Are Wheat and Gluten the Same Thing?

We hear a lot these days about wheat and gluten allergies or intolerance. It seems that more and more people are developing problems with foods that contain these ingredients, leading to symptoms running the gamut from merely annoyance all the way to life threatening.

The symptoms of a wheat allergy or intolerance are very similar to those of gluten allergy and intolerance. What’s more, the lists of foods that you should avoid also seem to contain many of the same items for both of these. This has caused many people to wonder if wheat and gluten are the same thing. And, if they aren’t, what’s the difference?

As we know, wheat is the grain of a plant that can be ground up to make flour. It can also be eaten as a cereal or used in soups much the same as rice. Wheat contains a protein called gluten. Gluten is a binding protein, and is what makes wheat dough which works so wonderfully for breads and cakes. If you’ve ever seen stretchy pizza dough, you’ve seen gluten at work – it’s what makes the dough so elastic. So, when you eat a wheat product, whether bread, cake, bagel, or cereal, you’re also eating gluten.  However, gluten is also found in some other grains besides wheat, like rye and barley, and some believe in oats. However, the truth about oats is that it does not contain gluten but it is often processed on equipment that also handles wheat causing contamination.

So this means for you and your food allergies is that if you’re allergic or have an intolerance to gluten, then you can not eat wheat products, pure and simple because they contain gluten. You also need to avoid products made using other grains that contain gluten.  Your doctor or nutritionist can advise you on the foods you should avoid, which may or may not include oat products.

On the other hand, if you are intolerant or allergic to wheat, you’ll only need to avoid foods that list wheat or wheat products as an ingredient. You’ll still be able to enjoy rye bread and oatmeal cookies, and any other product made from the other grains.

If you should suspect that you or someone in your family has a problem with wheat or gluten, you should consult your doctor right away. Allergies to these products can have life-threatening symptoms, including anaphylactic shock. Food intolerance is not usually life threatening, but it can truly disrupt your quality of life with symptoms as far ranging as irritability and fatigue to chronic diarrhea. This can be especially troublesome for children, as it can affect their ability to absorb nutrients from their foods, leading to delayed physical development.

At the moment there is no cure for either wheat or gluten allergies or intolerance. However, the symptoms of these conditions can be controlled by carefully planned diets that avoid the offending ingredients.

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