Presenting the latest findings on abdominal bloating, experts in dietetics, gastroenterology and marketing discussed the physiology of bloating, whether bread is to blame and the burgeoning wheat and gluten free market.

Despite only 0.5-1% of the population being likely to benefit from wheat or gluten free products, marketing expert Sam Waterfall, a partner at Healthy Marketing Solutions, presented evidence that a fifth of the public think them important because of a misconceived belief that they are better for them or will help them lose weight. 

In fact, said Ayela Spiro from the British Nutrition Foundation, gluten free products can actually be higher in additives, saturated fat and sugar. Moreover, whilst bread is often singled out as a bloating culprit, the evidence continues to show that this is more perception than reality. Ayela cited a new (unpublished) pilot study from the University of Bristol, which showed bread produced less physically measurable abdominal distension than a pasta meal, despite subjects reporting they expected the bread would bloat them more.

Dietitian Sue Baic said many people assume white bread is bad for us, but this is not the case, adding: “The half and half types such as Hovis Best of Both, that look and taste like white but combine white and wholemeal flours can contain 75% of the fibre content of wholemeal.

As well as being a good source of calcium, iron and fibre, 2 slices of bread contain 20-30% of our RNI (reference nutrient intake) of vitamin B1, 5-18% niacin RNI, 10-16% folate RNI, and 10-20% the RNI of B6. Sue Baic commented: “At just 5-10p per two slice serving it’s a very inexpensive way to get some good nutrition in your diet.”

Sue also tackled the common misconception that bread is fattening or not suitable for weight loss - bread is not the culprit but what we add to it e.g. 2 average slices of bread provide around 190kcal and 2g fat, whilst spreading margarine or butter on them almost doubles the calories (334kcal) and adds 16g fat. The nation’s favourite sandwich filling – egg mayo – provides just under 600kcal and a whopping 34g of fat (almost half the recommended daily intake for a woman).

So if it’s not bread that causes bloating, what does?

Gastroenterologist, psychotherapist and medical adviser to the IBS Network, Dr Nick Read said there’s much that we still don’t know, but that “bloaters” may just be more sensitive to the feeling of abdominal gas, but not actually produce more of it. Possible risk factors for bloating include obesity, anxiety or depression, being inactive, constipated or premenstrual, and, in those with irritable bowel syndrome, eating too many fermentable carbohydrate sources in general, not just wheat.

The Myth-busting the Bloat (with a particular focus on bread) conference was held at King’s College London recently, with over 70 dietitians, nutritionists and other health professionals in attendance.  The conference was organised by Nutrilicious Ltd.