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For a grain that is used in so many gluten free/IBS friendly recipes and products, corn tends to be a topic of contention in terms of FODMAPs. But why? It’s gluten free (unless contaminated with the protein through processing methods), that much we know, but why do some people react to corn and others not, or, even more confusing, why do different types of corn cause issues for an individual when others are well tolerated?
One of the obvious answers is that all of us react differently to different fermentable carbs, which is true – but it goes deeper than that. The problem with corn is simple – corn is not simple at all. People have sensitivities, intolerances and allergies to different aspects of corn, and not all corn is created equal. This article will deal with the fermentable carbohydrates that corn can contain, as corn allergies and intolerances are not within the scope of this blog. If you are concerned that you have an allergy to corn, please see your doctor.
Since the Native Americans domesticated corn thousands of years ago, it has been extensively bred into many varieties, all of which contain different amounts of FODMAPs, as well as different physical characteristics that lend themselves to certain uses in cuisine and industry. Obviously, for the purpose of this article, I will stick to the species of corn that are intended to be eaten.
This needs to be said. Corn is commonly found as a genetically modified (GMO) product. You may choose to consume non-GMO varieties of corn for personal beliefs, however, genetic modification does not affect FODMAP content. Unless a variety of corn is bred to contain large amounts of fructans, or have a higher fructose:glucose ratio than sweet corn (etc), the GMO corn you find at the supermarket will have the same recommended safe serving size as it’s non-GMO counterpart.
Variety: sweet corn.
FODMAP rating: safe in 1/2 cob servings.
Sweet corn is the corn we eat prepared as a vegetable – on the cob, or find tinned in the grocery store. It is picked when immature, before the simple sugars have a chance to convert to starches. Delicious with butter, salt and pepper, it unfortunately has a very close fructose:glucose ratio, as well as a large amount of sucrose, so should therefore be limited to half-cob servings, according to Monash University. Of course, if you know you can eat more without reacting you may continue to do so.
Variety: dent and flint corn.
FODMAP rating: safe in 1 cup servings.
Corn destined to be consumed as a grain is picked and processed once it has matured, which means the water content in the endosperm is greatly reduced and the simple sugars have largely been converted into starch. Starch is not a FODMAP, which means that products made from corn meal, polenta and popcorn kernels (such as corn tortillas, corn bread and mamaliga) are safe in terms of fermentable carbohydrates, as long as no other FODMAP-containing ingredients have been included in the recipe.
Dent corn has a greater water content than flint corn, which has a much harder, less digestible endosperm; this is due to the differing amounts of floury vs vitreous starch (see Figure 3). For this reason, they are turned into corn meal/polenta and popcorn, respectively.
Variety: waxy corn.
FODMAP rating: safe.
Waxy corn contains a different type of starch (amylopectin, rather than the amylose found in the previously mentioned corn varieties), and is more effective as a thickener and stabilising agent in foods. This product doesn’t come from the entire corn kernel but is the isolated amylopectin.
Variety: dent corn (amylose starch).
FODMAP rating: safe but use in moderation.
Consisting of approximately 93-96% glucose (in the form of maltose, a disaccharide of two glucose molecules), corn syrup is considered safe in terms of FODMAPs, though it should still be consumed in moderation, as it is a sugar and very high GI. Corn syrup is produced via a multi-step enzymatic process, which breaks the corn starch down into varying products, including maltose. Corn syrup is available in light and dark varieties; the dark corn syrup is mixed with some molasses, which, while it has a slightly elevated fructose:glucose ratio, should be evened out by the extremely concentrated glucose in the corn syrup.
In the USA, corn syrup is synonymous with glucose syrup, as glucose syrup is nearly always made from corn. In other countries, glucose syrup can be made from wheat, rice, potatoes or tapioca.
Variety: dent corn (amylose starch).
FODMAP rating: high, avoid.
Once corn syrup (which is mostly maltose/glucose) has been produced, the reaction is taken a step further and the corn syrup is processed with the enzyme glucose isomerase, to convert some of the glucose into fructose. This produces HFCS-42. Liquid chromatography is used to further convert glucose into fructose, to create HFCS-90, which can be blended with HFCS-42 to create HFCS-55.
Regardless of your opinion of the health dangers of HFCS, it is NOT low FODMAP. As the varieties (42%, 55% and 90% fructose) are not labelled differently, it’s best to stay clear.
Other names include: isoglucose, glucose-fructose syrup, fructose-glucose syrup, isolated fructose and fructose syrup (the latter two refer to HFCS-90).
Variety: made from the germ of corn kernels.
FODMAP rating: safe.
FODMAPs are a variety of fermentable carbohydrates. Pure corn oil is 100% fat, so contains no carbohydrates, thus no FODMAPs and is safe to use.
So, there you have it. Different varieties of corn (maize) and their derivatives all have different FODMAP ratings; however, as usual, if your tolerances vary from what Monash has suggested is safe, follow your gut.
Disclaimer: I am not a dietitian or a medical doctor; I have just researched this topic myself. If your health professional has advised you to avoid corn, please do so, as it might not be for a FODMAP-related reason.
Title image credit goes to: http://pixabay.com/en/users/margenauer-271373/
Just a quick re-post today – this is a great blog post by the Nutrition Guru and the Chef. I highly recommend checking their blog out for some much needed common sense nutrition. The recipes aren’t intended to be low FODMAP, so make sure you tweak as required. But back to sugar…
Excepting – of course – a FODMAPper’s requirement for the glucose concentration to be greater than that of the fructose, no isolated sugar is inherently “healthier” than any other and it should always be eaten in moderation.
If I ever say a sugar – or any food – is “evil/bad/the devil” on this blog, you can safely assume I’m referring to its excess free fructose content, which would cause me personally to have an IBS-type reaction. I do my best, though, to stay away from that sort of language, because (plant-based) food isn’t sentient, so can’t wish us harm.
Stay tuned for a new post this Fructose Friendly Friday! Have a great week, guys!
Updated on 28.01.17
For reasons that I have mentioned before, it is crucial to get tested for Coeliac disease (CD) before you begin any elimination diets that cut out the gluten containing grains – this includes the low FODMAP diet, which eliminates wheat, barley and rye for the two month elimination period due to their fructan content. Oats also contain a protein called avenin, which is very similar to gluten and can also cause issues in overly sensitive individuals. There are many reasons why it’s important to be correctly diagnosed (which includes ruling possible differential diagnoses out) but I’ll expand on the most relevant to fructose malabsorption (FM) or the low FODMAP diet.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition in which your body’s immune system reacts to the plant-protein gluten (found in wheat, barley, rye and their derivatives) in such a way that your small intestine lining becomes the target, causing damage to your small bowel and villous atrophy. Villous atrophy in turn leads to a reduced surface area for nutrient absorption, which can contribute to malnutrition, malabsorptive disorders, osteoporosis and many other secondary complications, such as an increased risk of certain cancers. To rule CD in or out, a blood test to check for tissue transglutaminase antibodies is performed and followed up with an endoscopy to confirm any damage to the small intestine.
Non coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), on the other hand, is not as well understood. It is the label given to those who test negative for CD, yet are still apparently affected by gluten. One study suggests that it is not the gluten in the grains but the fructans (acting alone or in combination with the gluten) that are causing sufferers to be symptomatic. Other research hints that it might be an innate immune response, rather than the adaptive immune response of CD, which causes the reaction to gluten-full foods and leads to symptoms that are very similar to those experienced by Coeliacs. Because there is no science-based standardised test to check for NCGS, the diagnosis is one of elimination – other conditions, like CD or a wheat allergy, are ruled out but you find you still improve on a gluten free diet – and NCGS is the possibility that is left.
If you do in fact have undiagnosed CD or NCGS, the low FODMAP diet isn’t anywhere near strict enough to be considered safe for you, as after the elimination phase comes the reintroduction phase, in which you are encouraged to test out foods higher in fermentable carbohydrates – this includes offending grains, which will just make you sick again. If you have CD, you must limit your gluten exposure to basically nothing (less than 20 ppm in the USA is considered safe), so even a contaminated chopping board or deep fryer could make you sick, let alone testing out a full slice of bread. If you have already been diagnosed with CD, you can skip those foods, saving you time and gut hurt… or any of your other symptoms that are caused by gluten.
Furthermore, if you have undiagnosed CD or NCGS, once you have finished the elimination phase and begin to test out wheat, rye and barley, you’ll realise that they bring on symptoms (either IBS or other) and you won’t know whether FM or CD is behind them – and to test for CD, you need to have gluten in your system for an established autoimmune reaction to be visible. If you haven’t been eating gluten, any damage from CD, or any sign of the relevant antibodies, will begin to disappear, meaning that you may test negative, regardless of whether you have active Coeliac disease or not. This is called a false negative result.
If, for one reason or another, you find yourself having been on a long term gluten free diet, yet needing to test for Coeliac disease, there is unfortunately no other way to confirm the diagnosis than to complete a gluten challenge. Instructions vary slightly but, in general, it is recommended that every day, for somewhere between six to twelve weeks (ask your gastroenterologist what they would prefer), you must consume the equivalent of four slices of bread if you’re an adult, or two slices of bread if you’re a child.
After writing the previous post, it seems almost hypocritical to tell you that I had to complete a three month gluten challenge in 2014. You can read my diagnosis story here but, long story short, I tested negative to Coeliac disease (both the antibody blood test and endoscopy) back in 2006 but then tested positive for fructose malabsorption. However, after eating largely gluten free (I didn’t worry about minute levels of contamination), I found myself, at the beginning of 2014, experiencing worsening IBS symptoms and extreme fatigue/brain fog. Ev even asked if I was broken. Now, I felt pretty certain that the culprit was the spelt flour (non-sourdough) that I had been consuming, after reading that it was low FODMAP – note, only sourdough spelt is considered low FODMAP, I had just read inaccurate information. However, the question stood: was it the fructans or the gluten that was causing this relapse?
I know that many people out there would happily re-eliminate the spelt flour and move on with their lives – but I’m not one of them. If there’s a question, I’m the type of person who needs to know the answer. So, I spoke to my GP, who referred me to a gastroenterologist and I began a twelve week gluten challenge. However, I know that fructans in wheat (and to some extent, rye) make me sick – what was I to do? The answer to your low FODMAP gluten challenge question is: SEITAN.
Seitan is a vegan protein/meat replacement that is made from vital wheat gluten, which is normally 75-80% gluten – and coincidentally, registers as low FODMAP. Now, let’s do some maths… stand back.
You could just pop your seitan chunks like a form of medicine and be done with it but it was fun to experiment with it in cooking and I probably ended up consuming more than the 12.0 g of gluten on the days when we did so… which might have contributed to my gut’s unhappiness and the fatigue.
Based off Bob’s Red Mill’s basic seitan recipe.
In a large pot (I cannot emphasise this enough, seitan balloons!) bring the broth mixture to a boil.
Meanwhile, mix the gluten flour, herbs, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. Slowly add in the stock and stir/knead until it’s a sponge-like dough. It should be tacky to the touch but not wet. Tip it out onto a well floured bench (use more gluten flour) and knead it for a minute or two, until it becomes tougher and more elastic.
Cut it into sixths, then roll them out into logs and divide each one into twenty. There you go, you now have 120 pieces and four pieces equals one daily serving of gluten for an adult.
Place the seitan dough in the boiling water and boil for one hour. Watch how it expands – I needed to swap saucepans halfway through.
After boiling, the seitan still isn’t good to eat. At this point, I like to think of it as “raw” meat. The flavour is nice, thanks to the spices, but the texture isn’t great. Spread the seitan out on a tray to dry, then use it in stir fries, pan fry it, bake it – it all works.
Pan fried seitan with mirepoix as a dipping sauce:
For those who were just curious, I hope you found this piece interesting. For those who have fructose malabsorption or IBS and need to complete a gluten challenge – good luck. I didn’t find it fun, in terms of fatigue, but I hope you fare differently.
After getting back to a normal diet (still no active Coeliac disease, phew), I have learnt that I can cope with a bit of gluten every now and then, so it’s clearly not as big of an issue for me as the fructans are. Luckily, that means that I can still enjoy (proper) sourdough breads in moderation. Yum.
This post is intended for educational purposes only. Please run anything that I have written here by your doctor or dietitian (etc) to make sure it is suitable for your individual case.
In terms of FODMAPs, vital wheat gluten is generally considered low but it is not recommended for consumption during the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet. As always, it’s best to not need to do a gluten challenge at all, by testing for gluten/wheat related conditions before an elimination diet has begun but this isn’t always possible, for a variety of reasons.
Unfortunately, you might react during a gluten challenge (that’s the point, after all); this method just minimises the chance of that reaction being due to the fructans in wheat as much as possible.
As many people are aware – and just as many people aren’t – gluten is a protein that is found in the grains wheat, barley and rye (and their derivatives). A very similar protein, avenin, is found in oats, and can also cause a gluten-like reaction in some very sensitive people.
Gluten is the trigger behind the autoimmune disease known as Coeliac disease and is also a known gut irritant for some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or any of the inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). For these people, eliminating gluten from their diets is crucial to improving both their gut and overall health. For others, it might be completely unnecessary.
Now, obviously, the reasons listed below are relevant for those who have access to testing for Coeliac disease, either by blood test or endoscopy. If you, for either medical, financial or geographical reasons, cannot be tested for Coeliac and you feel like gluten-containing foods set you off, then nobody can stop you from doing what you feel is necessary, using whatever resources you can find. However, I strongly urge anyone who feels like they have symptoms, either IBS-like or other, that are related to food to go and see their medical professional of choice.
So, here they are:
Fad gluten free (or anything-free) diets are a pet peeve of mine. I try not to be too zealous about certain things in life – I don’t want to annoy friends of mine who are not interested in digestive health, after all – but when it comes to “going gluten free” on a whim, I can’t always hold my tongue. To my friends and family, I do apologise. To my readers, though, I feel it’s something that should be put out on the internet again and again, to make as many people as possible aware of the dangers of uneducated dieting.
This article is written for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace a proper medical assessment. Please run anything written here past your own health care practitioner to make sure it is the right course of action for you.
Hi guys, I’m really excited to announce that I was asked to write an article about fructose malabsorption for Suggestic, a website that deals with nutrition, food intolerances and restaurant suggestions. Well, apparently I was a little enthusiastic – I didn’t want to miss anything – so I needed to split the article in two. I have already shared part one, so here goes part two:
“Last week I talked about fructose malabsorption, its link to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and the similarities it shares with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). This week, I will expand on the “fructose friendly” dietary management strategy for fructose malabsorption – the complete low FODMAP diet – that is gaining traction as the frontline dietary method for combating IBS symptoms.
IBS is generally understood as a long-term or recurrent disorder involving the function of your gastrointestinal system, usually due to imbalances of intestinal motility, function and sensation, leading to symptoms of digestive distress. It is a common occurrence in Western countries, with up to 30% of the population being affected at some point in their lives, women generally more-so than men.
What are FODMAPs?
“FODMAPs” is an acronym that stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols and describes a group of readily fermentable carbohydrates that are not well absorbed in the small intestines of some people; if these carbohydrates are not broken down and/or transported through the intestinal wall and into your blood stream, they continue down into your colon, where the resident gut bacteria digest them, leading to a build-up of certain gases and short chain fatty acids, which can alter the water content of your large intestine. These products of fermentation are the causes for the wind, bloating, abdominal cramps/pain and altered bowel movements that you associate with your fructose malabsorption, lactose intolerance or IBS.
The list of FODMAPs includes:
There are hydrogen/methane breath tests that can check whether you malabsorb fructose, lactose and/or sorbitol but the other FODMAPs must be properly eliminated and then tested with a reintroduction trial (outlined below) to know whether they are causing your symptoms…”
Once again, let me know what you guys think! I sincerely hope I didn’t miss anything out – I’m planning on writing more about the links between carbohydrate malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies soon, when I have some time over the holidays.
Thank you for taking the time to read it! Have a great weekend guys – and stay tuned for the easy to make chocolate peanut butter cookie ball recipe that’s very coming soon.