Do you feel constantly fatigued, bloated, or just "foggy brained?" So did a lot of people before you until they cut wheat out of their diets. Recently, multitudes have discovered that consuming wheat can cause several negative symptoms including headaches, arthritis, asthma, and the ones mentioned above, among many. However, if you're like most, switching to a wheat-free diet can seem like an overwhelming and impossible task. As a bread-lover who has successfully made the switch to a completely wheat-free lifestyle, I'm here to pass along some tips that helped me transition my entire diet. This guide will help, whether you're making the switch for good or just want to try it for a few weeks to see if you notice a difference.
Before we begin, let me explain that a wheat allergy is slightly different from a gluten allergy. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats, though the last is debated. Some people are allergic to the gluten, and some are allergic to the wheat grain. Many people with a wheat allergy also cut out all gluten-containing products. I would suggest cutting out all gluten at first, then reintroducing certain grains if you so desire.
Keep a food journal
When just starting out, try keeping a food journal for the first several weeks. Log what you eat, and how you feel throughout the day. That will give you solid evidence for whether the diet is working or not, rather than just thinking you may feel better. Also, it will help you pinpoint any times you may have accidentally consumed wheat without realizing.
Grocery store navigation
Read every label on every product you purchase, even if you think it could not possibly contain wheat. This is the most important step you can take in your wheat-free quest. You'd be shocked at how many places it pops up. Virtually all canned soups contain wheat, as do most cereals and granolas, chips and crackers. Also, although it may seem obvious, I should mention that anything made with white flour is not wheat free. White flour is still wheat flour; it's just been bleached and processed. So that eliminates cake, cookies, donuts, pizza crust, dinner rolls... I know. This diet sounds awful, but there are wheat-free pastry options we'll discuss later. Thankfully, wheat is now considered a top allergen, so most manufacturers list it in bold after the list of ingredients. However, I've personally come across exceptions, so make sure to read through if no allergens are listed.
Wheat lurks in many foods, and it can be difficult to eat out on this diet if you're new to it. Avoid anything breaded and deep fried; even french fries or sweet potato fries can have wheat coating to make them crispy. French fries without the breading can also have wheat residue because it is deep fried in the same oil that other foods are. I've never had a problem with the level of wheat in fries, but be aware that it is still there. In burger joints, a salad or a burger with no bun are often your best bets. Speaking of salad, though, avoid ones with croutons, breaded chicken, or oriental salads with soy sauce (which has wheat) or crispy noodles on top. The safest bets are grilled chicken, steak, or un-marinated fish with rice or potatoes and veggies. Be aware that packaged mashed potatoes often contain wheat. If you are ever in doubt, ask your waiter to suggest some wheat-free options on the menu. Most are very accommodating
Fortunately, many restaurants are starting to have wheat-free or gluten-free menus. If you aren't sure about their selection try looking at the menu online or calling ahead to see if they can accommodate you. My default restaurant choice is always Mexican because most have enchiladas or hard tacos made with corn tortillas. Thai places are great as well, since they tend to use rice noodles. Chinese restaurants, however, have wheat in almost everything they serve, as do most sandwich shops.
Where to shop
Great places to shop for wheat-free foods are health food stores such as Whole Foods, Vitamin Cottage, Trader Joe's, Sunflower, or any local health food store. Even large grocery chains are beginning to carry sections of gluten-free and wheat-free products. If you enjoy working in the kitchen, there are all-purpose flours that can be substituted for white flour in any baking recipe. Or you can get plain rice flour, tapioca flour, sorghum, or many others to use in homemade gravies and for frying chicken or other meats. The cheapest for this is usually rice flour. If you feel adventurous, there are several recipes online for making your own wheat-free all-purpose flour mixes from scratch.
If you're not really into cooking, the frozen food section has many gluten-free bread, pastry, and frozen dinner options. My favorite frozen bread and pastries are made by Udi, although brown rice bread is very popular and tasty as well. Amy's Organics has a great line of frozen dinners, many of which are gluten-free, as indicated on the front of the box.
Troubleshooting and Exceptions
If a product says "gluten-free," then it is generally also wheat free, because wheat contains gluten. However, wheat starch can be extracted from the gluten-containing wheat protein, and appears in some foods labeled "gluten free
Spelt bread is often eaten by those who can't have gluten because it contains very low levels of gluten. However, it is still a type of wheat, so if you have a wheat allergy or intolerance, then it will affect you the same way regular wheat does.
Give it Three Weeks
Finally, commit to at least three weeks. Three weeks on a wheat-free diet gives your body plenty of time to get rid of all the wheat already in your body. It is also a good period to decide whether the benefits are worth the hassle of not eating everything you normally enjoy.
Going wheat-free is a challenge, but definitely worth the difficulties if you actually do have a wheat allergy. Many people have had lifelong fatigue lift, or arthritic symptoms disappear within a few months of simply eliminating one thing from their diet. Good luck, and whether you try it for a short time or stay wheat free the rest of your life, enjoy the process and embrace experiments with foods you wouldn't normally try!