Wheat Free and Gluten Free – what’s the difference?
The terms ‘wheat-free’ and ‘glutenfree’ are often used interchangeably, yet they are definitely not the same thing. In fact, assuming that something is wheat-free just because it is gluten-free can result in severe reactions, particularly in the case of wheat allergy. At the same time, wheat is not the only grain that contains gluten, which is a key consideration for people with coeliac disease. Understanding the difference between wheat and gluten is therefore important to help avoid any unnecessary symptoms that may be brought on by eating the wrong foods.
Gluten is made up of gliadin and glutenin proteins, and is one of the components of wheat, rye and barley. This means that all wheat-containing foods contain gluten but not all gluten comes from wheat. Even though wheat contains much more gluten compared to rye or barley, those who have problems with gluten should eliminate all of those grains out of their diet. Care should be taken when reading labels as wheat and gluten-containing ingredients are often listed under different names, e.g. semolina, couscous (dried granules of semolina), bran, emmer, farro, udon, farina, einkorn, triticale, kamut, bulgur, durum wheat, spelt (also known as dinkel, or hulled wheat), and orzo.
“True food allergies are far less common than food sensitivities”
There are also other wheat and glutencontaining ingredients and products to be aware of when shopping. They include: hydrolysed wheat protein, brewer’s yeast, bread crumbs (including panko), bread stuffing, modified wheat starch, anything containing malt or its variations, oyster sauce, soya sauce, chappati flour, Jewish bread (matzah), and seitan (Asian meat subsitute). It is worth clarifying that even though coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity disease share many of the same symptoms, they are two very different conditions. Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disease in which the immune system attacks its own intestinal tissue in response to gluten ingestion. In contrast, people with noncoeliac gluten sensitivity may be able to tolerate small amounts of gluten occasionally. Their symptoms are often associated with high volume and frequency of consumption, and the reaction is often delayed.
People with coeliac disease should exclude gluten out of their diet completely, whether they are symptomatic or not, as even the smallest amount of gluten will cause intestinal damage. This means complete avoidance of all foods containing wheat, rye, barley, as well as regular oats. Even though regular oats do not contain gluten, most oat-based products on the market tend to be cross-contaminated with small amounts of wheat, rye or barley. Most people with coeliac disease are able to tolerate moderate amounts of gluten-free oats however some have been found to react to a different protein found in oats called avenin. In those people, even small amounts of “gluten-free” oats could trigger an immune response. Similarly to coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, wheat sensitivity and wheat allergy are also two different conditions. Wheat sensitivity, or wheat intolerance, is a delayed reaction caused by gluten ingestion and is not life-threatening. On the other hand, wheat allergy is a true allergy.
“Quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet and teff are great for anyone on a wheat-free or gluten-free diet”.
It should be noted that true food allergies are far less common than food sensitivities. Classic allergy symptoms tend to come on more quickly and can include stuffy nose, watery eyes, skin irritations, digestive disturbances, and at times theyb can be much more serious, i.e. difficulty breathing or an anaphylactic shock. Some people refer to wheat allergy as gluten allergy. This is confusing and technically incorrect because the actual allergic reaction to wheat involves other components of wheat, not just the gluten proteins.
So far almost thirty different potential wheat allergens have been identified. It is important to realise that some gluten-free products contain ingredients that are originally derived from wheat from which gluten has been removed, e.g. glutenfree wheat starch (Codex wheat starch). The Codex wheat starch is produced by extracting gluten out of wheat flour, and was first introduced in order to improve the texture of the baked gluten-free goods. The gluten content in the Codex wheat starch is said to be safe for those with coeliac disease. However, it is not safe for people who react to wheat. It can get confusing and it’s most certainly harder to buy groceries if you are avoiding wheat or gluten, but it’s getting easier. Just because you may have to exclude gluten-containing grains out of your diet, there is no need to feel deprived as there are many wheat and gluten-free options.
Quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet and teff are not only appropriate for anyone on a wheat-free or gluten-free diet, but they are also much more nutritious than wheat. They can be sourced in different forms, which makes them suitable for baking, savoury dishes and as breakfast cereals. In terms of gluten-free flours, there is also plenty of choice, including: rice, almond, hazelnut, coconut, tapioca, potato, corn, carob, chickpea, and sorghum. In summary, if you are sensitive to gluten, you will also be sensitive to wheat and should avoid all the gluten-containing foods. If you are allergic to wheat, gluten is only one of the components you should avoid. You should therefore ensure that products you buy are labelled ‘wheat-free’, as well as ‘gluten-free.
Find out more about Dr Eva Detko and more recipes at www.dr-eva.com