If you do not have abdominal pain, bad gas pain, or annoying bloating, sugar might be fine for you.
Have you ever given up a particular food or coffee for a while? Did you notice how it made you feel when you ate that food again or had a cup of coffee? Maybe you felt a little more jittery than you used to. Your body became a little less tolerant. Therefore, you could feel the real effect it is having on you.
Most people are so accustomed to how they feel that they often do not know how a particular food affects them until they give it up for a while and then try it again. Sugar is one of the foods that we are so accustomed to that we have become insensitive to its effects.
If you are looking for answers to your gastrointestinal pain and bad gas, this is important for you to understand. Sugar could be the cause.
There are many reasons to avoid sugar. The most obvious are obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, to name a few. The most critical reason for YOU to avoid it is that sugar may be causing your abdominal pain.
Most people make changes only to prevent pain. That is human nature. Pain is a good indicator of a problem that needs to be addressed. When there is awareness, there is a better chance of making helpful changes.
Taking steps to avoid sugar for a few weeks is a practical choice. Once you make the change and begin to feel better, it is easier to stay away from it. You can then take back control of your health and live fully and pain-free again. Keep reading, and I will show you how to heal your digestive pain.
What is SUGAR?
Sugar is the common term for added sugar. We get added sugar from processing plants, mainly sugar beets and sugar cane. Enzymes in the digestive system break down the sugar we consume into glucose. Every cell in our body relies on glucose for energy. Our brain uses half of the glucose in our body to function. (1)
We need sugar as an energy source for our body, yet added sugar is not a healthy way to get it. The natural sugars found in whole, nutritious foods are generally well digested and a good energy source.
In this article, I am focusing on added sugar. I am not referring to whole fruit, although too much fruit can also lead to unwanted digestive symptoms.
Before my formal education in nutrition, I thought fructose was harmless because it is fruit sugar. Whole fruit is a healthful food, yet fruit sugar is no better than table sugar.
How does sugar cause gas, bloating, and abdominal pain?
A significant cause of abdominal pain due to gas and bloating is sugar intolerance.
Sugar intolerance is not the only thing that can cause excessive gas. Some medical conditions cause painful gas. And small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can cause intestinal problems as well. I will address SIBO in a future article.
There are a few medical conditions that cause intestinal pain, gas, and bloating.
See your doctor if you have abdominal pain or have had long-term digestive problems. It is essential to rule out a serious medical condition.
What does intolerance mean?
An intolerance to a food is different than a food allergy. An Intolerance does not involve the immune system, as do allergies. (1) Food intolerance usually causes uncomfortable digestive symptoms when an allergy can be life-threatening. (2)
Someone with a food intolerance could get away with eating a bit of a particular food, whereas, with an allergy, the food should be avoided altogether.
What types of sugar intolerances are there?
Lactose and fructose are the sugars most likely to cause unpleasant symptoms.
Fructose intolerance – now called fructose malabsorption – is quite common. Almost 40% of people in the western hemisphere experience fructose malabsorption to varying degrees. Fructose comes in many forms and is added to a wide variety of processed foods.
Lactose intolerance involves milk sugar.
Hereditary Fructose intolerance involves genes and is something I will address in another article.
Sucrose intolerance is usually genetic yet can also be caused by irritable bowel syndrome, aging, or a small intestine disease.
Artificial sweeteners can also cause digestive problems, such as gas pain and diarrhea.
This article will focus on fructose, yet it is good to be aware that all sugar can cause digestive problems if you have an intolerance or eat more than your body can handle. There are many (over 50) types of sugar that are added to food. I will discuss some later when I show you how to avoid all added sugar.
Table sugar (which is sucrose) is 50% fructose. Agave is 85% fructose, and honey is 40% fructose. I am not saying these are inherently unhealthy foods, yet they can wreak havoc on your gut if you have an intolerance.
What is the cause of sugar intolerance?
It depends on the specific sugar in question. It could be due to a lack of the necessary digestive enzymes to break down the sugar. Or it could be hereditary or a malfunction in the gut.
Fructose malabsorption means that the absorption of fructose in the intestines is reduced, leading to painful symptoms. Up to 40% of people in the western hemisphere suffer from fructose malabsorption.
The cause is unknown, yet there is a concern (1) that overconsumption of fructose could play a role. Certain risk factors could also contribute to the intolerance or malabsorption of fructose. These are IBS, Crohn’s disease, colitis, or celiac disease.
The symptoms of sugar intolerance include abdominal pain, excess gas, and painful bloating.
What are the symptoms of sugar intolerance?
The symptoms of all the various types of sugar intolerance are similar. Even if we do not know exactly which sugar(s) one is intolerant to, recognizing the symptoms can lead to diet changes, bringing the desired result of getting you out of pain.
The symptoms include – yet are not limited to:
In more extreme cases, many people also experience:
Added sugar includes many other sugars than fructose.
Therefore, it is wise to cut all added sugar for a while if you have painful digestive symptoms including gas pain.
How is sugar intolerance diagnosed?
There are a few ways to determine if someone is sugar intolerant. There is a breath test, and sometimes a blood test is done.
Yet, the best way to determine whether you are intolerant to added sugar is to eliminate it from your diet for at least 4-6 weeks. If you start to feel better and continue to get better, you can be sure that added sugar contributes to your symptoms.
If it has a label, it is most likely processed and should be avoided.
An IBS diagnosis could be a misdiagnosis.
Many people suffering from debilitating digestive pain receive an IBS diagnosis because doctors do not find any other disease evidence. New research indicates that fructose malabsorption and intolerance are common problems but are poorly recognized and managed. (ref1)
I have had several patients diagnosed with IBS get better by eliminating added sugar from their diet. The diagnosis of IBS may have been fructose malabsorption instead.
When it comes to any food intolerance, the best defense is a good offense. If your gas pain is caused by any kind of sugar avoidance is key.
How to Avoid Added Sugar.
Added sugar goes by many names.
Fructose is only one type of added sugar. There are about five other commonly used sugar additives.
What you should look for in the ingredients list.
The most common term for added sugar is simply “sugar.” Yet, it gets more complicated after that.
The next five most frequently appearing terms are dextrose, glucose, glucose-fructose, high fructose corn syrup, and maltodextrin. (1)
To give you an idea of how many foods have added sugar, I compiled this extensive list. All of these foods can contain added sugar or fructose:
Bread and baked goods
Cereal bars and protein bars
Ketchup and relish
Mayonnaise and salad dressing
- Sauces and condiments
- Sweetened fruit yogurt
Many manufacturers and food stores are becoming more health conscious. I have noticed less sugar in everyday packaged foods such as bread, cereal, and yogurt than in the past. That is good news!
One thing you can do today to start recovering.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. -Lao Tzu, Tao de Jing
I encourage you to take THIS one step today towards a pain-free life.
Eliminate processed food from your diet.
(Remember: If it is in a package, it is most likely processed.)
The benefits are astounding. The results are your reward.