IBS and Whole Wheat: A Bad Combination?
We hear it all the time, especially on commercials: whole grain foods are healthier for us than white-flour foods. In other words, when opting for bread or pasta, go whole wheat rather than white. But these advertisements failed to note how whole wheat impacts those of us with more sensitive guts and more specifically, with IBS.
Whole wheat trigger for IBS
This tripped me up for several years, as I continued to make myself sick by buying and eating whole wheat bread and pastas. Then one day I came across a website for people with IBS that definitively warned against whole wheat, noting it is often a trigger for folks like us. I immediately cut out whole wheat from my diet, instead opting for white-flour pastas, pizza crusts, and bread. This didn't mean I went for low-grade quality or junk food type of breads. I still tried to buy organic (which I find also benefits my IBS) and for higher quality white flour breads – like sourdough – that were baked fresh instead of mass-produced and highly processed. I quickly noticed an improvement in my IBS symptoms.
For those like myself, who do not want to or can't really go gluten- or completely grain-free, giving up whole wheat may be an easier and more doable alternative. And it looks like there is some backing from research that white bread is better when it comes to the GI tract.
Research confirms white flour is better for IBS
As a journalist, I reported on a research study conducted by the American Chemistry Society in 2014 that found that eating white bread seems to promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, namely Lactobacillus.1 Since gut bacteria can play a substantial role in intestinal health, eating more white bread can be assumed to have some protective effects for those with IBS.
Another peer review article on dietary recommendations for IBS patients, notes that "there are reports suggesting that FODMAPs in wheat, rather than gluten, induce the GI symptoms in patients with IBS. Amylase trypsin inhibitors and wheat germ agglutinins have also been reported as components in wheat that may contribute to IBS symptoms."2 The problem is that whole wheat and wheat bran are basically insoluble fibers, as opposed to soluble. This means they are harder for the gut to process and break down, and can be aggravating for those of us who suffer from IBS.
What works for me
All this being said, the experience of IBS, like any chronic illness, is ultimately an individual one. What works for me, may not work for you. You may find whole wheat does not flare your IBS--it may actually not bother you at all, or may even soothe your irritated gut. However, if you are still struggling with frequent IBS symptoms and tend to eat a diet high in whole wheat foods, you may want to try to eliminate them for a week or two and see if you notice a difference. It could be something small you could change that could lead to enormous relief.
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