Many of those who start on a low fructose diet are insistent that they can still eat wheat. I know I was one of them and I’ve heard many others say the same at first and later realize that they needed to remove wheat from their diet. The problem is that wheat contains fructans and since wheat is so largely consumed today it is considered the largest contributor to our fructan ingestion.
How do fructans fit in with Fructose Malabsorption? Fructans are a chain molecule, formed from fructose, with glucose as the final molecule. Fructans are a food fiber which humans do not have the enzymes to break down and absorb in the small intestine. The bacteria in the large intestine is able to digest them, in the process producing gas. For many people this is not a problem, but for those with IBS the gas can cause painful bloating, diarrhea or constipation.
The largest amount of fructans are consumed in wheat, and the second largest would be in onions, followed by garlic and unripe bananas.
Excess Fructan Foods:
- Artichokes (Globe & Jerusalem)
- Banana’s (green) – can eat well ripened bananas
- Brussel Sprouts
- Dandelion leaves
- Onion (brown, white, & Spanish)
- Radicchio lettuce
- Spring/Green onion (white section) – green section is okay to eat.
It seems that fructans and fructose can cause different symptoms in individuals. It is certainly so for myself. Fructose creates excess gas for me. When we first began on our low FM diet we worked on fructose only and reduced our wheat intake to one serving every other day. While the gas symptoms did reduce I was still having episodes that I couldn’t explain and was not able to get my constipation under control as well as I had hoped. Matthew continued to have his bright green loose stools inconsistenly without being able to put a trigger on what was causing it. Rebecca was struggling emotionally and we didn’t know if it was because of something she was eating. The final straw came when I became so tired all the time. At first I tried to dismiss it as needing more rest, but soon it became apparent that something was not right. After a decent nights sleep I would be exhausted by 9am and need to lay down. My mind couldn’t focus and I wasn’t able to process things. It was slowly getting worse and I was getting more and more frustrated. For a period of time I suspected wheat but I didn’t want to take it out of my diet. I like food, I love food, food is such a social aspect of our lives. I guess I just had to get bad enough to realize that wheat wasn’t worth feeling like crap and that’s the point I hit. I was determined to go a month without wheat. My first attempt made it to not quite two weeks, a family tragedy found me at the hospital quite a bit and receiving meals from people and it was just too difficult to stick to the diet change at that time when it was all so new to me. I gave up saying the two weeks hadn’t made a different so wheat must not be the issues. But a couple months later I found myself thinking it was time to do another trial and that this time I was going to stick it out for a month. We made it through the month (and let me say it wasn’t easy at times) and it became apparent that wheat (or fructans) was the cause of some of my unlying issues. While it didn’t cause the immediate obvious symptoms that fructose was, it did make me groggy, tired, fatigued, brain fogged … and constipated.
I will not say that I never had wheat. The first months I gave in more often, usually on the weekend. I stuck to the wheat-free diet at home but had a harder time when we went out. I struggled to accept that there was one more odd thing about me. I just wanted to fit in and enjoy my food. I wasn’t ready to give up the wheat all the time. We’ve been wheat-free for over a year now. Again, I cannot say I never have wheat, but I would say it’s usually about once every three weeks or so. I notice the different and don’t like the after effects of having wheat. I can’t stand that brain fogged feeling, walking around in a haze unable to think and the headache that comes with it. Often if I give in to having some wheat it will be later in the day or in the evening when I know I don’t have much more to do for the day and can relax and sleep it off later. I will have to deal with slight constipation the next day or so, but as long as I don’t eat too much or do it several days in a row it’s okay. After a year I have had the time to learn more ideas to replace wheat and this had made being wheat-free easier, we have simply learned to pack along food whenever we go out.
Marietta is not so fortunate to be able to sleep of her brain fog, she has actually had episodes of brain fog in her sleep/dreams. She is the most sensitive in the house to fructans and also the most dedicated to staying away from them. She knows it makes her feel unwell with almost instant brain fog and she also hates feeling that way. I will give her credit, she has much more willpower then I to reject food and stick to the diet. Rebecca’s willpower is not quite so strong, but neither are her symptoms. She does not get immediate symptoms nor the excess gas the Marietta and I get. It’s often hard to tell where to draw the line with Rebecca so she has to stick to the same diet as the rest of us. While Rebecca will give in much easier when we are out, she will also faithful eat the appropriate food if it is provided. As long as I pack a lunch or snack for her she sticks to that and might only have a nibble of something else. It’s not easy being 10 or 11 and having to always explain why you can’t eat what others are eating.
Similar to our situation I have also heard of others that withdrew fructans from their diet later on when they realize they had not gotten rid of all their symptoms and could be feeling even better then they were. I wish I could say that I am symptom free now, but that would be a lie. I do have occasional bouts of diarrhea that I haven’t pinpointed yet and then there are just the days where something is off or not right and I can’t figure it out. But overall I’m happy with where I am. It’s a bit of a balancing act to find a point that you are content with. I’m not 100% but I am so much better then I was that I’m happy with being 80% there. Maybe someday I’ll figure out the rest of it, but for the time being I can still eat a good variety and can better enjoy the life God has given me.
More information on Fructans
- A List of Foods with Fructans http://www.livestrong.com/article/440357-a-list-of-foods-with-fructan/
- Fructans 101 http://www.ibsfree.net/ibsfree_at_last/2010/02/fructans-101.html
- Kitchen Therapy http://blog.kitchentherapy.us/2010/01/wheat-free-gluten-free-fodmaps-free-ibs-free-at-last-book-giveaway/
- Food Info http://www.food-info.net/uk/carbs/fructans.htm
- Maybe It`s Something you Ate - http://foodworksblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/maybe-it-is-something-you-ate-fructans/
- Fructose Friendly Foodie http://www.fructosefriendlyfoodie.com/fructose-friendly-food-guides/fructan-content-food-guide