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A wheat-free world?

Clare Jones looks at IBS, coeliac disease and other wheaty issues...

Published on September 28th 2010.

A wheat-free world?

Wheat watch
An increasing number of people appear to be cutting wheat-based foods out of their diet, claiming that they are responsible for a wide range of symptoms from constipation and bloating to weight gain and depression. But is there any evidence for these claims or is it just another form of faddy eating?

A recent survey by the charity Coeliac UK, found that 60 per cent of their members surveyed had been originally misdiagnosed with IBS.

In his book, ‘Bread Matters’, Andrew Whitley, the founder of The Village Bakery in Cumbria, discusses the differences between modern wheat varieties and ancient varieties such as spelt and kamut, which some people find easier on the digestive system.

Modern varieties have been developed to boost agricultural production and enhance modern bread-making techniques - often at the expense of nutritional content. The ancient varieties tend to have a lower gluten fraction too, which may be part of the reason why people find them easier to digest.

We eat a huge amount of wheat-based products in this country; not just bread but pasta, pastry, couscous, breakfast cereals, cakes and biscuits too. Wheat is also a ‘hidden’ ingredient in many processed foods, where it’s often used as a thickener, for example in soups and sauces. In fact, it’s quite easy to eat wheat in every meal of the day, eg. Weetabix for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta for tea, not to mention a biscuit or two with a cup of tea.

One of the most common health issues that I come across in my clinics is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This is a condition that is as unpleasant, embarrassing and uncomfortable as it sounds and it is estimated to affect around 20 per cent of the UK population.

Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation but sufferers often delay going to their doctor about them because they are embarrassed about discussing their bowel habits. While there may be a number of different underlying causes of these symptoms, people often report that they experience some relief if they cut down or cut out wheat in their diet.

Sad sandwich, courtesy Flickr user Sakukaro Kitsa

Coeliac Disease?
Interestingly, a recent survey by the charity Coeliac UK, found that 60 per cent of their members surveyed had been originally misdiagnosed with IBS. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease in which a reaction to gluten causes damage to the lining of the small intestine. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, as for IBS, so it is easy to see how a misdiagnosis could come about. It’s estimated that there are around 500,000 undiagnosed sufferers of coeliac disease in this country so people who think that wheat may be aggravating their symptoms may be on to something.

What should I do if I suspect I react to wheat?
First of all, don’t eliminate any foods from your diet without professional advice. Not only do you run the risk of nutritional deficiencies, you also need to be eating gluten foods if you are to be tested for coeliac disease.

Don’t be embarrassed. If you are suffering from erratic bowel symptoms – get it checked out. There could be a number of different underlying causes and you need a proper diagnosis.

The advice given here is not intended to replace medical advice. Always consult your GP if you are concerned about your health.

Clare Jones, BA(Hons), Dip ION, mBANT
Nutritional Therapy 07985 166606.

If you would like to make an appointment for a personal nutrition consultation with Clare, please contact her on the above number or visit Clare’s website: www.clarejones-nutrition.co.uk

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