The Wheat Allergy Diet Guide

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Wheat allergy. The 10 Cent Designer/Flickr

Wheat allergy is one of the most common food allergies in the United States -- about one in every 250 adults is allergic to wheat, and one in every 200 children has the allergy.

Although children are more likely to have a wheat allergy than adults, you can become allergic to wheat at any time, even when you're an adult.

The majority of children allergic to wheat will outgrow their food allergy by the time they're 12 years old.

Unfortunately, in adults, wheat allergy tends to be permanent.

Wheat Allergy Symptoms

Wheat allergy symptoms can vary, from a mild reaction to full-blown life-threatening anaphylaxis, and several of your body's systems may be affected.

Two different types of allergic reactions are possible from wheat: what's called an IgE-mediated reaction, in which symptoms appear within minutes to just a few hours after you've eaten wheat, and what's called a non-IgE-mediated reaction, in which symptoms are slower to appear and may not develop until up to two days after your wheat-containing meal.

Wheat allergy symptoms may include the following:

  • Stomach and digestive tract: abdominal pain, loose stools, diarrhea, and occasionally nausea and vomiting within 12 to 72 hours after wheat ingestion.
  • Respiratory: asthma with bronchospasm (constriction of the muscles in the bronchioles within the lungs causing mild to severe difficulty with breathing).
  • Skin: eczema, hives, angioedema (swelling of tissue), especially in the face.
  • Mouth and throat: itching (roof of the mouth especially), tongue irritation, swelling and burning, throat tightness or constriction.
  • Anaphylactic reaction, which involves many of the above body systems at once and can be life-threatening
  • Exercise-induced anaphylaxis after eating wheat

Managing Your Wheat Allergy

Like all food allergies, the management of wheat allergy involves complete avoidance of wheat, in any form. This is difficult to do because wheat is found in many products, from cereals and breads to cookies and pasta.

In fact, approximately 75% of all grain products in the U.S. are made with wheat, according to the National Wheat Grower's Association, which makes wheat allergy one of the hardest food allergies (of the top eight allergens) to manage.

The U.S. Food Allergy Labeling Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires food products to be identified as containing wheat. The majority of gluten-free foods are also wheat-free, but not all, so be very careful when buying something labeled "gluten-free":

Always be sure to read ingredient labels to assure the product is free from wheat, since gluten-free product manufacturers are using more wheat starch in gluten-free foods.

Foods That Contain Wheat

Even though wheat must be labeled on ingredients labels in the U.S., you still should watch out for hidden wheat on ingredient labels. Here's a list of ingredient names that mean wheat:

  • gluten
  • high-gluten flour
  • high-protein flour
  • vital gluten
  • wheat gluten
  • wheat starch
  • enriched flour
  • wheat germ
  • flour
  • starch
  • farina
  • modified starch
  • bran
  • vegetable starch
  • wheat bran
  • gelatinized starch
  • vegetable gum
  • graham flour
  • semolina
  • durum
  • couscous
  • cracker crumbs
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • farina
  • farro
  • Kamut
  • seitan
  • fu
  • spelt
  • sprouted wheat
  • Triticale

Foods from bakeries and restaurants will not likely have ingredient labels for you to read. Therefore, you need to know which foods will likely contain wheat.

Sometimes, manufacturers will use the phrase “may contain wheat,” or “made in a facility that processes wheat,” in which case, wheat content in the product may be significant enough to cause an allergic reaction. You will want to avoid these products.

Non-Food Sources of Wheat

Wheat isn't only found in food. Here are some of the non-food items that may contain wheat:

  • cosmetics and hair care products
  • medications
  • vitamins
  • Play dough
  • pet food
  • wallpaper paste or glue

If you have a severe wheat allergy, you'll want to avoid these potential sources of wheat. Here are some resources (always confirm that the product in question is wheat-free as well as gluten-free):

Getting Enough of Certain Nutrients

If you have a wheat allergy, you may find it hard to get enough fiber in your diet, as wheat is a primary fiber source in the Western diet. Other nutrients found in wheat are B vitamins, iron, phosphorus, manganese, selenium and magnesium.

Here's some information on getting enough of these nutrients without wheat in your diet:

Sources:

Gupta RS & Springston EE. The prevalence, severity and distribution of childhood food allergy in the United States. Pediatrics. 2011; 128: e9-e17.

Joneja JV. The Health Professional’s Guide to Food Allergies and Intolerances, 2013.

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