A new study suggests that gluten may not be the allergen triggering your sensitivity.
Credit: Getty: Stefka Pavlova

If you have a wheat sensitivity or are on a gluten-free diet, gluten may not be the only food component you want to monitor. New research shows that fructan, a complex carbohydrate composed of fructose, could be the allergen behind the growing number of wheat allergies—and the culprit behind what appears to be so many people's gluten intolerance or sensitivity.

Fructans are an important component of proper gut health for many dieters, given that they are considered to be an important element of prebiotics (bacteria that keeps our microbiome healthy), according to a new report from The Washington Post, penned by Carrie Dennett, RD. Dennet highlighted previous research suggesting that fructans contain antioxidants and provide immunity support, promoting holistic health benefits. However, these benefits are not enjoyed by all—and, in fact, may be a detriment for those who are allergic to wheat.

Fructan is an oligosaccharide, a part of the FODMAP acronym which highlights carbohydrates that are not properly digested by the small intestine, but are instead typically broken down by bacteria in the large intestine. The biggest source of frucans? Wheat—though it is present in honey, fruit, "rye, oats, barley, artichokes, asparagus, leeks, garlic, and lettuce" according to the Post.

For someone with a fructan intolerance, bacteria in the large intestine may not be properly breaking it down, causing gas, bloating, and other symptoms that are often ascribed to a gluten or wheat sensitivity.

A double-blind study conducted in Norway earlier this year randomly assigned 59 people with self-reported gluten sensitivities to eat baked museli bars that contained significant amounts of gluten, fructans, or neither for a week—neither researchers nor participants knew which bar they were eating.

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The findings showed 24 of the participants experienced the worst symptoms after eating the fructan-containing bars, compared to only 13 participants who reported adverse side-effects after eating bars made with gluten. Curiously, 22 people said the placebo bar bothered them most.

What does this mean for those suffering from gluten intolerances? Dennett suggests that dieters focus on eliminating fructans from their diet for several weeks and paying close attention to overall health—noting if there's a difference in side effects could help you understand if fructans trigger harsher side effects than gluten would.

In any case, speaking with a certified allergist about any reactions to foods containing fructans could help properly identify food intolerances, especially before you eliminate any foods from your diet permanently (which can be just as dangerous for your health).