It’s hard to escape the ever-growing argument against consuming too much sugar. Numerous studies have shown that overconsumption can result in Type 2 diabetes, feed cancer cells, cause chronic inflammation in the body and lead to obesity. Not long ago, fat was vilified – now it’s sugar’s turn, and other high-carbohydrate foods such as white bread, white rice, mashed potato etc.
However, it’s not just conditions such as obesity, diabetes and PCOS that can be linked to high sugar consumption. It may be that eating a high carbohydrate diet has an effect on your gut health as well.
Sugar and food sensitivities
There are two common food sensitivities that can be linked to sugar: lactose intolerance and fructose malabsorption. Lactose is the sugar found in milk and dairy products, which relies on the enzyme lactase to be fully digested and absorbed. Incredibly it is thought that up to 70% of the world’s population has a lactase deficiency, whether total or partial, with a greater number among Asian populations. Symptoms can be very similar to those of IBS, often leading to a misdiagnosis, such as bloating, wind, cramps and pain.
Fructose malabsorption is linked to those foods where fructose is the main sugar molecule rather than glucose. Think fruit, honey, agave syrup, high-fructose corn syrup. This time it’s not the lack of an enzyme that can cause digestive distress, but fructose lingering too long in the gut before absorption. This allows time for over-fermentation by gut bacteria, producing excessive gas and, in turn, bloating, cramps and pain. Diarrhoea is another common symptom of fructose malabsorption, brought on by water being drawn into the gut.
How do I know if I have a lactose or fructose intolerance?
There are two ways to test for intolerances, that I’ve touched on in previous blogs. The most simple, gold standard test is the elimination-challenge diet. This involves removing either lactose- or fructose-containing foods for a period of time. They are then reintroduced, noting any differences in severity of symptoms. However this is a time-consuming approach that can be hard to apply and is best done under the guidance of a professional. Alternatively functional tests are available for both, measuring levels of lactose and/or fructose in the breath.
Are sweeteners any better?
Sadly not. Sorbitol and xylitol are readily available and often included in ‘sugar-free’ options. Unfortunately, both have been linked to diarrhoea and stomach cramps. If you suspect either is causing you issues, then try the elimination-challenge approach. Remove them from your diet for a couple of weeks before reintroducing them. If you notice a difference then you might want to consider finding alternatives.
Adopting a reduced-sugar low-carb approach to eating may be the answer for numerous health issues. If you are suffering from long-term digestive symptoms, then maybe it’s time to give it a try. Please do get in touch or book a free call if you’d like to discuss this further.