If somebody asks you if you like Abba, the answer is a simple one and comes down to two choices: yes or no. It’s the same if somebody asks whether you fancy a cup of tea, or whether you’re allergic to peanuts. But if somebody asks you whether you’re wheat intolerant, the answer could be a little more complicated.
See, while it should be a simple yes or no answer (and, in fact, you either are or you aren’t wheat intolerant), many people are not really sure of the answer. Most people think they are not intolerant to any food, let alone wheat, but could that unexplained discomfort or recently developed irritation be a wheat intolerance?
What is wheat intolerance?
It’s possible to be intolerant to any food but an increasing number of people are being diagnosed as wheat intolerant. This isn’t because intolerance is on the rise, but because of a greater awareness and better education. A food intolerance is where your body cannot correctly deal with a certain foodstuff, often leading to uncomfortable symptoms. Simply, a wheat intolerance is when those symptoms are triggered by eating any foods, such as bread and pasta, that contain wheat.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of wheat intolerance aren’t immediately obvious – they can appear up to two days after eating wheat, making it much harder to link the symptoms to the cause – and can vary from person to person. Typically, if you suffer from a bloated stomach, abdominal cramps, headaches, joint aches or nausea after eating wheat, you could be intolerant.
Another less well known symptom of wheat intolerance is an inability to lose weight. This isn’t simply due to the carbohydrates and complex starches found in wheat based products such as bread, but the intolerance could cause your body to retain water thus making it harder to drop the pounds.
Is it definitely wheat?
Here’s the tricky bit: diagnosis. It could be that what you think is wheat intolerance is actually gluten intolerance as both are in the same foods. It may also be that you are intolerant to whatever you are having with your wheat. For instance, a pizza, a pasta dish sprinkled with cheese and a cheddar sandwich all share wheat and dairy meaning that either could be the culprit.
What treatment is available?
There are various methods of diagnosis, from food diaries, home test kits in many forms, to controlled tests in hospitals. However, if you wished to attempt a diagnosis at home you could try banishing wheat from your diet altogether over a sustained period – perhaps a week to a fortnight – and see whether your recurring symptoms disappear.
The only treatment available to the wheat intolerant is the total avoidance of all wheat based food products. Of course, this means cutting out your lunchtime sandwich, or changing your breakfast cereal but it could be much more complicated than that.
You will need to check the ingredients of everything that you buy. Many pre-packaged foods (i.e. not fresh food) contain things such as ‘hydrolyzed plant protein’, ‘modified food starch’ and ‘dextrin’. You should really read those as ‘wheat’, ‘wheat’ and ‘wheat’.
Other treatments available to you will help you manage the symptoms. If you find that you become bloated, have acid reflux or feel nauseous after eating wheat then there are medicines you can use. There are many people who suffer mild wheat intolerance, yet can’t bear to give up their favourite foods, who treat the symptoms rather than avoid the cause.
Is there a cure?
Unfortunately wheat intolerance is a lifelong affliction and there is no cure for it. However, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that, for some, the symptoms become less severe over time and some even report being able to reintroduce certain foods.
So, do you have a wheat intolerance? The answer might be an “I don’t know” but now you’ll be able to find out.
See also the article here on food allergy or food tolerance.