Wheat Gluten and Wheat Intolerance Explained

Wheat free, gluten free, yeast free… the list is forever expanding of things that we should supposedly not be consuming. There is a fair bit of overlap of why you should not eat these foods groups and what kind of people should avoid them. This article aims to shed some light on the topic so that you can make an informed choice of whether or not you can tolerate these food groups.

The difference between wheat and gluten free

Wheat is high in a protein called gluten, which is usually the culprit that gives you digestive discomfort. Wheat is not the only grain which contains gluten however, so a wheat free product is not necessarily gluten free. The gluten protein in wheat is larger than a lot of other grains, which makes it harder to digest. It is for this reason that many people who can’t tolerate wheat can eat other gluten containing grains without much difficulty.

Wheat intolerance or allergy

Wheat intolerance is very common in today’s society. This is because of the mass production methods which are used to produce wheat, which yields a grain which is higher in gluten. Refining of grains also adds to the problem, removing the outer husk which is rich in vitamins and minerals to yield white flour, which is then bleached to make it whiter still.

Traditionally wheat was part of a balanced diet which included other grains, whereas now it is not common for people to have toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner – which equates to three servings of wheat a day! Less common is a wheat allergy, where the consumption of wheat can make the person severely ill, with the resulting reaction sometimes requiring hospitilisation. Some of the classic signs of wheat intolerance are bloating, indigestion, flatulence, foggy headedness and feeling tired after a meal.

Wheat free options

For those of you who are lucky to have an intolerance to wheat and not gluten, your options are surprisingly good. Wheat flour substitutes include spelt, kamut, rye, barley, corn, rice, oat, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat (this is not actually anything like wheat) and millet. Some of these grains contain a small amount of gluten, however it is much more easily digested than the gluten from wheat.

Gluten sensitivity explained

There are varying levels of gluten sensitivity, from an autoimmune reaction to an inability to digest. The most severe gluten intolerance is called Coeliac Disease. In people with Coeliac disease, gluten causes an autoimmune reaction in the intestines, destroying the intestinal wall which is essential for the digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Those with coelic disease will get very ill if even consuming a small amount of gluten, so need to avoid it their whole lives. Many people suffer from a gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance, with symptoms ranging from digestive discomfort and diarrhoea to fatigue and allergy like symptoms. Gluten free grains which can be used include rice, corn, millet, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat and besan (chickpea) flour. Pasta, breads and flours are now available in many of these grains.

Yeast sensitivity

For some yeast can cause digestive discomfort, bloating, flatulence and even irritability! Yeast is found in commercial breads in high amounts and yeast extract spreads like vegemite. Yeast free options include sourdough bread (beware of breads which claim to be sourdough but have added yeast), flat breads and wraps.

Assessing if you have an intolerance

The most simple way of checking if you have a food intolerance is by removing it from your diet. Start with gluten, and then if you find that you have no problem try and introduce some of the wheat free grains like spelt or rye. An easy method that I use with my patients is as follows:

Week one: Remove all wheat from the diet. Use only gluten free breads, pastas and flours made with rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa or besan flours. Keep a food diary with what you have eaten for the day and how you felt.

Week two:Introduce some gluten containing wheat free grains such as spelt, kamut or rye. Continue to record symptoms and foods in you diary.

Week three:If you found that you tolerated the last weeks grains then try and introduce some organic wholegrain wheat such as wholemeal bread or pasta.

Record what you eat and how you feel daily in your food diary. By looking back on you food diary, you may be able to trace which foods were associated with your symptoms. Most people will realise that wheat of gluten was their problem within the first few days of stopping eating it.

Other tests available

There are other tests available to evaluate the severity of a food intolerance or allergy. The IgG food panel is a blood spot test which indicates the level of which you are allergic to something with a 1+, 2+, 3+ or 4+. Other tests include blood tests to measure your antibody levels and white blood cells which can be raised in an allergenic person.

For help with identifying any food allergies you may have,call 07 3367 0337 and make an appointment today.