Many people claim to suffer from wheat intolerance but it is important to differentiate between wheat intolerance and gluten intolerance, as there are big differences between the two. Those who suffer from the latter have coeliac disease, in which they are allergic to the gluten in wheat, oats, barley and rye. With wheat intolerance the body can cope with small amounts of wheat. Not so for coeliacs. Their diet is highly restricted and includes many foods you wouldn’t normally associate with grain intolerance, such as some ice creams, soy sauce, salad dressings, hot milk drinks, as well as the obvious bread, cakes, pastries, pasta, pizzas and any thickened sauce.
A celiac must learn to live carefully. In a shared kitchen, separate toasters, chopping boards and dishes are recommended by all nutritionists who treat coeliac patients. You can’t just remove croutons from your salad or soup, nor can your crackers share the same plate as ordinary crackers or bread. Chips should not be fried in oil which has been used previously to fry anything covered in crumbs, flour or batter.
Going out to eat can be a nightmare, especially when dining with friends, whose menus have to be dissected before you can accept an invitation. Unless they are very good friends, this can be embarrassing!
Restaurants are becoming more clued up to food allergies, but many chefs are still unaware of what their food contains, especially when bought in instead of prepared from scratch.
Reading labels is imperative, and despite a slow improvement, labelling in South Africa is seldom very enlightening. Hooray for companies that specify exactly which grains their products contain, but generally it is just ‘flour’ or ‘thickener’- which could be wheat flour or guar gum, the latter being perfectly okay.
The recommendation from the medical profession is: if in doubt, don’t eat or buy it. Even the smallest amount of gluten can affect the villi in your small intestine and this will take up to three weeks to repair itself. You may not have any symptoms other than bloating, but the long-term consequences for breaking the rules is the likelihood of cancer.
How do you know if you have coeliac disease? It is a disease of the auto immune system and symptoms may include: excessive wind or bloating, unexplained stomach problems, stomach pain, iron, Vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency, tiredness, headaches, weight loss, mouth ulcers, hair loss, skin rash, teeth problems, osteoporosis, depression, infertility, repeated miscarriages, joint or bone pain, poor muscle co-ordination and numbness or tingling in hands and feet. Some of the symptoms can be incorrectly ascribed to irritable bowel syndrome.
The onset in childhood can be triggered by a stomach upset or at weaning when cereals are introduced. Many children are thin (although this is not a symptom in adults), as their bodies are not absorbing the necessary nutrients.
The definitive diagnosis is by abn endoscopy, a procedure that can be done either with or without a milk anaesthetic, where a miniature camera is introduced by mouth into the intestine so as to see exactly what is happening. A blood test is indicative, but not definitive.
Health shops and supermarkets are stocking more and more gluten-free products. These can be expensive, however, so why not try making your own bread and cakes. It’s really quite easy. An alternative flour mix is given below and can be used to replace almost any cake or biscuit recipe.
WHITE GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR MIX
50g tapioca or buckwheat flour
100g potato flour
450g white rice flour
Mix all the ingredients together and store in a covered container and use to replace flour in almost all cake and biscuit recipes.
For Gillian’s tried-and-tested gluten-free bread recipe, click here