A warm, fluffy stack of pancakes dripping with butter and syrup is seen as a comfort food by many, but it can lead to painful consequences for some. As innocuous as pancakes may seem, they are actually a potent combination of several ingredients known to cause intestinal distress and diarrhea. Fortunately, you probably won't have to give them up completely to avoid the ill effects; a few simple tweaks to your recipe can make all the difference in the world.
The most obvious potential cause is a gluten intolerance. Pancakes are made with wheat flour, and both the refined and whole-grain varieties contain gluten. Gluten can cause pain, diarrhea and bloating in people with celiac disease, but an entire range of non-celiac gluten sensitivity exists. Some people without celiac disease find that high amounts of gluten cause similar symptoms, and the tolerance threshold varies from person to person. Look for gluten-free pancake mixes or experiment with alternative grain flours like soy, buckwheat, rice and amaranth.
If your pancakes come from a boxed mix, check the ingredients to see if the mix contains sorbitol or fructose. These common sweeteners are known to cause digestive complaints similar to irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, and can trigger flareups in IBS sufferers, explains a review published in "Current Gastroenterology Reports" in 2009. Sorbitol and fructose are common in processed foods, so steering clear of boxed mixes is the best way to avoid these sweeteners. Whip up a batch of your own batter, and use real sugar or honey as a sweetener.
If you are lactose intolerant, the milk in the pancake batter may be just enough to trigger symptoms. When you add butter as both a cooking fat and a topping, your lactose intake increases even more. Some boxed mixes contain nonfat powdered milk, so just adding water won't help you avoid lactose entirely. Look for mixes that are lactose-free, or make your own using milk alternatives. Cook your pancakes in cooking spray or a dash of canola oil instead of butter, and skip the butter topping.
Even if you don't have a digestive disorder, there's another thing about pancakes that can cause diarrhea: the grease. It can take up to a half-stick of butter to cook an entire batch of pancakes, and thicker batter can absorb much of that fat due to the longer, slower cooking time. The traditional butter-laden cooking method results in what are essentially fried cakes, so it's no wonder that your intestines end up as lubricated as the pan, especially if you overindulge. Use cooking spray instead, or choose pre-made frozen pancakes that need only be toasted or microwaved.
Is This an Emergency?
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Celiac Disease -- Sprue
- University of Maryland Medical Center: University of Maryland School of Medicine Researchers Identify Key Pathogenic Differences Between Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Diarrhea
- Current Gastroenterology Reports: Fructose-Sorbitol Malabsorption