The dietary triggers lurking in carbs

ImageThis is probably the single most important thing people with digestive issues need to be aware of.

Your body can make all the enzymes it needs to completely break down protein and fat.  Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are a lot more difficult for the body to digest.

Our bodies don’t make all of the different enzymes we would need to break down every different subtype of the carbohydrates we eat.

You know what can break down the types of carbs that our own enzymes can’t? You guessed it—our gut bacteria.

This is why, when you eat large amounts of certain carbohydrates (beans, anyone?) you end up experiencing some…uh… flatulence. Gas is produced when the bacteria in your large intestine break down the carbohydrates that your digestive enzymes were unable to break down in your small intestine.

This isn’t to say that all carbohydrates are bad. There are many subtypes of carbohydrates that we can digest. And even among those that we lack the enzymes for, you might find that some of them don’t bother you.

Here is a list of the different subtypes of carbohydrates that we humans can’t digest on our own.   Again, you don’t want to automatically write off all of these. Instead, you would want to be keeping a food journal so you can keep track, over time, of what you ate and how you felt.

–Lactose. Lactose, as many people know, is the sugar found in milk and other dairy products.  We don’t normally think of dairy as a “carb,” but milk is actually full of sugar.

Babies are born with the ability to digest lactose: their bodies produce the necessary enzyme, which is called lactase.

But as many people get older, their bodies stop producing lactase, which means that milk sugar starts reaching their large intestine as food for the bacteria there.   This can result in lots of gas and potentially diharrea.

–Fiber (aka cellulose). Obviously, having some fiber is good, even necessary for your health. But I think pretty much everyone has a limit, where they know they’ve had too much fiber. And for people with irritable bowel syndrome, that limit can vary pretty widely.

–FODMAPS – a specific type of carbohydrate found in many plant foods that causes rapid growth in gut bacteria. While of course we need our gut bacteria to survive, rapid growth can result in gas and bloating. Recent research has suggested that IBS sufferers can benefit from limiting or eliminating FODMAP-containing foods. Check out these articles from About.Com and Today’s Dietician for more.

–Raffinose. This is the sugar found in beans which causes all the gas. It’s common knowledge that beans are the “magical fruit” that make you “toot,” but did you know that raffinose is also found in foods like peanuts and soybeans? (And that you can take an enzyme supplement such as Beano to help yourself digest foods like peanut butter?)

I will be discussing these concepts in more detail in the future– just wanted to get this list out there for now.  Hope it’s useful!

P.S. I felt kind of bad choosing a picture to use in this post.  I’m not saying not to eat any carbs at all– just to be aware of what’s in them!   The picture of this bean dish, which looks absolutely lovely, is courtesy of Elana’s Pantry (a great site which you should check out!).


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