Not on the Label, Part 1: Fructans

(Alternative title: Professor Plum in the Dining Room with the Garlic Bread)

Here’s another post on nutrition – thanks to the new food sensitivities I seem to have developed.

Following on from my last post, I’m in the process of removing additives from my diet, as far as I can. But yesterday I had a reaction, once again to (mostly) home-cooked foods, and a google investigation has sent me down another dietary rabbit-hole. So this post is relating to something you don’t see listed on the ingredients label: fructans.

Here I put words into your mouth, and assume you are asking: What are fructans?

I admit, when I first saw the word I confused it with fructose. Fructose is the sugar molecule commonly found in fruit (notorious for causing weight gain when consumed in excess). It is possible to have a fructose intolerance, which leads to digestive distress, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Fructans, on the other hand, are complex carbs (that is, longer chain molecules than sugars), comprising several fructose molecules joined together and capped off with a glucose molecule. Just to confuse matters, there are several types of fructans, depending on the length of the chain. Let’s not go down that “wormhole within a rabbithole” here, let’s just lump them all together for now.

Thanks to the internet, here is a picture of some of the shorter-chain fructans which we can pretend to understand. Presumably the little flag-shaped molecule on the lower left is the glucose and the stack of boxes on the right consists of fructose molecules.

Here is a quote from this website:

Fructans consist of soluble fibre. Adding fructans to processed food is a growing trend in the food manufacturing industry. This is because fructans (especially inulin) are considered a functional ingredient that can increase fibre content of processed food. The fermentable fibre is meant to help the growth of ‘friendly’ gut bacteria because they act like prebiotics, which is great for normal people but not so great for people who can’t tolerate FODMAPs!

I’m not going to explain FODMAPs here, but if you read my previous post, you’ll see the link between long-chain fructans like inulin and the thickener guar gum. They are both long-chain carbohydrates which are slow to be digested with our own enzymes, but can be fermented by bacteria in our gut. And supposed to be good for us.

Which foods contain fructans? I hear you asking. (If you’re asking something else, blame the double empathy problem and bear with me!)

All kinds of things, it turns out. While the more simple sugars tend to be confined to particular food groups (such as fructose in fruits and lactose in dairy), fructans can be found in various vegetables, cereals and fruit.

Unfortunately, most lists on the internet just mention foods that are high in fructans but don’t explain exactly how high they are. Which is important. When we’re talking about food intolerances, it’s not like an allergy when even a tiny amount can set off a reaction. With food intolerance, quantity is key – the more of the suspect food is ingested, the greater the reaction.

So I dug a little deeper and found that the foods highest in fructans are: (wait for it…)

Jerusalem artichokes and dandelion leaves.

Er… who eats those anyway?? I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a Jerusalem artichoke. So I’ve cut things down to the common types of food that I eat (being a self-confessed commoner). Fructans content listed in grams per 100g:

  1. Garlic – 9.8 to 17.4
  2. Leek, bulb – 7.1
  3. Onion powder – 4.5
  4. Leek, whole – 0.5 to 3
  5. Onion, brown – 2.1
  6. Onion, Spanish – 01. to 1.8
  7. Rye – 0.5 to 1.5
  8. Wheat – 0.4 to 1.3
  9. Beetroot – 0.4
  10. Peach, white – 0.4
  11. Banana – 0.0 to 0.7
  12. Brussels Sprouts – 0.3
  13. Zucchini – 0.3
  14. Melon, honeydew – 0.2
  15. Grapefruit – 0.2

If, like me, you’re hopeless at remembering lists like this, I’ve developed a memory aid for you. The foods to avoid if you have a fructans intolerance are: WHITE-ISH STUFF (Plus Beetroot and Plums But not Potatoes).

Hopefully you can see now why it’s important to list by quantity. What would be the point of avoiding that peach or grapefruit, if you followed it with pizza and garlic bread?

Is there a test for fructans intolerance?

Nope. Not as far as I could find online. Seems like it’s only recently they’ve developed tests for fructose and lactose intolerance and they haven’t yet got to fructans.

Are there specific dietary guidelines for fructans intolerance?

Again, nope. At the moment there is only the low FODMAP diet, or the SCD (specific carbohydrate diet), which eliminate all kinds of carbohydrates for a while, not just foods high in fructans but also those high in fructose, lactose, and various long-chain carbs. So those are pretty extreme. The idea is to re-introduce foods gradually and work out which you can tolerate.

Are you intolerant of fructans, Kay?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But remembering things Mum has said I’m wondering if there might be a familial intolerance. There’s her tale of when the neighbour came round asking if we had any garlic and Mum not having any… and then wondering why garlic was not in her cooking repertoire. And there was her disappointed look when I added a heap of chopped raw onion to the tomato salad.

Plus it’s looking like I’ve had issues the morning after eating meals containing onions and garlic. Which is not conclusive since so many meals include onion and garlic and a heap of other veg – but still.

I guess my approach is going to be to cut out onions and garlic for a while and see how that pans out. Possibly I might have overdone the bread a bit, also, once I put it back into my diet, so I might have to limit that to one slice of sourdough per meal. And, of course, eliminate garlic bread!

And finally

If anyone out there has a fructan intolerance, I’d be interested to hear your experiences. Feel free to comment!

One thought on “Not on the Label, Part 1: Fructans”

  1. I think you have discovered a new career. With me it’s pretty much all those things and apparently always has been which is why it’s reached the stage it has with me. You can overthink this and it becomes a night mare. Believe it or not the artichokes which I have had spasmodically are a big offender so I don’t now at all. All you can do is find the main offenders and eat as little as possible of them. My specialist has me doing certain things and not panicking about food but small portions if possible otherwise. Good luck but omg your research is excellent.

    Liked by 1 person

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