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Although wheat is a highly nutritious grain, many people do not realise that they are sensitive to its gluten content and could be suffering from non-coeliac gluten sensitivity or the less common coeliac disease. Gluten sensitivity is not the same as a wheat allergy, a far less common problem with symptoms like itching, nasal congestion, skin rash, swelling and tingling or burning of the mouth. The signs of gluten sensitivity often mimic those of coeliac disease as well as lactose intolerance or even Fodmap intolerance.

The reason wheat should be eliminated from the diet first, when trying to find out which food is causing reactions, is because it has three components which may cause problems. Gluten is a compound protein that composes about 80% of the protein found in wheat, barley and rye and wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) is a lectin found in wheat that can be particularly damaging. Opioid peptides are psychoactive chemicals and those found in wheat are similar to those found in other well-known psychoactive drugs like opium or morphine.

Gluten does not have an adverse effect on everyone but it can go unnoticed in many people for a long time before they realise it is responsible for their health and psychological issues. The only way to find out for sure is to go completely gluten-free for one month and see if there is any improvement. However, it may only take a few days for improvements to be noticed. Gluten consists of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin and it is the gliadin part that people react negatively to. Since gliadin is similar in structure to other proteins found in tissues of organs such as the thyroid or the pancreas, antibodies against gliadin can end up attacking those organs and ultimately cause autoimmune diseases like hypothyroidism and diabetes.

The reason gluten can cause damaging immune system disorders is that, like lactose and lectin, it irritates the lining of the intestines in some people and causes ‘leaky gut syndrome’. This then allows undigested protein molecules to be absorbed into the blood stream as well as bacteria proteins.

Protein is made up of various combinations of 20 amino acids and, normally, protein is broken down into these single 20 amino acids before being absorbed into the blood stream and the immune system ignores them. However, undigested protein is a foreign body in the blood stream that triggers the immune system into action to get rid of these invaders. Because these proteins can be similar to tissues that are part of the body, the immune system then mistakes these tissues as invaders also and attacks them too. This then leads to further health issues and the root cause of gluten intolerance is often not investigated.


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How gluten affects brain functions

Studies in 2015 discovered that the gluten found in some grains can reduce the blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain and this can lead to schizophrenic tendencies in some people. The frontal lobe houses the 'executive functions' of the brain, including:

  • Choosing between 'good' and 'bad' actions.

  • Determine similarities and differences between things or events.

  • Overriding and suppressing socially unacceptable responses.

  • Recognizing future consequences resulting from current actions.

  • Retaining longer term memories which are not task-based.

Reduced blood flow lowers the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to the frontal lobe which can cause these processes to malfunction. All products containing gluten should be removed from the diet for one-month to see if there is any improvement in these critical functions related to morality, perception, reason and social responsibility. There has also been a connection made between wheat consumption and Parkinson's disease.

The opioid peptides also found in wheat may cause addiction to wheat in some people and withdrawal symptoms can happen upon the removal of wheat from the diet. They may also be associated with some cases of schizophrenia as a possible cause or at least as a promoter of the disease. Schizophrenics often see their symptoms reduced when removing wheat from their diet.

Foods that contain gluten

  • Barley

  • Beer and spirits made with grains

  • Brewer's yeast

  • Bulgur wheat

  • Couscous

  • Durum wheat

  • Einkorn

  • Emmer

  • Farina

  • Faro

  • Fu (common in Asian foods)

  • Gliadin

  • Graham flour

  • Kamut

  • Malted products

  • Matzo

  • Processed meats

  • Seitan

  • Semolina

  • Spelt

  • Wheat flour

  • Wheat bran

  • Cracked wheat

  • Wheat germ

  • Wheat starch

  • Rye

  • Teff

  • Triticale

NOTE: Some restaurants add pancake flour to their eggs and omelettes.

Oats and other grains do not contain gluten but are often processed in the same places that also produce gluten-containing grains and may be contaminated. Always check the labels of the following products for the additions of malted barley or wheat derivatives.

  • Chicken broth

  • Malt vinegar

  • Some salad dressings

  • Vegetarian burgers

  • Sauces, seasonings and spice mixtures

  • Soya sauce

Gluten is an ingredient in many (possibly even the majority of) processed food products and medications. Even foods proclaiming to be gluten-free are not necessarily gluten-free, because they could be subject to gluten cross-contamination in processing.  When 'natural flavourings' are included the ingredients label they may contain gluten. It is also used as a thickener in many processed foods.

Wheat can be on ingredients labels under many different guises, including:

  • Bread flour

  • Bulgur

  • Flour

  • Kamut

  • Pasta

  • Spelt

  • Wheat flour

  • White flour

  • Whole wheat flour

Processed foods to avoid

  • Barley: found in beer and as pearl barley in soups and stews and barley extracts can serve as a sweetener in some processed foods.

  • Beer: in beer and some forms of liquor, gluten grains are fermented to make alcoholic brews. Beer always contains barley which is used to make the malt.

  • Bread: The gluten protein provides bread with its distinctive, pleasing elasticity and texture and all breads may contain gluten especially rye and wheat breads.

  • Breadcrumbs are used on many meat and fish dishes and therefore it is important that meat is bought from somewhere that has not cross-contaminated their work place with breadcrumbs.

  • Cakes

  • Confectionary and desserts

  • Cereals

  • Low-fat ice-cream.

  • Meat products: processed meats can contain breadcrumbs or modified starch which binds the meat and water such as cold cuts, beef burgers, meatballs and sausages.

  • Milk: Some kinds of milk products contain gluten.

  • Pasta has high gluten levels help to keep the pasta from disintegrating.

  • Pastries

  • Pizza

  • Ready-made foods and fast-foods: Almost all of these contain gluten. Among other reasons, the binding properties of starch help batters and coatings adhere to food and also keep the foods from getting soggy.

  • Rye is used in rye bread and some kinds of alcoholic drinks.

  • Salad dressings

  • Sauces, soups and marinades: gluten grains act as thickeners, allowing manufacturers and cooks at home to use less of expensive ingredients such as cream. Also wheat flour is often used to thicken.

  • Spice mixtures

  • Starch: any foods that have starch in their ingredients may contain gluten.

  • Yoghurt: some types of yoghurt have gluten added.

Gluten can also be found in the following products

  • Communion wafers

  • Cosmetics

  • Drugs and over the counter medications

  • Glue on stamps and envelopes

  • Lip balm, lip gloss and lipstick

  • Nutrient and herbal supplements

  • Play dough and plasticine

  • Shampoo

NOTE: Some medications contain gluten but should only be eliminated under the supervision of the doctor who prescribed them. They can contain gluten grains (almost always wheat), as a filler, and there is no requirement that they disclose the wheat or gluten content to consumers.

Gluten-free alternatives

There are many gluten-free highly nutritious alternatives to use in place of wheat, barley and rye grains and flour can be made at home from any of the following:

  • Almonds

  • Amaranth

  • Beans

  • Buckwheat (related to rhubarb not wheat)

  • Cashew nuts

  • Coconut

  • Flaxseed

  • Hazelnuts

  • Hempseed

  • Macadamia nuts

  • Maize

  • Millet

  • Quinoa

  • Peanuts
  • Peas
  • Pecan nuts
  • Potato
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Rice bran
  • Sesame seed
  • Sorghum
  • Soya beans
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tapioca
  • Walnuts

NOTE: The nutrient-dense chia seeds can also be ground in a coffee grinder and used as an alternate to eggs in recipes.
Gluten-free products are often more expensive than those that contain gluten but it is not difficult to make gluten-free and very nutritious alternatives that will have the additional benefit of not containing any unhealthy additives and flour treatment agents often used in commercially produced flours.

How to make nut and seed flour

  • Fill a coffee grinder or grain mill 1/2 to 3/4 full (maximum) with raw nuts or seeds.

  • Grind until they become powdered into a fluffy flour.

  • If the grinder sounds like it is slowing down, check to see if a nut or seed is lodged around the blade. Dislodge and continue.

  • Pick out any chunks and grind them again.

  • Sifting the flour is optional, but ensures a consistently fine flour. A turn-handle flour sifter is more effective than the multiple screen style sifters.

  • Store the flour in an air-tight container.

NOTE: Take care not to over grind soft nuts such as cashews, macadamia, peanuts, pecans and walnuts, as they will become nut butters instead of flour.

How to make vegetable flour

Both cooked and raw vegetables can be made into a nutritious flour.

Cooked vegetable flour

  • Cook the vegetables and mash them without any oil or butter, milk or oil of any kind.

  • Spread out on a baking tray and place in very cool oven overnight (at 110°F, 50 °C or gas mark 1/4) or a dehydrator at 110°F for between 12 and 20 hours.

  • When completely dried, blend or crush using a pestle and mortar and store in an airtight container.

Raw vegetable flour

  • Grate the vegetables and then soak overnight in water with some whey added.

  • Drain and then dehydrate and blend or crush as above and store in an airtight container.

The cooked vegetable flour can be sprinkled on top of casseroles or in vegetarian burgers or used to thicken soups etc and the finer raw flour is better for baking uses.

Storing gluten-free flour

The storage container must be airtight as flour will absorb moisture and spoil and become contaminated with flavours from other foods if stored in the refrigerator. Glass kilner jars are the best solution. Always label the jars with the type of flour and date it was made.

Because moisture and not temperature makes flours spoil it is not necessary to keep all of them in a refrigerator or freezer unless the climate is very humid. As long as they are kept in a dark dry place they will last for up to one month. In the refrigerator they can last up to three months and in the freezer up to six months.

Flour made from beans, coconut, nuts, seeds and whole grains have high oil and protein content making them more susceptible to spoilage therefore these should be kept in the freezer.

A whole grain flour is one made from the entire seed (or kernel) of a plant. These flours contain the bran, the germ and the endosperm of the kernel. Some examples are amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat, corn, oats, quinoa, millet and sorghum. Not all of these are true grains (some are seeds, pseudo-grains, or pseudo-cereals), but are often referred to as whole grains because they have similar nutrient profiles and uses as whole grains.

For flours that need to be stored in the refrigerator or freezer, allow them to come to room temperature prior to using to ensure even baking.

When flour has spoiled it smells bad and has a slightly tangy taste.

If there is no improvement then check that the intolerance is not to the other food allergens listed on this page: Health issues that may mimic food allergies

"Nature cures not the physician..." Hippocrates 460 BC


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