Wheat. Staff of life or source of abdominal and other disorders? Wheat is one of the most common food allergies. Many children outgrow their sensitivity to wheat, but for some avoiding wheat can remain a lifetime challenge.
Symptoms of wheat allergies can range from typical allergic symptoms such as hives, congestion, or stomach cramps through to more serious symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, and even anaphylactic shock. Celiac disease is not an allergy but a gluten-related auto-immune disorder that is relatively common, effecting .1-1% of the population in North America. While sensitivity, allergy, and auto-immune disease are all different, the implications for diet are similar.
As with any food allergy, you need to read the labels. Sometimes, especially if you are dealing with a serious allergy that could result in anaphylaxis, you need to go beyond the labels. Kamut and spelt, for example, are sometimes marketed as wheat substitutes, which they certainly are, but they are not safe for those with wheat allergies because they are close relatives to wheat.
Also, some people with food sensitivities and food allergies are not able to eat the common wheat substitutes. This was true for my best friend who could not eat wheat, rice, soy, potato, or corn. We avoided the starches altogether. If you need to avoid starches, don’t use the substitutes listed below.
What to bake bread with? A combination of flours often works well. Try soy, rice, and potato flour.
First Nations breads are made with white corn, maize, that is heavier and more hearty than the sweet corn most of us are familiar with. The hull of this corn must be dissolved before the corn is digestible. From corn tortillas and tamales to tight, heavy loaves of Iroquois corn bread, native corn breads can be a welcome, slow food for those who must avoid wheat. If you are going to make your own tamales or corn bread, look for “masa harina” (flour from maize) rather than “masa de trigo” (flour from wheat). Watch the label so you don’t end up with a mix.
What to use for cereal? Wheat-free rice cereal, flax seed meal, corn meal, and tapioca can all be used as substitute cereals.
What to use for crackers? Try rice cakes. There are many types of seed crackers available, often with a rice base.
What to use for pasta? Glassy rice noodles are a great substitute for wheat pasta in some dishes. Rice noodles can be made using just rice or a combination of rice, potato, and corn flours. In addition to the common wheat substitutes, amaranth and tapioca can both be used to make pasta that is closer to the texture of wheat pasta.
What to drink? Most beer is out, but wine is still in.
What fast food to eat? I know it isn’t enough to just say, “Don’t!” But, because there are a lot of hidden ingredients in processed foods and ingredients lists aren’t always easy to come by, be careful with fast food. Most french fries, for example, are battered before deep frying, and those batters include wheat.
What to use for batter? Fish can be dipped in egg then cornmeal before frying to make a nice, crispy coating.
What to use for tacos? Use corn tortillas rather than flour tortillas. Check the ingredients. Best of all, find a local market that uses high quality traditional maize.
What to use for seasoning? Avoid soy or steak sauces when wheat is used as a thickener. Plenty of great sauces have no wheat ingredients, so just check labels and try new flavors.
- Food allergy facts and resources on EcoBabySteps.
- Kids with Food Allergies is a national nonprofit providing support and community for families. They have a recipe database available to paid members.