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Does gluten really make you bloated?

articles Jan 16, 2024

Well... it's complicated so you'll want to read this before going gluten free

Firstly, let’s define what gluten is. It’s the protein component in wheat, barley and rye that gives these grain flours its softness and stretchiness - yep, think fresh and fluffy bread hot out of the oven.

People living with Coeliac Disease cannot tolerate any gluten as it causes inflammation to the lining of the digestive tract. Coeliac Disease is an autoimmune condition where you carry the gene that is somehow triggered (by a virus or environmental stress) to 'turn on'. Once it's turned on, your body reacts to gluten and the gastrointestinal lining becomes inflamed and no longer can absorb nutrients. You can’t fix or reverse Coeliac Disease; it’s gluten free foods for life or risk becoming very unwell.

So why does everyone tell you to go gluten free if you experience bloating?

Going gluten-free is hard, can increase your risk of nutrient deficiencies and is generally, an experience that I don't think anyone with Coeliac Disease would recommend doing if you don't have to.

The reason you might feel better or notice your bloating disappear when you go gluten free is often correlated to the restriction of foods that otherwise makes you feel yuck. Therefore, I think there’s lots of things to consider first before ditching the fluffy soft bread

Not enough fibre

Fibre helps to ‘brush’ your insides and feeds your microbiome bacteria. Fibre is found in wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts. If your diet doesn't have enough fibre or an imbalance of the right types of fibre, your gut bacteria won't thrive as they should. Therefore, when you eat starchy foods like breads, pasta, cakes etc, your bacteria chomps on these easily (as they should) and produces lots of gas = bloating for you. By eating lots of plant foods as well as a variety of whole grains, this will keep your gut bacteria happy, healthy and accustomed to digesting all types of foods.

Too much wheat

Have you ever taken notice of what you eat in one day? (and I'm not talking calories here, but where your food comes from!)

You might be overdoing the wheat content in your day and tipping the balance of how much fructans (fermentable sugars) you eat. Fructans are NOT the same as gluten - it’s a completely different part of the grain but equally, too much loading can make you gassy and change your stools.

Consider this: Weet-bix for breakfast (wheat), Sweet biscuit at morning tea (wheat), Chicken & Salad Wrap (made from wheat), muesli bar before the gym (contains wheat) and salmon and couscous as a side at dinner (couscous is made from wheat).

Wow-wee! And that's just one day - so imagine doing this for a couple of days in a row.

That's why it's important to choose a diverse range of grains like rice, quinoa, buckwheat and other starches like potato, corn and pumpkin to avoid overloading your tummy with just wheat.

Skipping meals

You wouldn’t think so but it’s true!

Skipping meals, long periods of fasting or restricting carbs can interfere with the mechanics of your gut. When you don't eat for hours and then load up on a large meal, you will often feel bloated and tired. This is because your stomach has gone from one extreme to the next and you've injected a hit of energy that you're body has been missing for some time.

Gluten usually gets the bad wrap in this scenario because when you're super hungry, you reach for food that contains gluten (because gluten foods are convenient and bloody tasty). However it's NOT the gluten but the natural high/low blood glucose and digestive effort your body has to process after hours of fasting.

What if I think I still need to go gluten free?

The answer is, talk to your doctor or dietitian first. Rather than put all that effort into navigating the gluten free aisle, see if you need to complete tests first and then seek the right advice to implement a gluten free diet properly.

Give us a call on (03) 9720 0864 to chat about your concerns and book an appointment with one of our dietitians.

*Content included on this site is prepared as general information only. It is not advice and should not be substituted for personal advice which takes into account your individual health, financial or other circumstances.