December 1, 2023 8:39 AM

How To Overcome IBS, Allergies, And Related Woes Triggered By Sugar

You may have heard the elders say that most illnesses begin with the digestive system. If any switch there flips, it affects every cell in your body. The digestive system plays a major role in your overall health as it absorbs nutrients that nourish every cell of your body. When your digestive health is limping, you will experience a host of uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, indigestion, and more.

Do you know that in many cases consumption of sugar or excessive consumption of sugar is the key culprit? Sugar — both manufactured and naturally occurring — is one ingredient that should not be taken lightly by anyone battling Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS. IBS is a type of gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that can cause several symptoms such as an upset stomach, cramps, and bloating, as well as diarrhoea and constipation.

While not all sugars trigger IBS symptoms, eliminating certain types may help manage your condition. Here’s what research says about the numerous bitter ailments triggered by sweet sugar. Some people experience mild symptoms, while others may find the severity extremely painful to manage.

While a number of factors and a variety of foods may trigger a bout of IBS, let us look at the damage that sugar causes.

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What Makes Sugar The Villain For IBS Patients?

Whenever we eat certain types of foods, our intestines release the pertinent and required type of enzyme to help digest that food. The molecules of the digested food are then absorbed through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream – from where it goes to every cell and tissue in the body to provide energy.

What happens in the case of IBS patients who consume sugar is that possibly they lack of enzymes needed to digest sugar and that may trigger symptoms of IBS. Hormones, alterations in gut bacteria, and stress may also play a role in triggering symptoms.

“Sugar in your diet can disrupt the intestinal barrier. It can make your gut permeable. It can cause Microbiota Dysbiosis/imbalance which can further affect mucosal lining, cause infections and suppress the immune system,” says Dt Deepta Nagpal, who is a University Double Gold Medallist in Food & Nutrition. Apart from having worked with AIIMS (New Delhi), PGIMER (Chandigarh), Army R&R Hospital (New Delhi), Nagpal has also served as the diet counsellor to the former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, which presented her with unique challenges. 

What Types Of Sugar Trigger IBS Symptoms?

Naturally occurring sugars or those available in prepared foods as an additive are the two main types of sugar. Among the natural ones are fructose, glucose, and sucrose, which are found naturally in fruit and some vegetables, while lactose is found in dairy and maltose is found in germinating grains. Fructose and glucose are also found naturally in honey, as well as in common table sugar.

Are there any good sugars and bad sugars? Deepta Nagpal recommends that the types of sugars that one needs to avoid for digestive distress are:

1.    Sucrose: table sugar
2.    Fructose: found in fruits. People with IBS can opt for fruits with less fructose, like berries, peaches, and cantaloupe, and avoid mangoes, apples, pears, and grapes.
3.    Lactose. Not everyone with IBS can have issues with lactose but milk can be a trigger for the flare-ups in most.

According to Harvard Health, all added sugars are a source of extra calories and are metabolised by the body the same way. That some added sugars such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are unhealthy, while others such as agave nectar (from the succulent plant) are healthy is a misconception, states the health-research body.

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Are Sugar Substitutes Better For Weak Digestive Systems?

Research says sugar substitutes do not score better than added sugars because, unfortunately, many of these are linked to IBS symptoms, too.

So the next time you reach out for sugar-free desserts, candies, and gums, ensure that your doctor has approved of it and these foods have not triggered abdominal cramps and bloating or diarrhoea earlier.

Some research says that pure stevia might be safe, but make sure it has no additives such as erythritol that can aggravate your symptoms.

Your doctor or registered dietitian may ask you to try an elimination diet to improve your IBS symptoms.

Items that you may be asked to temporarily stop consuming could be:

  • Beans, legumes, and lentils
  • Cruciferous veggies, including broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower
  • Onions 
  • Garlic
  • Gluten
  • Chocolate
  • Spicy foods
  • Fried and processed foods
  • Caffeinated foods and beverages
  • Alcohol

Doctors often ask IBS patients to remove foods that aggravate their IBS symptoms altogether. Then, they recommend the reintroduction of items one by one. You may find that some types of sugars trigger your IBS when others do not.

Deepta Nagpal advises that one must choose foods low on FODMAP. “Carbohydrate in low FODMAP form is recommended for IBS patients.”

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What Is The FODMAP Diet?

“FODMAP diet” means a diet low in FODMAP — certain sugars that may cause intestinal distress. This diet is designed to help people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and/or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) figure out which foods are problematic and which foods reduce symptoms, says Dt Nagpal.

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols, or SIMPLY put: Short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine absorbs poorly — thus causing digestive tract distress. Foods high in FODMAPs include barley, yogurt, apples, apricots, pears, and cauliflower, etc. Elimination Diet helps IBS and food allergy patients a lot, Dt Nagpal says.

“We eliminate sugar, dairy, gluten, and other triggers from their diet for a few weeks and add each one back one by one and slowly. This takes a few weeks to know your triggers and heal your gut,” Nagpal adds.

She says, “Our body doesn’t require added sugars.” In short, it’s best to limit all sources of added sugar to within the lowest intake level and eat a wholesome, low-FODMAP diet, instead. 

For most people, one type of sugar isn’t better than another, recommends Harvard Health.

Consult your doctor and share your food triggers. Your healthcare provider knows what is best for you.

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The author is an independent journalist. 

(This article is only for dissemination of findings of various studies, and not to be treated as medical advice. Please consult your doctor or a healthcare expert before making any changes to your diet, medicine, exercise, lifestyle, or health protocol.)


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