Warning, this post will contain thinly veiled attempts at concealing toilet humour (actually not so thinly veiled or concealed)
If you know someone who is gluten or wheat intolerant; this post might help you to understand their frustration when you tell them to “just have a bite of cake”, or pizza, and why they look like they want to kill you when you ask them if they miss pasta. If you are considering giving up gluten or wheat, this post might help you make the right decision. If you are one of those people who don’t know what you are talking about, like I was, and just throw in the odd “mmm gluten is so bad for you” comment when people start discussing it, then hopefully this post will hit you with some knowledge. Finally, if you are already gluten and, or wheat intolerant, just bear with me because you might just learn something new. (Please know that you are my people. We share a bond that only people watching other people devouring a pizza while you can just pick the toppings off will ever be able to understand)
1. Contrary to most food labels and a few cases of mistaken identity gluten and wheat are not actually the same thing. Gluten is the protein (boet) component of wheat. It is also found in other grains such as barley, rye and oats (there will be more on this later before you panic and throw all your oats down the toilet or out of the window). Gluten is formed when moisture is added to the flour and it is what makes dough sticky.
2. If it is gluten-free it is definitely wheat-free, but if it is wheat-free it might not always be gluten-free. I understand, this is a bit of a mind “boggle” (I wanted to use another word in there but I don’t think that it would be socially appropriate). That loaf of 100% rye bread that you bought because it had a ‘wheat-free’ sticker on it was not lying to you, and it is indeed wheat-free. However, because gluten is also found in other grains (such as rye) this little loaf cannot wear a “gluten-free” sticker as well. You know those cool words that read the same forwards and backwards? Well, this is not like that at all.
3. You can have issues with gluten but not with wheat, you can have issues with wheat but not with gluten and you can have issues with both. If you are only allergic to wheat then the other grains such as rye, barley, malt, and oats (oats, poor oats, so much of confusion with this one) won’t affect you. If you are allergic to gluten then, unfortunately this rules out all grains including those I just mentioned as well as other things you thought were safe – like salad dressing. Salads are healthy, and so, by association you thought something like pre-made salad dressings would have to be healthy too? Ha. April Fools.
As with anything that is considered ‘not normal’, I have been a part of some really great conversations about gluten and wheat with various people in the years that I have been eating gluten and wheat-free.
“Oh you’re also gluten intolerant? That seems to be the popular ‘thing’ at the moment hey.”
Yes, it does seem to be more popular lately, but that doesn’t mean that is any less of a real thing in life. As outlined in The Wheat Belly there are many, scientific (therefore legit-right?) reasons for the rising number of people who are gluten and or wheat intolerant; the least of these include the fact that wheat itself has been genetically modified in the last forty years. While genetically modified (GMO) soy has caused a lot of upset and a whole set of issues, GMO wheat remains completely untested for its effects on human consumption. It has been changed so that a crop’s yield can be maximized. So, while it was not a problem for humans forty years ago, it is now. However, beyond the explanations as to why it seems like it is becoming so popular, gluten and wheat intolerance is most definitely a real thing. In fact, in its most chronic state gluten-intolerance is called celiac disease and can result in death in extreme cases if left untreated.
“Oh, are you also eating gluten-free to lose weight?”
No, I’m not. While weight-loss can be a side effect of cutting gluten and or wheat out of your diet, it can also be a symptom of the problem in the first place. As a result of the damage gluten causes to the intestinal wall of your stomach, gluten-intolerance results in nutrient mal-absorption. On a ‘not unrelated side-note’ what most people don’t realize is that going gluten free and buying gluten-free products can actually result in weight gain (bet that one got your attention). The glycemic index (GI) of some of the substitutes used in most commercial gluten-free products (yes, even the Woolies gluten-free range) such as tapioca flour, potato starch or maize is even higher than that of normal whole-wheat flour. As a result, The Wheat Belly cleverly suggests that it is best to go gluten-free but not to buy gluten-free. However, I would have to add to this by saying that if you aren’t sure what the ingredients in something are, or if you can’t pronounce what is written on the food label, its probably not too good for you.
“Just have a piece man, it’s only cake, and you won’t die.”
No, I won’t die. But ‘let me put it to you’ that I will eat that piece of cake and then you can sit next to me for the next two hours, preferably somewhere you can’t escape from, and co-experience the joyful effects of my stomach completely forgetting how to behave in a socially appropriate manner. When grains enter the digestive system they try to protect themselves from being eaten by releasing “anti-nutrients” which essentially punch holes in the lining of your intestines. Wheat (which contains gluten) is no different. For someone with a gluten or wheat intolerance this is more than just a little irritation or a bit of inflammation, it is really, really painful. If that wasn’t enough, your stomach disregards anything you ever taught it about timing or being appropriate, and basically, the only place where you will feel at home is as close to a bathroom (that you don’t have to share with anyone else) as humanly possible. If this allusion is a bit confusing, just imagine that scene from The Vow where Rachel McAdams winds up the window in the car because she loves Channing Tatum’s character THAT much… got it? Yeah no one loves anyone with gluten intolerance THAT much. The only thing more irritating than a comment like this coming from a person who has no idea what eating gluten feels likes when you shouldn’t eat it, is when the comment comes from someone who has self diagnosed themselves with gluten intolerance. If you think you are gluten or wheat intolerant and you can eat a slice of pizza or a piece of cake and be completely fine afterwards… you do not have an intolerance, at all. People who really are gluten intolerant will get annoyed with you.
“Is there gluten in chocolate?”
No, there isn’t. But that is not even a silly question because gluten is a sneaky little bugger and finds its way into things that you had no idea it could. You know those beach days where the wind picks up unexpectedly and what was once a delightful thing upon which to lay your towel, suddenly betrays you completely and becomes a sandstorm? Unlike wheat, which is not in the least bit ninja, gluten prides itself on surprising you; kind of like those bits of sand that you find absolutely everywhere, from the bottom of your bag to the pocket of your beach shorts. It is in the obvious places like bread, cereal, cake, biscuits and cracker, but, gravies, soups (yes, even those nice woolies ones), sausages, bottles sauces, beer and pre-made marinades are also some of gluten’s natural habitats.
“What’s the deal with oats? Are they gluten?”
Oats, young grasshoppers, are quite the source of controversy and argument (how exciting is this guys). On the one hand there is some research that suggests that oats are naturally gluten-free. On the other hand there is also research that suggests that oats are nearly always cross contaminated with gluten from other grains during distribution or processing. While you can buy gluten-free oats, I don’t see the need to because normal oats don’t affect me. Gluten-free oats are a lot more expensive and seeing as I am just like Oliver Twist and tend to “Please, Sir, can I have some more” when it comes to my porridge in the mornings, its better for my #studentbudget for me not to buy my oats gluten-free.I was diagnosed with a gluten and wheat allergy almost three years ago. I won’t go into my whole life story just yet, but cutting them both out of my diet completely changed my life. I couldn’t go back now, even if I wanted to. I have gone through many phases of eating things I shouldn’t because they look like they will be worth it. They never are. You might notice, after all this, that I use 100% rye bread in some of my meals. Before you think you have caught me out; this is because it doesn’t affect me if it really is 100% rye and I prefer the taste of rye bread to most other gluten-free options that you can buy ready-made. If you think you might be intolerant to gluten or wheat, then I would absolutely suggest that you have yourself tested for it. Alternatively, you can cut it out of your diet completely for three weeks, re-introduce it and honestly assess yourself and see how you feel. If you feel better off gluten than you do on it or if you feel worse when you reintroduce it then odds are it is better for you not to eat it. However, it is an expensive effort to go through if you don’t have to.
If you remember nothing else from this or if you skipped straight to the end like I used to do with my Politics readings, then just remember these things:
2. If it says it is gluten-free it will be wheat-free, but not the other way around
3. If you try and convince a gluten-intolerant someone that eating some cake will be fine, odds are they will not be your best-friend for the night.
4. If you manage to convince a gluten-intolerant someone that eating some cake will be fine, you do not want to be their best friend for the rest of the night (because they will be farting, all night, at best).