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Useful facts on wheat allergy (hvete)

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Wheat allergy

Useful information concerning wheat allergy – NAAF’s fact sheet

What is food allergy?

Allergic reactions to foodstuffs occur where the body reacts to individual proteins in the food. Some individuals suffer severe reactions from only minute quantities of the foodstuff to which they are intolerant. Other individuals suffer milder discomfort which subsides without dramatic consequences. Food allergy is more common in children than in adults. Most grow out of the food allergy in the pre-school years. It is not uncommon to react to more than one foodstuff. Where a food which is an important source of nutrition has to be excluded from the diet it is important to find suitable alternatives and substitutes in order for the diet to remain healthy and varied.

What is wheat allergy?

In wheat allergy, persons are allergic to proteins in wheat. Most of those who are allergic have to avoid closely related corn varieties such as rye, barley and spelt. This type of gluten-free diet is the same used for the intestinal condition coeliac disease.

Wheat allergy is most common among infants. Most of these will grow out of their wheat allergy before pre-school age. Symptoms vary from intestinal/stomach symptoms, exacerbation of eczema and urticaria, to allergic shock.

Wheat dust allergy

Some persons can react to wheat dust (for example during baking), even though they tolerate eating wheat in food. Exposure to wheat dust can lead to symptoms such as asthma attacks, exacerbation of eczema or sneezing/runny nose. These types of allergy and most common among bakers. Treatment involves the avoidance of flour dust.

Wheat-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis

A rare form of wheat allergy is a reaction to wheat only when ingestion is followed by physical activity. This type of reaction commonly occurs for the first time during the teen years or as an adult.

False positive allergy tests

In the aforementioned types of wheat allergy, there is normally an indication during a prick test and blood test (IgE antibodies). However, there are many that have positive allergy tests for wheat despite the fact that they do not have symptoms on ingestion. This applies for example to persons with grass pollen allergy. Laboratory tests that indicate that the person is wheat intolerant must therefore always be evaluated alongside symptoms and experienced foodstuff reactions.

Non-allergic reactions to wheat

It should be pointed out that one can have a reaction to wheat without having a wheat allergy or coeliac disease. This applies particularly to diffuse intestinal/stomach symptoms, where a number of people have reported less discomfort when they eliminate wheat. This can be due to the fact that wheat (and rye) contains a high amount of a type of fibre (fructans). These types of fibre substances can give discomfort due to flatulence and loose stools particularly in persons with an irritable bowel. Spelt flour is often tolerated well in such cases, despite the fact that spelt contains gluten.

Which foods contain wheat?

Most Norwegian corn products and baked goods contain wheat. Otherwise, wheat is used in a number of dishes, e.g. sauces and soups.  Pasta (macaroni, spaghetti, etc.), couscous, bulgur and semolina are wheat-based. Most individuals with wheat allergy must also exclude rye and barley.

As corn varieties containing gluten are included in so many products, it is always important to check the ingredients list carefully when purchasing compound foodstuffs. According to the labelling regulations, all products that include wheat or other corn varieties containing gluten must be clearly labelled with the relevant corn variety.

What can an individual with wheat allergy eat?

Wheat protein is not present in pure products such as milk, egg, meat, fish, shellfish, fruit, nuts, oil or vegetables. Remember, however, that marinades and spice mixes sometimes contain wheat.

Corn types such as maize, rice, potato flour, teff, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum and millet are naturally gluten-free, and are good replacement products for wheat, rye and barley. Many wheat-intolerant individuals can also tolerate gluten-free oats.

Gluten-free flour mixtures, pasta, biscuits, crackers and breakfast cereals can be used. Some of these contain maize starch; however, the quantity of wheat protein in these is so small that most allergic individuals tolerate it.

Health food stores and well assorted grocery stores stock gluten-free products. Some bakers also sell gluten-free baked goods.

Nutrition

As corn products represent a large part of nutritional intake in the Norwegian diet, it is important to get a correct diagnosis, such that the diet is not made unnecessarily restrictive. In nutritional terms, a gluten-free diet will vary depending on which type of replacement products are used.

Gluten-free pre-prepared products such as gluten-free bread and corn mixtures are often based on rice/maize/potato and wheat starch. These largely starch-based products contain little fibre and nutrients compared to regular wholegrain bread. If these corn types are used as a basis, there is an increased risk of constipation and malnutrition.

Among the natural gluten-free corn types, however there are also many nutritional variants. Millet, buckwheat, teff and quinoa are good examples of these. You should therefore bake bread yourself based on these raw materials and add fibre husks, beet fibre and seeds increase the amount of fibre in your diet.

The Norwegian Coeliac Association has information concerning coeliac disease and gluten-free diets: www.ncf.no