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Gassier than usual? These functional food ingredients might be why

There’s no delicate way to say this… “So, you’ve got gas?” Maybe more than you used to. And if the usual bean or vegetable suspects are no more prevalent in your diet today than they used to be, you’re not alone.

In fact, we all produce gas in our intestines and occasionally expel it, some of us more than others. If you feel like you’re one of these others, it may surprise you to know that the source of your discomfort may be coming from places you wouldn’t expect.

That’s because the food industry has discovered an ingenious way to increase the fibre content of foods without having to lean heavily on whole food ingredients that typically contribute fibre such as whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit. The problem is that these real foods add bulk, taste, and aroma where they might not be welcome.

What food scientists want when formulating foods, often, is a source of fiber that’s “organoleptically neutral”. In other words, one that doesn’t screw up the flavour of their beverage, cupcake, or snack.


This group of ingredients is known as Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, or FODMAPs, and some of them show up on ingredient labels with names that don’t even hint at their fibre-boosting, gas-producing role.

Next time you read an ingredient list on the back of a package, look for polydextrose, inulin, chicory root extract, digestion resistant maltodextrin, resistant maltodextrin, oligosaccharide, oligofructose, or fructo-oligosaccharide.

The problem, as Stanford Health Care states, is that these ingredients, “could be fermented upon by bacteria in the intestinal tract when eaten in excess… causing symptoms of diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and/or cramping.” It’s kind of like fermenting grains to make beer. The result is carbonation: otherwise known as gas.

In my job as professional taster and food developer, my sensory systems (smell, taste, touch, visual, auditory) are proxies for the consumers’ while foods are in development. No matter how much I hate pine nuts (and they are wretched little buggers), if we’re developing a pesto for one of our clients, I’ll be ingesting pine nuts pretty regularly for a couple of months. Learning how to eat and critically evaluate foods I dislike is part of being a food professional. It’s one thing to eat something with a flavour that disagrees with you. It’s another thing altogether to eat something with a fibre that doesn’t agree with you.

The group called polyols, is easy to spot on labels thanks to their “-ol” suffix: matltitol, sorbitol, erythritol, xylitol. They’re used for (among other things) boosting the sweetness in low calorie foods. In tiny quantities, these sweet substances are harmless. But in larger doses—watch out.

I found this out the hard way when I became enamoured of a new chewing gum, only to realise a week after I’d been popping it obsessively that the xylitol used to sweeten it might be responsible for the gas and cramping I’d been suffering.

FODMAPs and sugar alcohols are both great ingredients if you’ve got the right system for them. And the mechanism in which they work is similar: both pass through your digestive system without being absorbed. In other words they give foods positive nutritional qualities (fiber) as well as positive nutritional and sensory qualities (less sugar, same sweet taste). As you can imagine, anything that goes in the mouth and comes out the other end without being digested can cause problems.

I asked Joanne Slavin, researcher in the University of Minnesota Department of Food Science and Nutrition if there were any statistics on what percentage of people are intolerant of FODMAPs. Apparently not, because she writes, “gastrointestinal distress is related to so many things besides fibre.” In other words, it’s hard to measure. You might just be a gasbag……

Forbes: Read the full article

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