Wheat & Gluten Sensitivity

Grains are without doubt the most commonly consumed foods in the world – with wheat, maize and rice dominating worldwide consumption. Wheat is a firm favourite in the British diet, present in cereals at breakfast, sandwiches at lunch, pasta and many more foods.

Wheat and Gluten – In the UK, wheat is traditionally known to provide a good variety of vitamins and minerals, fibre and complex carbohydrates for lasting energy. Unfortunately, traditional wheat which our ancestors knew and loved, would bear little resemblance to the wheat that fills the supermarket shelves today. Genetically selected to be hardy with a high gluten content, wheat is now hard to digest and can irritate the intestinal tract causing digestive problems for many people.

Gluten is the protein component in certain grains. It is the part of the grain most commonly responsible for sensitivity reactions. Gluten containing grains are:

  • Wheat
  • Spelt
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Oats  (unless labelled gluten-free)

Defining the Problem

  • Coeliac Disease or gluten allergy is a condition where gluten damages the delicate lining of the small intestine leading to malabsorption of nutrients. Coeliacs have to strictly avoid all gluten.
  • Gluten Intolerance Gluten can also present problems in individuals who are not coeliac. As we have already seen, gluten is hard to digest and can cause irritation in the digestive tract.
  • Wheat Intolerance – wheat is rarely the cause of a true food allergy, but a frequent offender in food intolerance. Sometimes it is simply the fact that wheat is consumed so frequently and in such large volumes that causes the problem. Symptoms of wheat intolerance vary and often do not occur immediately after eating wheat-based foods. For this reason, people rarely connect their symptoms with food intolerance. If you eat wheat regularly and suffer from digestive complaints such as bloating or irritable bowel syndrome, depression or hyperactivity, fatigue or headaches – it may be that you have developed an intolerance.

A growing proportion of the population are now thought to suffer from ‘gut permeability’, where the lining of the digestive tract has been damaged and become more permeable. This situation often develops when the same food is eaten on a daily basis. Toast or wheat based cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner – it’s easy to see how we can slip into the trap of eating wheat for three meals a day, and that’s not including the biscuits and snack bars in-between!

When ‘leaky gut’ has developed, gluten is not recommended because of the further irritation it can cause. In addition, because gluten is hard to digest it is more likely to pass through a ‘leaky gut’ into the bloodstream. The body will tag this gluten-invader as foreign and mount an immune response.