Wheat and gluten are a common cause of food allergies and food intolerances – but would you feel better for cutting them out of your diet?
Food allergies and intolerances – wheat and gluten
About three or four years ago, after researching dairy sensitivity due to my son’s food allergies and food intolerances, I decided to focus my attention on two other known and common food allergens, wheat and gluten. Having witnessed the major health benefits bestowed on Jake after we removed dairy from his diet, I wanted to see if the removal of wheat and gluten could also have positive results on people - even if they didn’t suffer from these food allergies and intolerances. While it appeared that nobody in our family had an issue, I knew from friends and acquaintances that wheat and gluten allergies can have devastating effects.
It seemed logical that whilst I delved into books and explored the internet for information on this subject, it would also be a good idea to go all empirical and experiment on myself! I decided initially, for the purpose of the experiment, not to differentiate between the two allergens, and began the process of avoiding both gluten and wheat. The first thing that became apparent was the amount of foods that contain either or both of these ingredients; most of the carbohydrate we consume comes from grain, with wheat coming top of the pile. In fact, wheat accounts for over half of our calorie intake, with 600 million tons consumed annually!
Not only that, but gluten is found hiding in foods that I would never have imagined; salamis, sausages, mustard powder, white pepper, gravy granules, stock cubes, pickles, soy sauce...and the list just goes on! My heart went out to to all those coeliac sufferers - which according to new statistics account for one in every thousand people here in the UK; not to mention an estimated one in ten with a wheat or gluten intolerance, causing a varying range of debilitating symptoms.
Cutting out wheat and gluten
I started my experiment from a very fortunate position, not having any food allergies or food intolerances myself, but I still noticed some significant changes. I had always put up with frequent bloating as just one of those things, and I have to be honest it took me quite a while before I realised that since cutting out wheat and gluten, I hadn’t experienced any bloating or discomfort whatsoever.
Bowel movements can be a great indicator of how your digestive system is performing and it shouldn’t really be a taboo subject – after all, it’s one of the most vital and natural processes that our body executes! Changes in your stools when you adjust your diet is a common occurence, and it just goes to demonstrate how the food we put into our bodies has a direct impact on our internal processes and health – and therefore, why it’s so important to follow a healthy diet and pay attention to the foods we eat and how they affect us.
Gluten and wheat can also lead to passing loose stools, and for menstruating women, they may also find that this is a particular problem around the time of their period. Many people think that this is normal, but it’s not really indicative of a healthy digestive system. Regardless of food allergies and intolerances, many people find that after cutting wheat and gluten from their diet, their digestion improves and ultimately results in reducing or maintaining a healthy weight!
I remember a conversation with a friend a few months back; one spare afternoon, he decided to take advantage of a free eye test. Unexpectedly for him it revealed an eyesight weakness, and a week later he returned to the opticians for his prescription glasses. He said that the rest of his day was spent looking at the world in a totally unfamiliar yet profoundly better way. I tell that story because it’s probably the best way to explain the shift in energy I’ve felt since I cut out wheat and gluten from my diet. Like my friend, who for years believed he was seeing the world accurately, I believed I was functioning at my optimum level - now in retrospect, I realise how far off the mark I was.
How do wheat and gluten cause food allergies and intolerances?
In order to demonstrate the role that wheat and gluten can play in the suffering of food allergies and food intolerances, here’s the techy bit!
Gluten comes from the Latin word meaning glue. It’s a form of protein and it constitutes 78% of the protein in wheat, although it’s also found in other grains such as rye, spelt, barley and oats. Gluten contains a sub protein, known as alpha-gliadin, and it’s this protein that’s responsible for causing a reaction in the mucous lining in the intestine of coeliac sufferers. It’s also probable that it’s the same protein responsible for wheat and gluten allergies.
However, sensitivities can occur from any aspect of a food that the body perceives as a threat, and often it can take time for the antibodies to arrive at a critical level and trigger the release of histamine - which is why it can often be difficult to identify an allergen. In the case of wheat and gluten, the resulting symptoms could also be due to the smoothing down of the villi lining the small intestine.
The villus are responsible for increasing the surface area of the intestine, allowing the opportunity for vital nutrients to be absorbed by the body. I think this is probably why my energy levels increased after removing the wheat and gluten, as I gave my body a much greater chance to absorb the nutrients I was eating. Other symptoms of malabsorption can be anaemia, osteoporosis and unwanted weight loss. Also the villus are responsible for stimulating peristaltic action; the muscle contraction in the bowel which pushes our food, and eventually our faecal matter, through our body. When these villus get smoothed flat by the action of the gluey nature of gluten, it compromises the peristaltic action and causes problems like diarrhoea and constipation.
It’s worth noting that we have only been cultivating wheat for the last 10,000 years and over the last 100 years, newer, higher yielding varieties have been used. That’s a very short time in the grand scale of human existence to rely so heavily on wheat as our major staple. I have found great health benefits in removing wheat from my diet, and I’d love to hear your views and stories on food allergies, food intolerances, or any other matter that’s discussed on our website - please feel free to join in on our forum!