GOS because, as mentioned above, they are malabsorbed by all of us. Coincidently, gluten-free foods are, usually, based on rice flour, corn flour and potato flour which are low in fructans so, by going on a gluten-free diet, you would be reducing your FODMAPS.
Therefore, please, if you have gastrointestinal issues, get tested for coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease and bowel cancer. If all results are negative, you probably have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The Monash University booklet recommends seeing a dietician and going on a full low FODMAP diet for 2 – 6 weeks then gradually re-introducing small amounts of FODMAP foods into your diet. “Many people can return to their usual diet, with just a few high FODMAP foods that need to be avoided in large amounts.”