Confused about whether to go wheat-free?

Are you confused by reports that say wheat is bad, yet official sources advise us to eat lots of whole grains? Do you ever wonder if you should go ‘wheat-free’?

Wheat contains the protein gluten (also found in barley and rye), which can be difficult for some to digest. Eating wheat could lead to things like wind, bloating, skin irritations, and aching joints. It may also contribute to inflammation in the gut, and in fact people with coeliac disease risk severe ill health if they continue to eat gluten-containing grains. So if you find eating wheat makes you feel poorly, then it makes sense to leave it out of your diet, and if you have coeliac disease, it’s absolutely essential that you do!

But what if you haven’t noticed any problems? Well whole grain wheat does contain B vitamins and some minerals. But whole grains also contain phytic acid, which can reduce absorption of minerals, and lectins, which can further contribute to bloating and inflammation in some people. If you have toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner, and biscuits as snacks, that’s a lot of gluten, phytic acid and lectins, perhaps increasing your risk of a reaction.

What about 'white' wheat (bread, pasta etc), which has had the outer husk of the grain removed? Since most of the phytic acid and lectins are found in the outer husk then you may think white grains would be preferable. However, the outer husk also contains most of the nutrients, and although the phytic acid and lectins are greatly reduced, removing the outer husk doesn't affect the gluten content!

White grains are also ‘simple carbohydrates’ and break down quickly in the body to glucose (sugar), likely prompting the release of high amounts of insulin. Insulin release results in glucose being transported into cells for energy, but also into storage as fat if not needed for immediate energy. This process can contribute to energy slumps and cravings for more simple carbohydrates. So not at all preferable!

It may be that you just need to reduce how often you eat wheat, but if you do decide to go wheat-free be very careful of most of the packages you find down the 'gluten-free' aisle in the supermarket. Many of the ingredients used to replace wheat and other grains containing gluten are often highly processed and likely broken down as quickly as the simple carbohydrates above (and contain very little nutrients too). It is very difficult to replace like with like in this respect. Being gluten-free in a healthy way requires a shift in thinking about what you are going to eat, and I’m afraid sandwiches are possibly off the menu.

A nutritional therapist can help you decide whether going ‘wheat-free’ is something that might be beneficial for you, and also help you work out what you could eat instead.

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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