I’m sure you have heard of both wheat and gluten. If following a low FODMAP diet, it is likely you are avoiding these (at least in the initial stages). What many people don’t understand is what wheat and gluten actually are. Are they the same thing? Is there actually a difference? Can you react to one but not the other?
Like many areas of nutrition, it can be a very confusing topic. Especially when conflicting messages are thrown around. So let’s take a closer look at wheat vs gluten!
What is wheat vs gluten?
The cereal grain which is ground to make flour and is used to make several staple foods such as breads, breakfast cereals, pasta and baked goods. Wheat is also the base ingredient for many additives, in commercial thickeners and stabilising agents.
Someone with a wheat allergy will suffer an immune reaction to one or more of the different proteins in wheat. This reaction can be as mild as nausea to as severe as anaphylaxis (life-threatening). It is more common in children, and is often outgrown. Those with a wheat allergy can often tolerate (wheat-free) gluten-containing grains.
A protein naturally found in wheat, barley and rye. So gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, whereas wheat itself is a grain. Gluten is therefore found in most staple foods with a wheat base. This includes various breads, breakfast cereals and pastas. What about oats? Oats are actually gluten-free in their natural form. Despite this, they usually can’t be classed as gluten-free. This is because most commercial oats may be contaminated with wheat products during manufacturing. This means there is a risk of oats containing trace amounts of gluten.
Someone with coeliac disease has an autoimmune condition which results in damage to their small intestine in response to gluten, and must follow a strict gluten-free diet for life. Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is a newly recognised condition that appears to be seen in people who do not tolerate gluten well, but are not allergic.
Do I need to avoid both wheat and gluten on a low FODMAP diet?
Technically, no. The issue here for IBS sufferers on a low FODMAP diet is wheat, as it contains fructo-oligosaccharides (the ‘O’ in FODMAPs). Unless a person has coeliac disease, gluten itself should not be a problem. This is why oats, sourdough bread and spelt bread are all considered low FODMAP – they contain gluten, but do not contain wheat. That said, when working through determining triggers of IBS, we like to determine if it is likely wheat or gluten intolerance, so in the initial stages both may be avoided.
The reason many gluten-free foods are recommended for those with IBS is because it is usually based on either rice flour, maize/corn-flour, potato-flour or quinoa. This often means the gluten-free product contains little or no wheat either (recall – gluten is found naturally in wheat). Certain sauces, confectionary and yoghurts contain wheat thickeners (and therefore contain gluten) BUT they are low in fructans/fructo-oligosaccharides, so are suitable on a low FODMAP diet. Find out more about gluten free diets here.
So basically – if you do not have coeliac disease and only require a low FODMAP diet, then a strict gluten-free diet is not necessary, and may result in over-restriction (and let’s face it, a low FODMAP diet can be restrictive enough in itself). Foods which are labelled as ‘wheat-free’ and/or ‘gluten-free’ do not necessarily mean they are low FODMAP! Always read the ingredients list, as many of these products will have high FODMAP ingredients added to them.