If you've been diagnosed with a wheat allergy or gluten intolerance, you may be wondering how to maintain a wheatfree diet. It seems like wheat is in everything and that it can be nearly impossible to avoid, but it's getting easier to live happily without wheat.
Living Without Wheat
While it's estimated that about 12 million Americans have some kind of food allergy, it's not known how many people suffer from an allergy or sensitivity to wheat. Probably about two million Americans have celiac disease, which involves an intolerance to gluten and the necessity of a gluten-free diet, but people who can't have wheat can sometimes tolerate other grains with gluten in them.
Symptoms of wheat allergy involve an immune-system response such as inflammation, as well as digestive problems, such as gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. Eating wheat when you are allergic can also aggravate other symptoms, such as:
- Rashes or eczema
- Anxiety or depression
A wheat allergy can be diagnosed by a doctor. It's important to make sure you don't have celiac disease so that you know what foods you need to avoid and what things you can still eat.
How to Maintain a Wheatfree Diet: the Basics
There are, of course, many prepared foods that contain wheat, even things you might not expect, like tomato ketchup. You have to become an avid label reader in order to completely eliminate wheat from your diet.
Here are just a few of the terms or ingredients you'll need to watch out for:
- Flour (including white, whole wheat, enriched, high-protein and high-gluten varieties)
- Starch (including modified starch)
- Anything containing the word wheat
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Wheat germ
- Vegetable gum and vegetable starch
That will eliminate most breads, cookies, crackers, cakes, bread crumbs, cereals, couscous, pasta and similar products. It might sound to you like there will be nothing left to eat when you eliminate all that!
The good news is with new understanding of the prevalence of wheat allergies, there are more and more products that are being made wheat free. If you can tolerate other grains such as quinoa, oats, rice, barley or millet, you should be able to find bread and pasta made with these products at your local natural foods store or through online sources.
These products don't taste quite the same as wheat, but you won't feel deprived, and it will give you the chance to introduce new grains to your family. You probably also won't have the carb cravings you would have if you cut out all bread and pasta entirely.
That is the big key to how to maintain a wheatfree diet: maintaining flexibility and the willingness to try new things. Keep reading labels, and when you find new wheat-free products, give them a try. Know that you can still have a healthy diet without eating wheat.
Eating Out Wheat Free
One of the most difficult aspects of how to maintain a wheatfree diet is navigating a menu at a restaurant. Because wheat is included in many items you wouldn't have expected before you started reading labels, you know now that you need to ask questions and make special requests if necessary to get a healthy meal.
While many restaurants post their menus online, they don't often have ingredient lists. Usually though, you can call the restaurant in advance and ask questions (not during a busy time, if possible) so that you'll know what to order when you get there.
One good tip is to order foods without sauces, since they are often thickened with flour. Local organic or vegetarian restaurants may also be better equipped to handle special dietary requests than are the big national chains.
Living a wheat-free lifestyle is difficult in the beginning, but once you have stopped eating wheat you will feel so much better because you will no longer be having the reactions to food that you once had. Find an online or in-person support group to get more information and support as you become more comfortable with living wheat free.