Do you know that many confectionery items include wheat glucose syrup? If you’re intolerant to wheat, eating these items can cause problems for you. I’m intolerant to wheat and it took me 30 years to find out. I hope that if you, or a family member, are wheat intolerant, that this article will help you to understand the problem and the dietary changes required.
I grew up with frequent migraine headaches and had many days off school and work. My parents and doctors never considered food intolerance as a cause of the migraines. I took painkillers daily and often had to go to bed to get any relief from these migraines.
Every day, I used to eat peppermints and chew gum, but both have wheat glucose syrup in them. Unknowingly, I was ingesting small amounts of wheat all day long. This, along with the normal (wheat-based) food that I was eating, added to my problems.
I often had a bloated stomach, wind, unpredictable bowel movements, an itchy scalp, and my mood and energy would plunge with no explanation. I was healthy though and these symptoms were unexplained. I lived with feeling like this for years and assuming this was how it was for me.
In my early 30s, I began to have severe abdominal pains, with no explanation. One day the pain didn’t go away and I ended up in hospital. This was fortunate as it led to a full investigation and the revelation that I was intolerant to wheat. This changed my life!
Doctors investigated my organs and intestines, which were healthy. With no medical explanation, they referred me to a dietician. As my symptoms were worse than someone with irritable bowel syndrome, the dietician thought I may be intolerant to wheat and that I may have to change my diet.
I was tested for coeliac disease, which was negative. Wheat intolerance may not show up in blood tests and it is difficult to diagnose – my blood tests were fine. The dietician made a simple suggestion, she said, ‘how about you cut out bread from your diet for 1 week and see how you feel?’ I was sceptical and worried – my favourite food was cheese on toast! But I was willing to do anything to relieve the daily pain that I was in. I ate no bread for a week and it was amazing, the stomach pain went away and I felt 100% better!
I agreed to follow a completely wheat-free diet and the dietician advised me on the foods to avoid or to check. At the time, wheat-free really meant gluten-free. There weren’t many places with gluten-free products and most of it was expensive. I stopped eating peppermints and chewing gum! I bought a breadmaker and baked gluten free bread (now I buy it). I ate rice and potatoes instead of pasta, and rice crackers instead of crackers. I changed my cereal to one with no wheat or bran (no Weetbix!). I avoided sausages, gravies, and sauces. I ate more fruit, vegetables, meat, and eggs.
It took me a while to understand what I could eat and how to eliminate wheat (below, I include a list of foods to replace, avoid, or check). After a few months on a wheat-free diet, I felt healthier, happier, clearer, and my symptoms and need for painkillers decreased dramatically. I’ve been wheat-free since then (10 years) and most of my symptoms have now disappeared.
I have two young children and watch for signs that they might be wheat intolerant, such as a regular occurrence of:
• headaches, with no explanation
• wind (that smells)
• stomach cramps, with no explanation
• skin irritation, such as an itchy scalp, or a patch of hives
• a bloated stomach and unpredictable bowel movements (diahorrea, then constipation, and so on)
If you or a family member have these symptoms regularly and you suspect a wheat intolerance, see a doctor for advice, and a dietician (ask your doctor to refer you to one), before you make any major changes to your diet.
It is helpful to make notes – list key symptoms and the foods you ate a day or two before the symptoms occurred. Then cut back on the major wheat items in your diet for a week – including cereal, bread, pasta, pies, crackers, and biscuits. Write down how you feel. Remember to bring your notes to any appointments.
Wheat is in many staple foods, snacks, and confectionery items. Eliminating wheat from your diet is a challenge, however, there are now many products and takeaways available to substitute wheat-based food. Gluten-free food and baking products are safe to eat and readily available at supermarkets and organic food shops.
Earlier on, sometimes I could not resist a biscuit, or I ate something with wheat in it by mistake. Peppermint oil capsules from a health shop, peppermint tea, and anti-spasmodic medication (prescribed by my doctor) helped to relieve my stomach cramps and bowel problems when I accidentally ate wheat.
Below, I include a list of the foods I’ve replaced in my diet over time, and items to check for wheat. I read the label on every food that I buy or eat and I always have a gluten-free snack in my bag. Most cafes and restaurants have gluten-free options on the menu and I always ask the waiter or chef about these options. Warning – look for the small things in your diet that could be causing you grief!
|Food to replace/avoid||Suggested food substitute|
|Bread||Rice, potatoes, or gluten-free bread|
|Pasta, knocchi, noodles, tortillas (unless corn based), and burritos||Rice, potatoes, gluten-free bread or rice noodles|
|Pizza||Gluten-free pizza bases (when ordering gluten-free pizza check that the sauce and toppings are gluten-free)|
|Crackers||Rice crackers (check they are gluten-free, many aren’t!), corn or rice thins|
|Sausages||Meat or gluten-free sausages|
|Wheat-based bran or cereal||Gluten-free muesli or cereal, and porridge|
|Soya sauce||Tamari soya sauce (buy at an organic food shop)|
|Stock (beef, chicken, vegetable) cubes||Gluten-free stock cubes or stock powder|
|Baking products, cakes and biscuits||Gluten free baking mix/rice flour, gluten-free baking powder and corn flour. Gluten-free recipes – see Astoria Cafe’s gluten-free brownie recipe as an example.|
|Other foods to avoid:
Biscuits, pies, pastries, fish and chips, crumbed food, and liquorice.Check foods for these ingredients and avoid if they include:Wheat, wheat flour, wheat starch, glucose syrup (if it doesn’t say it is made from maize it is probably made from wheat), unless specified as other than wheat – maltodextrin (may contain wheat), modified starch, thickeners, and monosodium glutamate (MSG)Check these foods and if they contain wheat ingredients (as above), avoid them: Sauces, marinades, dressings, soups, stuffing, gravy, curry and mustard powder, chippies, French fries, lollies, chewing gum, icing sugar, ice cream, chocolate, bacon, smoked chicken, medications, miso, and yoghurt.
Note: If you are wheat intolerant, you may also be intolerant to similar grains such as barley (be careful with gin and beer) and spelt (check for spelt flour).
400g of salted butter, chopped
350g of dark chocolate, chopped
400g of brown sugar
6 eggs, lightly beaten
10ml of vanilla
185g gluten free flour
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees celcius. Heat butter, chocolate and brown sugar over a very low heat, stirring constantly until melted and smooth. Transfer into a bowl and set aside to cool slightly. Add eggs and vanilla to the chocolate mixture and mix well. Sift flour and cocoa into the chocolate mixture and stir to combine. Pour into a greased brownie tin and bake for 20 minutes or until set.
(Recipe used with kind permission from Astoria Cafe)