Wheat allergies versus celiac disease. Know the difference. It could save your life.
You may know that people with celiac disease can’t eat the gluten in wheat products. But that doesn’t mean they are allergic to wheat. While there are some similarities, wheat allergy and celiac disease are two very different conditions.
Wheat allergies occur when there is an overreaction of the immune system to wheat protein. The reaction could be anywhere from mild to life-threatening. The allergy could result in a skin rash, itching, swelling, trouble breathing, wheezing and other symptoms. It can even cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that can include symptoms like swelling in the throat and mouth, nausea and vomiting, changes in heart rate and loss of consciousness.
Wheat allergy is most common in children and is usually outgrown before reaching adulthood, often by age three.
Celiac disease (sometimes referred to as gluten intolerance) is considered both a food intolerance and an autoimmune disorder. It’s caused by an abnormal reaction to gluten in the small intestine. And gluten isn’t only found in wheat: it’s also found in barley and rye.
When someone with celiac disease eats products made from these grains, the reaction damages the lining of the small intestine. They usually experience abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea, but some people with celiac disease may not have immediate reactions. Since celiac disease interferes with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, untreated celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems like osteoporosis, infertility, migraines, anemia, malnutrition and intestinal cancers.
Researchers estimate that about one percent of the U.S. population has celiac disease.
What to avoid when you have a wheat allergy or celiac disease
While all wheat contains gluten, not all gluten comes from wheat. Gluten can also be found in barley and rye. Therefore, the dietary restrictions for wheat allergy and celiac disease vary slightly.
If you have a wheat allergy, avoid:
- Bread, pasta or any other food containing wheat
- Nonfood items with wheat-based ingredients, such as Play-doh, cosmetics or bath products
Read labels carefully when purchasing food. Wheat can be found in:
Starch (gelatinized starch, modi ed starch, modi ed food starch, vegetable starch)
Ice cream, Marinara sauce, Potato chips, Rice cakes, Turkey patties, Hot dogs, Beer and ale, Baking mixes, Baked products, Batter-fried foods, Breaded foods, Breakfast cereals, Candy, Crackers, Pocessed meats, Salad dressings, Sauces, Soups, Glucose syrup, Surimi, Soy sauce, Imitation crabmeat.
Please note, this is not meant to be a complete list. To be safe, always read your labels.
If you have celiac disease, remember, the list of gluten-containing grains doesn’t end at wheat. Other offenders are:
Oats (oats themselves don’t contain gluten, but are often processed in plants that produce gluten-containing grains so purchase carefully)
Seitan (aka “wheat meat”)
Triticale and Mir (a cross between wheat and rye)
Gluten may also show up as ingredients in barley malt, chicken broth, malt vinegar and veggie burgers (if not specified gluten-free). The protein may even hide in many common seasonings and spice mixes.
Medications, supplements and other products may also contain lecithin, a hidden source of gluten. People with celiac disease should ask a pharmacist about the ingredients in:
Prescription and over-the-counter medications
Vitamins and mineral supplements
Herbal and nutritional supplements
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