garlic & IBS

If diarrhoea and bloating seem like a daily occurrence to you, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s estimated that 20% of people in the UK suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Many of those find that carefully monitoring their diet can play a big role in managing symptoms.

You’ve probably heard of the most common triggers – fatty foods, dairy, wheat – but did you know that garlic could actually be triggering your IBS?

The problem with garlic

The main reason garlic is so tricky for some IBS sufferers is that it contains fructans; a polymer of fructose that is also found in foods such as onions, leeks and wheat. Fructans come under the FODMAP umbrella (more on that in a moment) and can be digestively troublesome if you suffer from IBS.

The low-FODMAP diet

In its simplest terms, FODMAPs are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates that can be difficult to digest. Foods high in FODMAPs (such as the fructans which garlic contains) have been proven to exacerbate IBS symptoms. For example, a recent study concluded that a low-FODMAP diet (which focuses on limiting the number of FODMAPs consumed) had a positive impact on abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhoea for many people with IBS.

But what is it about fructans that makes our gut unhappy? Nutritionist Kate Llewellyn-Waters, of The What If Plan, explains: “As humans, we don’t have the enzymes to properly break down these fructans, meaning they’re often not digested properly and begin to ferment in the small intestine.” Cue the gas, bloating and diarrhoea.

Because of this, it certainly might be worth eliminating garlic from your diet. You might then watch out for similar reactions to onions, wheat and leeks – all these foods are high in FODMAPs.

Simple swaps

A garlic-free diet can still have flavour with these convincing alternatives …

Garlic-infused oil – it’s a great way to add flavour to stir-fries and, unlike garlic itself, this one is perfectly safe on the low-FODMAP diet

Ginger – not only is ginger low in FODMAPs but it’s excellent for soothing a sensitive stomach, and is great for Chinese and Thai recipes

Fennel – another gut-tamer, fennel is usually drunk as a tea but fennel bulbs are great for cooking; add to steamed fish, soups and roast meats

Chives – can work as an effective substitute for both garlic and onion.

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