Wheat-Free and Gluten-Free: Learn to Tell the Difference

Monday, March 10, 2014
With the recent buzz about gluten- and wheat-free diets, it’s good to know how they compare and if they’re right for everyone.
Bread

With the recent buzz about gluten- and wheat-free diets, it’s good to know how they compare and if they’re right for everyone. Experts estimate that one of every 133 people in the United States has celiac disease, a condition that damages the small intestine when gluten is eaten. Wheat is one of the eight most common known food allergens. It can cause wheezing, itching, rashes and other symptoms. Here is how wheat and gluten compare:

Gluten is a protein found in some grains, including wheat, barley, rye, triticale, and sometimes oats (if they have been in contact with glutinous grains). Gluten causes bread to rise, pasta to stretch and croissants to flake. Wheat is a grain that contains gluten. Wheat comes in various forms, including spelt, kamut, farro, durum, bulgur and semolina. It is a familiar ingredient used for breads, sauces and soups.

Are wheat- and gluten-free diets right for everyone? Many products, magazines, and books suggest dropping them to lose weight, cure diseases, and for other benefits. But replacing gluten and wheat with alternative products is not a magic bullet to health. For those who are allergic, intolerant, or who have celiac disease, removing one or both can greatly improve health. This is why it is important to discover an allergy or intolerance with the help of a doctor or nutritionist.

To recap, all types of wheat have gluten, but not all forms of gluten are wheat. Gluten is in wheat, barley, rye, triticale and gluten-contaminated oats. Wheat comes in many forms including spelt, kamut, farro, durum, bulgur, and semolina. The nutrition and naturopathic teams at Bastyr Center for Natural Health can help you determine if they are right for your body.

By DeeAnna VanReken, dietetic intern, and Debra Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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