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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wheat And Gluten - What's The Difference?

Wheat in the Hulah valley, 2007Image via Wikipedia
By Hazel Peterson

It is not too uncommon to find people who are allergic or intolerant of wheat or gluten. These allergies and intolerances can cause symptoms that are fairly mild to life threatening. But what is the difference between wheat and gluten?

Even if many often confuse them as one, wheat and gluten are different.

Wheat is the name of a grain. Most people are aware of that. Gluten is a sticky protein found in most grains to include barley, rye, malt, oats and wheat. So, wheat and gluten are usually found in the same products.

Gluten is a binding agent and it binds the dough in baked goods and most breads. But, if they are so closely related, can someone be allergic or intolerant to one and do fine with the other?

Generally, gluten is part of wheat, so if you are allergic to gluten, you shouldn't have wheat. If you are allergic to wheat, you should be careful with gluten, since it is a part of wheat. However, if you are allergic to wheat only and you are okay ingesting gluten, you can have other grains which contain gluten.

What signs should you look for to know if you are allergic or intolerant to wheat or gluten? Allergic reactions to wheat and/or gluten can include the following: digestive disturbances such as vomiting, diarrhea, gas, constipation and bloating, chest pain, nausea, hives, eczema, swelling and even anaphylaxis.

Individuals that are simply intolerant to wheat or gluten can experience symptoms such as gas, constipation, fatigue, irritability, vomiting, heartburn and headaches.

An allergic reaction can be triggered very quickly even from a very small amount of wheat or gluten. The symptoms of intolerance may not show up at all, or be delayed.

A number of intolerant people can eat small amounts of gluten and be okay, and they only feel sick if they eat a lot of the food. Research shows there might be some links between gluten intolerance and autism.

More research is needed, but it's not a bad idea to place autistic children on a gluten-free diet. Gluten allergies appear to cause certain symptoms and behavioral conditions that wheat allergies don't cause. Other gluten related symptoms include osteoporosis, weight gain or loss, slower rate of growth in children, and depression.

If you have any reasons to believe you might be allergic or intolerant to gluten or wheat, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor or nutritionist to see if you can explore this problem further.

To date, there is no cure for allergies and intolerance to wheat or gluten, but many of the symptoms can be managed by a employing a careful choice of foods that one eats.

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