Does Eating Bread Really Cause Bloating?
What is Myth and What is Reality
Does eating bread really cause bloating? If you’re wondering the same question, let us see together what is myth and what is reality behind your bread-associated stomach bloat.
Before jumping to conclusions and self-diagnosing what you think is a wheat allergy or intolerance and cutting off bread and other wheat-rich foods, make sure you carefully assess all other factors that may cause you to balloon up, such as stress and medical history.
While experts suggest that genuine food intolerance is rarely the culprit, wheat sensitivity does appear to be quite common across all age groups.
Common Bread-Intolerance Symptoms
According to Isabel Skypala, PhD specialist allergy dietitian at the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, around one-third of the patients under her care report experiencing digestive problems such as bloating, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain after eating bread. While allergy is unlikely to be the underlying cause, bread consumption-related symptoms are real and the wheat-high content of bread may be the trigger, she suggests.
Wheat allergy reactions are usually noticeable immediately and include itching, wheezing and sneezing. If this sounds like you after you eat bread, perhaps it’s best to see your physician and establish the real cause behind it.
Some people may have trouble digesting fiber in general, and wheat is fiber. While in some cases, this is a temporary issue that can be fixed, in other more critical cases, it is the manifestation of a more serious, hidden condition, such as Celiac disease. With this condition, the bowel lining cannot absorb and is damaged by gluten-high foods including wheat, barley, oats, and rye. Do a blood test to rule out Celiac disease.
Wheat sensitivity comes along with symptoms like cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and sickness. Unlike wheat allergy reactions, with wheat sensitivity, symptoms kick in quite slowly, sometimes even hours after eating any wheat-containing food. There is no diagnostic test in this case.
Wheat Sensitivity or Gluten Intolerance
While a growing number of people report experiencing wheat sensitivity-related symptoms, which has created a market niche for gluten-free products, it still remains unclear whether these people should follow a wheat-free or gluten-free meal plan.
Individuals with self-diagnosed gluten sensitivity, who experience gastrointestinal distress only after consuming gluten-high grains, may actually be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and may not be gluten sensitive.
This possibility fuels the debate because gluten intolerance was recognized as a health condition by international Celiac disease expert only recently, validating the claims of patients whose symptoms could not be explained by physicians after celiac disease negative diagnosis.
Alessio Fasano, MD, chief of pediatric gastroenterology and head of the Celiac disease center at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, explains that although both Celiac disease and IBS may have similar symptoms, they also have certain specificities, which need to be emphasized.
While both may result in bloating and abdominal distress, “with gluten sensitivity, extraintestinal symptoms occur that are not present in people with IBS, such as chronic fatigue, headache, foggy mind, joint pain, skin rash, depression, anemia and numbness”, says Dr. Fasano.
Irritable bowel syndrome is an intestinal motility disorder, effecting in either too slow or too fast bowel movements. At the same time, it is extremely painful and there may be an imbalance in gut bacteria. Irritable bowel syndrome affects around 1 in 5 Americans and tends to become a common digestive issue.
When people with gluten sensitivity cut off gluten from their diet, they start feeling better, but when they reintroduce it, the symptoms return in a snap. This stirred experts’ curiosity, who started to doubt whether the symptoms are due to the effects of gluten alone or are there actually other nutritional compounds commonly found in gluten-rich grains responsible for abdominal discomfort.
By cutting down on gluten-containing grains, you also reduce the amount of rapidly fermentable carbohydrates. Wheat, barley and rye are rich in gluten but also fructans, carbohydrates and fiber, which may cause digestive problems and fatigue in some cases.
Additionally, wheat counts among the main sources of gluten in the American diet and it is also high in proteins such as amylase trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) that to a certain extent might account for gluten sensitivity symptoms. Due to resistance breeding, the ATI content in wheat has increased in recent years. In turn, this led to the hypothesis that ATIs might be the triggers for the increase in Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity cases. Researchers are working frenziedly to find out more about these possibilities.
Although experts know that gluten is one of the triggers for Celiac disease, there are yet a whole lot of questions left unanswered about gluten sensitivity.
“We know for sure that gluten is the culprit that triggers an autoimmune response that leads to celiac disease in genetically predisposed individuals. We also know that gluten triggers an allergic reaction in people with wheat allergy. For gluten sensitivity, we don’t know the complete picture about what triggers this reaction. There could be evidence of other components of wheat that might trigger the reaction of the innate immune system”, says Dr. Fasano.
How to Tackle Wheat-Triggered Digestive Symptoms
If you experience long-lasting and severe symptoms, especially if you have blood in your stool, experience vomiting and painful stomach cramps, see your doctor to prevent aggravation of the symptoms.
If you balloon up after eating bread or experience any minor symptoms, Dr Skypala recommends eliminating wheat from your diet completely for four weeks. Then gradually bring wheat back into your diet to see if the symptoms return.
When re-wheating up your diet, start with Weetabix or pasta a few days before bringing bread back to the dinner table, the NHS dietitian recommends. Ideally, start with more pure forms of wheat, as bread contains a lot of other ingredients, such as yeast, which may also lead to some of the associated symptoms.
What is Myth and What is Reality
If your symptoms reappear, it is a clear indication that you are sensitive to wheat and will also allow you to pinpoint the culprit foods. While some people may only have trouble with pasta, others are well until they eat bread.
If you are wheat intolerant or know that consuming wheat-rich foods puts a lot of pressure on your gut, the main way to alleviate your symptoms is to either go wheat free or partially wheat free. Here’s what to eat and what to avoid.
Stay away from foods containing wheat, such as bread, pasta, cereals, couscous, cakes and pastries, biscuits, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), doughnuts, beer, and soy sauce. Replace them with wheat-free foods, such as porridge, Rice Krispies, corn flakes, buckwheat pasta, and quinoa. You can also try wheat-free bread. These versions of bread are usually made with rice, corn or tapioca flour and come in all shapes and sizes, as buns, English muffins or rolls. Look for whole grain-based varieties that contain 2 to 3 grams of fiber per slice.
However, there are a lot of myths revolving around bread. Here are a few things to know before you shun bread.
Lucy Jones, NHS award-winning dietitian and renowned TV host set off on a quest to bust a few of the most common myths about ostensibly bread-associated bloating. Eliminating bread from your diet, she says, can have a serious damaging effect on your health.
Yeast Myth: Yeast-containing foods such as bread cause bloating.
Reality: Yeast and bloating-related myths are probably connected to the fact that yeast causes dough to rise, and hence may bring up the mental image of bloating, Jones suggests.
According to the findings of the British Nutrition Foundation, there is no conclusive scientific evidence to support that yeast is responsible for gas and bloating along with other gastrointestinal discomfort. Baking deactivates the yeast in bread, which means that practically the end product contains no yeast, and hence it cannot lead to bloating or any other wheat intolerance-associated symptoms, Jones explains.
Fiber Myth: Foods containing dietary fiber like bread, rice, and cereal leads to gastrointestinal distress.
Reality: Sometimes, when people have a low-fiber diet and suddenly increase fiber intake, they may experience bloating. In most cases however, the gut most likely adapts to the new regime quite fast and bloating or associated symptoms disappear.
Cutting down on bread or any other fiber-rich foods for this particular reason is actually very likely to backfire, leading to constipation, which can (and in most cases does) lead to belly bloat.
To rid yourself of bloating, fiber up your diet incrementally and make sure you are well hydrated as your fiber intake increases. Also, don’t miss out on your regular workout! Physical activity promotes elimination of toxins, stimulates bowel movements and hence, contributes to better digestion and a healthier gut.
Myth: Bread allergy leads to bloating.
Reality: Gluten-free foods have been in focus for quite a few years now, with a lot of marketing going on around them from promoting fad diets to celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow campaigning gluten-free foods. As generally people are guided by glamorous reviews and image, more and more people nowadays are starting to follow gluten-free diets.
A 2010 report of Portsmouth University indicates that up to 20 per cent of the adult population suspect that they suffer from a form of food allergy or intolerance. However, evidence pointed to the fact that the actual prevalence of food allergy and sensitivity in adults was actually below 2 per cent.
A more recent report of Warwick University states that there is little evidence to support the ability of wheat-free diets to ensure longer-term health.
The conclusion that can be drawn from this is simple – while some people do experience gastrointestinal distress when eating certain foods, it is essential to avoid the pitfall of self-diagnosis, which may result in eliminating nutritious foods from your diet. Whenever you experience anything out of order, seek medical advice!
Did you know that bread supplies to your body an essential amount of vitamins and fiber and over 10% of the average amount of zinc, magnesium, protein, and potassium that an adult needs as part of a balanced diet? That is why you should carefully weigh all the other factors that may be contributing to your gut discomfort before you cut out bread. For instance, other factors such as anxiety, depression, a sedentary lifestyle, carbonated drinks, chewing gum, coffee, irregular or binge eating, and generally, eating foods with a high content of fermentable carbohydrates (not only wheat).
Furthermore, crunching over your desk quickly eating a sandwich while still ‘doing some work to catch up’ can also slow down the digestive process, making you feel fuller than you really are.
Sitting up properly while you eat can help prevent the bloat and any feeling of being overfilled.
Shona Wilkinson, NutriCentre nutirionist, explained that whole-grain bread supports digestion due to its dietary fiber high content. The fiber makes the stool soft, thereby helping prevent constipation, which is a widespread ‘disease’ these days.
Health and fitness nutritional expert David Pickering also gives bread a vote of confidence by saying that the adverse effects of striking bread off their menu, which some people may experience, occur because the body needs to adjust to processing more protein instead of carbohydrates. When reintroducing carbohydrates into their diet, the body needs to adapt to digesting and processing carbs again. To avoid these undesirable effects, Pickering advises following a balanced diet that includes carbs (which are also found in bread).
What to Do In Case of Anaphylaxis
Medically-diagnosed wheat allergy, in which symptoms are severe, may lead to anaphylaxis if first aid is not provided immediately. Here’s how it manifests and what you need to do.
The most common symptoms include:
Throat swelling and tightness;
Chest pain or tightness;
Pale or blue-ish skin color;
Dizziness or even fainting.
If you notice someone shows any of these signs, call 911 immediately! If you suspect you or your child may be allergic to wheat or any other food, see your doctor to rule out any critical condition.
If you are allergic to wheat, odds are you may also be allergic to other grains (see above). If you’re only allergic to wheat, following a wheat-free diet is easier than following a gluten-free one.
In some rare cases, wheat allergic reactions are physical activity-related. Strangely, some people experience wheat intolerance-related symptoms within a few hours after working out. Exercise-induced chemical reactions in your body may lead to either an allergic reaction or worsen an immune system response to wheat protein. This condition leads to anaphylaxis.
How to Go Wheat Free
Giving up bread and other wheat-containing foods shouldn’t be damaging to your health, if you do it the right way.
Wheat is an essential component in many bakery products and breakfast cereals, which are often enriched with vitamins and minerals.
In the past, wheat-sensitive people faced the danger of cutting out essential nutrients such as B-complex vitamins and iron along with wheat. Today there is a wide range of wheat-free food versions that will not compromise a balanced diet.
With a great variety of substitutes, you can enjoy the liberty to choose gluten-free bread and try other types of cereals that contain quinoa, corn or rice. However, when opting for wheat and/or gluten-free products, make sure they are equally nutritious as their wheat-containing counterparts, Dr. Skypala advises.
Removing wheat from your diet can be a challenge, as some products may be clear sources of wheat, such as bread or whole-grain cereals, but others like soy sauce are not. So make sure you strike all wheat off your menu!
Don’t despair just yet, as good news is coming your way. Although consuming raw bread may cause tummy trouble to some people, eating toast has no adverse effect whatsoever. That is because cooked (toasted) wheat tends to be easier to digest. Similarly, sourdough bread made with French wheat-based flour or any kind of bread from a specialist bakery rather than the supermarket is also a good alternative.
The technique used in the industrial bread-making process known as the Chorleywood process skips the second rising step to accelerate production. Because of that, people tend to be more sensitive to supermarket breads, Dr. Skypala explains. That’s why it’s always better to buy bread from an artisan bakery (if you can’t make your own).
People suffering from wheat or gluten sensitivity can always choose the tummy-friendly FODMAP diet and bust the bloat.
Initially developed for people suffering from IBS, the low-FODMAP diet plan gains more terrain amongst people with wheat sensitivity, being recommended by dietitians as a cure for abdominal distress caused by gluten.
What is FODMAP? This acronym reads as:
F – fermentable; O – oligosaccharides; D – disaccharides; M – monosaccharides; P – polyols.
All these compounds are types of carbohydrates that cannot be easily broken down and absorbed by gastrointestinal system.
A low-FODMAP meal plan involves eliminating all fermentable (FODMAP) foods from your diet, such as wheat, onions, apple, pears, mushrooms, honey, cabbage, soy sauce and soy-based combinations, and sometimes even milk (find below a complete list of foods not to eat and foods to eat as part of a low-FODMAP diet).
As reassurance, the FODMAP diet has proven “hugely successful” with IBS patients, and since “it excludes wheat, many people with wheat sensitivity may also find it helpful”, Dr. Skypala suggests.
However, before you go low-FODMAP, pay a visit to your doctor and/or dietitian. As with any other dietary change, the low-FODMAP plan tends to work best if coupled with specialized advice.
Foods NOT to Eat
A low-FODMAP diet will exclude:
Vegetables: asparagus, artichokes, onions, leek, bulb, garlic, legumes/pulses, sugar snap peas, onion and garlic-based salts, beetroot, Savoy cabbage, celery, sweet corn;
Fruits: apples, pears, mango, nashi pears, watermelon, nectarines, peaches, plums;
Milk & dairy: cow’s milk, yogurt, soft cheese, cream, custard, ice cream;
Protein sources: legumes/pulses;
Breads & cereal: wheat-containing bread varieties, rye, wheat-based cereals with dried fruit, wheat pasta;
Snacks: rye crackers, wheat-containing biscuits;
Nuts & seeds: cashews, pistachios.
Foods to Eat
Saving the good news last, a low-FODMAP diet will always include:
Vegetables: alfalfa, bean sprouts, green beans, bok choy, capsicum (bell pepper), carrots, chives, fresh herbs (green leaves), choy sum, cucumber, tomato, zucchini;
Fruits: bananas, oranges, mandarins, grapes, melon;
Milk & dairy: lactose-free milk, lactose-free yogurt, hard cheese;
Protein sources: meats, fish, chicken, Tofu, tempeh;
Breads & cereal: gluten-free and sourdough bread versions, rice bubbles, oats, gluten-free pasta, rice, quinoa;
Snacks: gluten-free biscuits, rice cakes, corn thins;
Nuts & seeds: almonds (<10 nuts), pumpkin seeds.
While the benefits of FODMAPs are unquestionable for some people with wheat sensitivity, things tend to be a bit fuzzy in self-diagnosed cases. PhD researcher Jessica Biesiekierski has studied the effects of gluten and FODMAPs on people with self-diagnosed gluten sensitivity and came to the conclusion that further investigation is required to touch on the following points:
Identify a biomarker or determine a medical test to help physicians accurately diagnose gluten sensitivity and recommend proper treatment;
Understand how gluten influences symptoms in the gut and beyond;
Have a clear picture about the prevalence of gluten sensitivity;
Determine the amount (if any) of gluten that gluten-sensitive people can actually tolerate.