What is the difference between wheat free and gluten free and which should I avoid?



Pegeen July 16, 2012
They did not do a very good job diagnosing cancer 50 years ago, either. Food or food-compound allergies can be very serious. Sure, like lots of topics, there is hyper-marketing and too many opportunists. But if you feel unwell after eating certain foods, go to a medical professional (not a magazine) and get checked. Tests help a lot vs guessing.
Rachel S. July 10, 2012
Alexia, clearly this is a hot-button topic for many people; I think maybe you should take the Michael Pollan/Liz Applegate route, and eat the things that your body seems to react to the best. If you pay attention to how you feel/react when you eat certain foods, you'll likely do a better job of figuring out what you should and should not be eating than you could ever find out from a book. I think the general consensus here is that people are all different, and what might be the right diet for some may not be the right one for others. No one is trying to stop you from exploring other food options if you're interested in finding out what they are like and want to change your diet. But people who are gluten and/or wheat intolerant often have to do most of the experimentation on their own anyway to find out what they truly can and cannot eat. Pierino is right that this disease affects a small portion of the population in very serious ways. And it is frustrating for chefs, families, and friends when a those who may or may not have a disease sound-off constantly about what they can or cannot eat. But if you choose to make eating choices based on what helps you to feel healthy and happy, and do so in a way that is conscious and respectful of others, no one can fault you for that.
Rachel S. July 10, 2012
And I want to add that if you make your food choices in a way that is respectful of others, people are much more likely to be respectful of you and your diet. As a side note, healthy living is NOT a fad.
beyondcelery July 10, 2012
I agree that the fad itself is annoying, but those of us who truly have an allergy or intolerance to gluten have to be concerned about it. It's a matter of health. Some people may be lying about having an allergy, or they may be following a fad diet, but it doesn't change the fact that others will get very sick if they consume gluten. It's extremely important that everyone in the food service industry takes a gluten-free request seriously. I throw gluten up. My allergy didn't manifest itself in childhood, either--at least, not in ways that my parents or doctors could catch. I came back from a trip to France and Italy in 2001 all sorts of sick. It took me a year to figure out gluten was the cause and I'd overwhelmed my body with delicious gluten-filled food during my trip.

Some people may make a lifestyle choice to be gluten-free, some people have a true allergy. All we can do in the service industry is take the request seriously and give it our best effort. But please don't judge. Would you tell a diabetic it's all in their head or would you take their request seriously?
Bill F. July 10, 2012
Not to get into a pissing contest with anyone but I've beencooking for 16 years now and being an executive chef for the past 5 this gluten free fad is so annoying. Yes facts are facts and gluten has grown more and more in the past few years but so has people 'suffering' from celiac disease. Like all of a sudden you can't eat gluten. I'm pretty sure it's a trait you are born with that doesn't allow your body to properly break down certain starches. And yes I am in the service industry so to make the customers is my business but making something special just b/c someone wants to lie is just irritating. Only a small percent suffers from this very real disease.
SeaJambon July 9, 2012
Hi Susan G -- just a quick point of clarification, labeling laws require wheat to be identified in labeling but not gluten. As PhilipBrandon correctly indicates, gluten can be found in a variety of places, not just wheat (such as rye and barley to start), so without comprehensive labeling, those who are concerned about gluten consumption always have to read labels carefully. While I agree with SarahReinertsen that healthy eating and exercise will take most of us a very, very long way towards health, it seems like gluten-intolerance is a hot button for Pierino, and I can't for the life of me think why. And, Pierino, your assertion that everyone who isn't a celiac is just responding to a fad, well you should know that celiac disease all by itself is woefully underdiagnosed (talk to your favorite gastroenterologist if you don't believe me). My Grandmother -- who was severely "allergic" to both wheat and dairy -- was undoubtedly a celiac, but the tests didn't exist yet to identify it for what it was (she lived 1910 to 1989). Most currently practicing physicians learned in med school that celiac sprue was very uncommon and "probably" affected fewer than 1 in 5,000 people. Now we know that it is at least 1 in 130 and perhaps even more common. And that's for celiacs alone! The spectrum of gluten intolerance is long, with simply feeling "off" to hospitalization. I know too many people who are honestly sickened by gluten to not give them the benefit of the doubt. We don't get to choose how our individual digestive systems respond to different foods, but we can all choose to eat what is healthiest for our own bodies (and perhaps not judge those who are different?)
susan G. July 9, 2012
I was interested to see dextrin singled out as a wheat derived additive. Wanting more information about this I found this article -- http://www.enabling.org/ia/celiac/Dextrin.html. Briefly, it states that, at the time it was written, in 2001, the principal manufacturers of dextrin used only gluten-free sources for it. Since we now have specific food labeling, any wheat or gluten source would have to be identified.
Now, doesn't this speak for avoiding manufactured food, and/or dealing with food companies you know and trust, and/or making food at home?

Voted the Best Reply!

PhillipBrandon July 9, 2012
They are related, but there's not a direct correlation between gluten free anf wheat free products.
Gluten is a specific type of protein that occurs naturally in wheat, rye, barley and malt, so it is entirely possible to be wheat-free and still contain gluten from one of these other sources. Conversley, some products process wheat to remove gluten, producing gluten-free products which still contain wheat.

Because gluten is so good at providing texture, it is also used as an additive to thicken and stabilize (and occasionally provide flavor to) products whose ingredients otherwise would not naturally contain no gluten. "Dextrin" is one way it is labeled when used as an additive.

As to what you "should" avoid, that would be based on specific medical conditions: people with celiac and related diseases can have serious reactions to gluten from any source. Those with a wheat allergy can usually enjoy most other froms of gluten, risk-free. But there are no universal negative health impacts tha mean everyone should cut back on or avoid either gluten or wheat.
pierino July 9, 2012
You don't need to avoid either unless you are a true celiac, and that's a very small portion of the population. For them it's a serious issue. For everybody else it's a ridiculous fad. Gluten is the good stuff in your bread.
Ophelia July 9, 2012
I'm sure my best friend from high school will be glad to know that the scary symptoms she got whenever she ate wheat was just a product of an overactive imagination rather than a diagnosed wheat allergy.

Sure, there isn't much reason for most people to avoid gluten or wheat, but there really isn't any harm in avoiding them either. It's really not going to hurt anyone to not have a slice of toast at breakfast (except maybe bakers). if Alexia wants to know why someone might want to avoid one or the other product she has the right to ask the question and not be told off.
alexia1996 July 9, 2012
Thank you Ophelia!
pierino July 9, 2012
To stay on message, some people really do have medical problems with gluten and/or wheat. That's a fact. But most of this nonsense about gluten comes out of lifestyle rags and pop TV.
Reiney July 9, 2012
I don't think Pierino told Alexia off - the question was phrased to indicate that there was no medical reason for her to avoid gluten or wheat.

The topic of nutrition reductionism gets bantered around this site a fair bit, and many cooks get rather exasperated with hysterics around XYZ evil / good ingredient (pomegranates! chia seeds! gluten! omega-3s! dairy!) - when, really, a well-balanced diet made up of real food and complemented by exercise would keep most people in good health.

Someone who claims to have an allergy or intolerance, when really it is just a preference or a lifestyle choice, actually jeopardizes those who have a serious medical problem - such as your friend. I've witnessed a friend with a deadly pine nut allergy threaten a law suit as part of ordering at a restaurant because she's not been taken seriously in the past.
ChefOno July 9, 2012

Well put, Sarah. And thank you Pierino for telling it like it is.

alexia1996 July 9, 2012
Pierino, I appreciate your time to answer my questions, but I do not agree. Dr. William Davis said in his book titled "wheat belly" that Modern wheat and gluten are unhealthy. Countless Other doctors and authors have said the same thing. It's not wheat that is unhealthy, but what modern wheat has become.

ChefOno July 10, 2012

All part of the fad, its perpetuation and marketing. It's harder and harder to sell snake oil since the Pure Food and Drug Act but books are protected by the First Amendment and the public is, well, let's call them "searching for answers" and those "searching for easy money" are only happy to oblige. There are a number of reliable sources for information, the Mayo Clinic is good, the NIH certainly. Let us know if you find any published peer-reviewed studies supporting that theory.

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