Wheat is originally the Levant area of the Middle East and after maize, it is the second most produced food among the cereal crops. Wheat is used to make flour for leavened, flat and steamed breads; cookies, cakes, pasta, noodles and couscous and can also be used for fermentation to make beer, alcohol, vodka or biofuel.
This overabundance of wheat in the diet the world over is being blamed for the increase of wheat allergies and intolerances. Increased research indicates that close to 1 in 100 people could suffer from Coeliac Disease, an autoimmune disease which is developed by the ingestion of gluten by sensitive individuals. Wheat is not only forms part of everyday diet in breads, pastries, cakes, cereals, and pasta, but it is also added to sauces, chocolate, tinned food and ready meals. It is often hidden by names like cereal starch, cereal thickener, hydrolysed starch, hydrolysed vegetable protein and many people do not even realise how much they consume on a daily basis.
For many people around the world wheat is part of their staple diet and provides a source of protein and carbohydrate. However in western diets most of the wheat used in commercial products is bleached and refined to become white flour. In refining Magnesium is depleted by 85% and Manganese is depleted by 83% - two important minerals in the control of blood sugar, essential in a society with rising obesity rates and incidence of type 2 diabetes. Selenium is depleted by 52% which is essential in the prevention of heart disease – a major killer in the western world. Virtually all vitamins and minerals are depleted by between 50% and 80% making white wheat flour a poor source of nutrients. Government standards require white wheat flour to be enriched with synthetic vitamins and minerals to increase its nutritional value.
Gluten is a composite of the proteins gliadin and glutenin. These exist, conjoined with starch, in wheat, rye, barley (also present in smaller quantities in oats) and also spelt & kamut which are ancient forms of the grain. Gliadin and glutenin comprise about 80% of the protein contained in wheat seed. Being insoluble in water, they can be purified by washing away the associated starch. Worldwide, gluten is an important source of nutritional protein, both in foods prepared directly from sources containing it, and as an additive to foods otherwise low in protein. The glutenin in wheat flour gives dough its elasticity, allows leavening and contributes chewiness to baked products like bagels. Gluten also contains chemicals that inhibit the action on enzymes to break down the complex, thus making it difficult to digest by humans.
Phytic acid will chelate important nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron, niacin and zinc, and make them unavailable for utilisation by the body. It is known as an anti-nutrient. This can be problematic for people with a particularly low intake of essential minerals, especially young children and those in developing countries, and can result when the intake of wheat is high.
A sensitivity or allergy to wheat can produce a variety of symptoms in the body such as sneezing itching, rashes, watery eyes, runny nose, coughing, hay fever, headaches, nausea, digestive problems, swollen limbs or general aches and pains. Wheat allergies affect less than one per cent of the population. Unlike classic allergies, if you are allergic to wheat you will usually be allergic to more than one food. On average, sufferers react to four or five different foods.
A wheat intolerance doesn’t necessarily involve an immune system response to wheat (so may be over looked by the first two medical tests). It is believed that people suffering symptoms such as fatigue, bloating, gas, headaches & joint pains, may lack the necessary enzymes to break wheat down successfully.
Some people with Candida will develop a sensitivity to yeast and suffer a reaction when they eat sugar. Some of these people could think they were intolerant to wheat as they suffer effects when eating bread (as these are two components of bread) and their main intolerance can go undiagnosed. Wheat makes the body produce more mucus and this also provides a good breeding ground for bowel bacteria such as Candida. Gliadins also have a scratching effect on the walls of the bowel causing irritation in sensitive people which can also mimic signs of an intolerance or allergy (IBS type symptoms).
Coeliac disease is a genetic disorder affecting children and adults. It is not a food allergy, but an autoimmune disorder and can not be “grown out of”. People with Coeliac Disease are unable to eat foods that contain gluten, which is found in wheat and other grains. It leads to flattening of the lining of the small intestine through the destruction of the microvilli, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients. The microvilli are an essential part of the digestive process, providing activating enzymes for the pancreatic enzyme precursosrs and also providing a final site of enzymic break down and adsorption (through diffusion and active transport) of sugars, polypeptides and lipids.
It was believed that it effected 1 in 1500 people however current statistics in America suggest it effects 1 out of 133 people. One definite risk factor is a history of the condition in your family. Coeliac disease occurs in people who are genetically prone to it. If you have a parent, sibling or child with coeliac disease, you have a 10 per cent chance of also developing it. If you have an identical twin with coeliac disease, your chances increase to more than 70 per cent.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease include diarrhoea, (sometimes constipation) weight loss, abdominal pain, chronic fatigue, weakness, malnutrition, and other gastrointestinal problems, a blistering, itchy skin rash mostly on the elbows and knees called dermatitis herpetiformis.. Some people barely experience any bowel pains at all. In children, the symptoms may include failure to thrive (an inability to grow and put on weight), irritability, an inability to concentrate, diarrhoea and bloating. Further, people affected by Celiac Disease may experience extra intestinal symptoms that involve many systems and organs including bones (osteoporosis, arthritis, and joint pain), blood (anaemia and bleeding), reproductive system (infertility and reoccurring abortion), nervous system (chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, dementia), and behavioural changes.
A blood test is available to screen for the presence of specific antibodies to diagnose Coeliac disease. A biopsy of the intestine (before beginning a gluten free diet) is needed to make a final diagnosis. The only medically approved treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet and supplementation with iron, folic acid and calcium.
Many people embarking on a wheat or gluten free diet will seek gain substitutes.
Aramath (Gluten Free)
8000 year old crop called a Superfood by the Aztecs. Fed to warriors and runners as can produce large bursts of energy. Became popular again twenty years ago in America when noted for it’s nutritional value. It is a good source of fibre and high in vitamins and minerals, especially high in Manganese (100g provides 112% RDA). It also contains lysine, methionine and cysteine along with other amino acids making it a more complete protein than other grains. It is not a true grain, more a classification of herb or vegetable, and should be cooked before eating as it contains components that block the absorption of nutrients. It can be sprouted, added to soups/stews, made into flour for gravy and sauces or eaten as a porridge.
Evidence has been discovered as far back as 16,000 BC and it is the 4 largest crop in the world. It is primarily used for animal feed and making malt for beer. It is processed for human consumption in the form of pearled, pot, hulled and flaked barley. Traditionally used in soups and stews, but it can also be used as a rice substitute in risotto, as a porridge and in vegetable stuffing. It is a very hardy plant providing a high source of Manganese and Thiamin compared to other grains.
Buckwheat (Gluten Free)
Not classified as a grain, it is actually a fruit and part of the Rhubarb family. It has only been in cultivation for 100 years and started in China and becoming very popular in Russia. Once the outer hull is removed it can be milled into a flour traditionally used in pancakes. It can also be used a rice substitute and is also ground to make sorba noodles. Especially high in B Vitamins compared to other grains, it also contains good levels of magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese. It is less calorific than other grains and is lower in proteins, carbohydrates and fats. It is non acid forming and is high in lysine.
Corn (Gluten Free)
Corn is commonly used in gluten free products such as bread’s and pasta. It can be ground as a flour and made into a porridge, used as polenta as a pastry/pastry substitute and makes corn syrup a widely used sweetener in America. It was first grown by the Mayan, Aztec and Inca Indians more than 5,600 years ago. Corn traditionally has been a food for livestock and was also brewed into alcohol. It is the most widely grown food in the world. It is very hardy and can grow at both high altitudes and at sea level.
A close relative to wheat with similar allergenic properties. It is an ancient grain thought to come from Egypt. It was cultivated primarily in America in the 1900s and has remained genetically unmodified. It has higher levels of Vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, panothenic acid, and copper than wheat. It is good for home baking.
Millet (Gluten Free)
First recorded cultivation is 5,500 BC in China but it is possible it was domesticated before this in Africa. It grows well in hot arid conditions and has been used as a staple food in the form of porridge or flat bread. It can be used as a soup thickener and is often used in India for making Chapatti and Roti. It is not acid forming and very easy to digest. It is high in vitamins and minerals (especially, B Vitamins and Vitamin E compared to other grains) and can be cultivated only 45-65 days after planting.
Oats (Gluten – though can be tolerated by some Coeliacs)
Oats historically date back to 1000 BC in Germany. They have traditionally been used in food for animals but also as a human food. In recent years it has been noted for it’s ability to reduce blood cholesterol, and is a source of betaglucans that can support the immune system, reduce cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Compared to other grains they are a high source of protein (100g provides 33% of RDA) and have a good proportion of amino acids which a proportionate to the body’s needs. Oats must be rolled before human consumption to remove the tough outer hull.
Quinoa (Gluten Free)
Technically a fruit, it originated in South America, where even today the best crops are grown. The Incas called it the Mother Grain as it is a balanced protein and has a reputation for providing longevity. It is a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids and a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese. It can be boiled and eaten as a porridge or used like couscous. It can also be made into a drink or popped like popcorn and can come whole or as flakes.
Rice (Gluten Free)
There are numerous different kinds of rice and it is grown on every continent in the world other than Antartica. 92% of the worlds production of rice comes from Asian countries and is grown wild and as a crop. Rice has a tough outer hull that has to removed before eating. Brown rice has a protective layer helping it to retain a higher content of vitamins (2/3 more B vitamins) and minerals (over 2/3 more magnesium, phosphorus and manganese) and is a better source of dietary fibre and protein. Short Grain blown rice is particularly good at helping the body to eliminate toxins.
Only been in cultivation for the last 2000-3000 years probably originating in Asia Minor. It will grow under a number of harsh conditions but in modern times it has been replaced mostly by wheat as it grows faster and is more hardy. It is still popular in Scandinavia where they eat traditional rye breads. It has less gluten than wheat so does not rise as well making bread heavy and dark in colour. It has a higher content of vitamin E, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid than wheat and is a better source of protein, carbohydrate and fibre. It can be eaten as a breakfast cereal and is most popular as crackers.
Sorghum (Gluten Free)
Sorghum is a genus of numerous species of grasses, some of which are raised for grain and many of which are used as fodder plants. The plants are cultivated in warmer climates worldwide. Sorghum is known as great millet and guinea corn in West Africa, kafir corn in South Africa, dura in Sudan, mtama in eastern Africa, jowar in Hindi, solam in Tamil and kaoliang in China. Numerous Sorghum species are used for food (as grain and in sorghum syrup or "sorghum molasses"), fodder, the production of alcoholic beverages, as well as biofuels. Most species are drought tolerant and heat tolerant and are especially important in arid regions and is the "fifth most important cereal crop grown in the world". It has a similar calorific value to the other grains and although not abundant in many nutrients it is a good source of Iron and Phosporus.
Ancient form of wheat, 9.000 years old. During 1900s farming was virtually abandoned for more modern varieties of wheat with better yield and resistance to disease, however in recent times farming has started again and it has become a popular alternative to wheat. Many people allertgic to wheat can tolerate spelt as its gluten complex is a lot more fragile and is more soluable in water (easier to breakdown and absorb). It also has properties that aid blood clotting and stimulate the immune system. It is high in fibre and higher in protein than wheat. It is higher than wheat in B vitamins, Iron and potassium.
Tapioca (Gluten Free)
Tapioca is essentially a flavorless starchy ingredient, or fecula, produced from treated and dried cassava (manioc) root and used in cooking. It is similar to sago and is commonly used to make a milky pudding similar to rice pudding. Tapioca pearls are made mostly of tapioca starch, which comes from the tapioca, or bitter-cassava plant, Manihot esculenta. Cassava is native to South America. However, it was later planted in parts of the Middle East and India. 'Tapioca' in Britain often refers to a rice pudding thickened with arrowroot, while in Asia the sap of the sago palm is often part of its preparation. The cassava plant is also used as a drink and in some places cut up and used as snacks like crisps or chips. It is a highly calorific food with little nutritional value.
Teff (Gluten Free)
Native to North Africa it is the smallest grain in the world. It comes in 3 varieties, white, brown and red and used primarily in cereals and baked goods such as biscuits, crackers etc. It can also be bought as a flour. Higher in calcium and iron than rice, wheat, millet and oats and also a source of boron, magnesium. copper, phosphorus and zinc.
Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye first bred in laboratories during the late 19th century. The grain was originally bred in Scotland and Sweden. As a rule, triticale combines the high yield potential and good grain quality of wheat with the disease and environmental tolerance (including soil conditions) of rye. It is grown mostly for forage or animal feed although some triticale-based foods can be purchased at health food stores or are to be found in some breakfast cereals. The protein content is higher than that of wheat although the glutenin fraction is less. The grain has also been stated to have higher levels of lysine than wheat. It is exceptionally high in Thiamine and Manganese.