Say there's nothing you love more than a bowl of spaghetti, but unfortunately this comfort meal doesn't always love you back.
You are not alone. Spaghetti can make you gassy for multiple reasons, explains Elena A. Ivanina, DO, MPH, a gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
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Problems With Pasta
For starters, spaghetti is typically made from wheat, and wheat is a trigger for celiac disease. That's an autoimmune condition that occurs when people can't digest gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. As many as one in 100 people worldwide have celiac disease, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. If you're one of them, pasta can cause diarrhea, bloating and gas, Dr. Ivanina says.
Diagnosis starts with a simple, in-office blood test. If you have celiac disease and eat gluten, you will have higher than normal levels of certain antibodies in your blood. The only way to confirm a celiac diagnosis is with an intestinal biopsy, the Celiac Disease Foundation points out.
However, non-celiac disease wheat allergy can also cause gut symptoms, as well as skin and breathing issues, Dr. Ivanina says. Wheat allergy may be confused with celiac disease, but they are separate conditions, the Mayo Clinic explains. If you have wheat allergy, you could be allergic to several proteins in wheat, including gluten. By contrast, with celiac disease, gluten is the sole offender. You can also outgrow a wheat allergy, something that does not happen with celiac disease.
Another possibility is non-celiac gluten sensitivity — "a similar reaction to celiac, but with less inflammation," Dr. Ivanina says.
For some pasta lovers, this gassy reaction may be a nuisance and well worth the satisfaction that comes from the savory meal, but "if it is due to celiac disease, it is actually risky to eat spaghetti because it leads to chronic inflammation and possibly cancer," she says.
"If the reaction is due to a food allergy to wheat, then it depends on how severe the reaction is, and you should see an allergist," Dr. Ivanina says. "If the bloating and gas after eating pasta is a food intolerance, then it is just a nuisance."
What to Do
If you do not have celiac disease, Dr. Ivanina suggests trying small portions of pasta to see if you still feel gassy. "You can also try spaghetti made from brown rice, quinoa or legumes," she says.
In the case of wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity, Robin Foroutan, MS, RDN, an integrative dietitian at The Morrison Center in New York City and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says she often suggests eliminating pasta and wheat for three or four weeks and then adding it back to see if you have a big reaction or not.
"The degree of sensitivity can vary very widely," Foroutan says. "Some people get really sick and others feel tired and bloated the next day."
Based on the results of this elimination trial, you may be able to eat small amounts of pasta without worrying about gas. "If your reaction is significant, you should avoid wheat most of the time," she says.
Taking over-the-counter digestive enzymes may help you digest pasta if your symptoms are not overwhelming. "If you notice that a little pasta is not bad, but a plate makes you feel bloated, try digestive enzymes and see how that works," Foroutan says.
What About Garlic?
Garlic, often included in pasta sauces, is a fructan (oligosaccharide), a type of carbohydrate that is not broken down well by your gut, explains Dr. Ivanina. "When things are not broken down well in the small bowel, they continue into the colon, where the microbiome breaks it down and forms a lot of water and gas, which can manifest as bloating and excess gas release," she says.
Still, this doesn't mean you have to avoid garlic altogether. "You can cook garlic in oil to get the flavor into the oil and then pull out the actual garlic pieces," she says. "Or, if you want to eat whole pieces, just eat the smallest portion you need."
Read more: Which is Healthier, Raw or Cooked Garlic?
- Elena A. Ivanina, DO, MPH, gastroenterologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City
- Celiac Disease Foundation: “What is Celiac Disease?”
- Celiac Disease Foundation: “Testing”
- Mayo Clinic: "Wheat Allergy"
- Robin Foroutan, MS, RDN, integrative registered dietitian, The Morrison Center, New York City, and spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.