Published July 5, 2021
Wheat provides a shockingly large slice of the modern diet. This staple foodstuff may make you think of bread but it is certainly not confined to the bakery counter. It’s easy to forget just how many processed foods contain pastry or flour of various kinds – pasta, breakfast cereals, biscuits, pizza, bottled sauces and dressings, curry powder, ready meals, and cake, to name just a few!
Perhaps it’s no wonder then that it can all get a little too much and some people suddenly find themselves struggling when they eat wheat. But just what are the symptoms of wheat intolerance? The can include relatively problems like:
- A runny nose
But some people experience potentially more serious symptoms such as:
- Stomach cramps
- Skin rashes
Such symptoms can be triggered not only by food but by the surprising number of other products that contain wheat extracts – for example, cosmetics and bath products.
But why do some people develop these symptoms? Family history plays a role: you are more likely to develop an intolerance if one – or, particularly, both – of your parents had them, or you have relatives with other allergic conditions such as eczema for example, or asthma.
Children are actually more likely to develop an intolerance to wheat than older people and the good news is that most will grow out of it. Something like two thirds of children with a wheat allergy will have recovered from the condition by the age of 12.
Managing your condition
If you routinely feel ill after eating foods containing wheat you may suspect you have an intolerance, but a sensible first step is to seek medical advice – you will need to make sure your symptoms are not a sign of something more serious such as coeliac disease: this digestive disorder is triggered when the immune system wrongly reacts to the grain protein gluten and it requires a medical diagnosis.
But if wheat remains the likeliest culprit, your doctor is likely to suggest you try an elimination diet – i.e. avoiding all foods containing wheat for a period of time to observe the results and see whether you feel better. This can be challenging if you like your sandwiches and your cereal, but it’s certainly doable with a little determination.
Wheat isn’t always easy to spot on ingredient labels – sometimes it’s disguised by such terms as ‘bran’ or ‘starch’. And remember too that spelt, bulgar, couscous and farro are all made from varieties of wheat.
You may find some inspiration in a visit to your local health food store. There you will find a range of products made specifically for the wheat intolerant from alternative grains and other foods – for example, breads and pasta made from corn, rice or chickpea flour, or cakes and biscuits made with oats and millet.
If your symptoms routinely include a runny nose or sneezing, your doctor might recommend taking an over-the-counter antihistamine pill in the mornings.
Finding out for sure
Your GP may also refer you to a nutritionist or consultant if he believes your symptoms are significant and warrant further investigation. But waiting lists can be long. Why hang on for months?
If you do have a wheat intolerance, it is unlikely to be lifelong. Look after your health and watch what you eat for a while, and once your body has had a chance to reset and rebalance you may find that you can start enjoying all that tasty bread and breakfast cereal once again.
Written by Bev Walton
Food Writer and Nutritionist, dietician
A chef of over 35 years with experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for both magazines, websites and ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I have a degree in nutrition and dietetics and work with restaurants and organisations within the healthcare profession. I am also able to take high quality photographs of recipes created. No writing task is too great, and whilst I specialise in the above, I am able to write about any topic you throw at me. Member of the Guild of food writers.