What's the Problem with Wheat?

I remember when Melissa was a tiny baby I really looked forward to when she’d be able to eat solids. Being a Nutritional Therapist, I fantasised about all the culinary creations I would make. Yet Melissa was so disinterested in food it was embarrassing. I’d slave away over a butternut squash puree, meticulously freezing it into ice cube trays, but it would just end up on the floor. After ditching the blender and switching to Baby Led Weaning we had greater success, but the only food she really liked was bread. This worried me as I suffer from a wheat intolerance and hadn’t regularly eaten bread for over 10 years. Yet despite my better judgment my desperation for Melissa to eat something and give me a break from breastfeeding persuaded me that she’d have daddy’s genes and be okay. I was wrong. Even though it was subtle, I noticed that when Melissa ate bread she would become constipated, behave aggressively and wake up more frequently at night – not a happy girl.

It led me to look into the whole wheat intolerance thing in more detail and here’s what I discovered.

What’s the problem with wheat?

For over 10,000 years we’ve cultivated wheat, stored it, milled it and eaten it in the form of bread. It was nutritious, a food staple and kept generations from going hungry. Then hit the Industrial Revolution. Wheat then needed to be stored for the millions of workers in the Cities. To do this, technologies were invented to turn healthful whole wheat into refined flour. Milling removed the nutritious wheat kernel before bleaching and chemicals made it resistant to pests. As farming methods progressed, wheat was modified to grow quicker; dramatically increasing its yield. Finally in the last 50 years advances in genetics have allowed increases in the gluten content of flour to allow for lighter fluffier bread. The results, a gluten-free craze, and it’s not surprising…

….wheat is not what it used to be!

If you think that eating wheat free is just a fashionable fad for celebs wanting to stay slim, you should think again. Gluten (the protein in wheat responsible for Coeliacs disease) in commercial wheat has been shown to make up 50% of the product compared with 5% only 50 years ago.

The increase in gluten intolerance

With an increase of gluten in our wheat comes an increase in sensitivity, and far more people have a gluten intolerance than you think. Coeliac disease affects 1 in 100 of people in the USA, which is a hundred times greater than a previous estimate. There are studies showing that this rate is increasing rapidly, and undiagnosed in over 80% of sufferers.

Furthermore, Coeliac or not, gluten is thought to cause gut inflammation in at least 80% of people. The effect can lead to leaky gut syndrome allowing bacterial proteins and other toxic compounds to get in the blood stream contributing to numerous health conditions. In fact over 200 clinical conditions have been linked to wheat. A leaky gut also means that food is not digested properly which can lead to nutrient deficiencies. The problem is compounded by the fact that….

…we are eating more wheat than we used to.

Whilst previously we may have tolerated eating the old style wheat a couple of times a week in a traditional 1950s diet of meat and two veg, and fish on a Friday’s, wheat is now everywhere! We eat it in our Cheerio’s, Wheatabix or breakfast bagel and croissant, sandwiches and wraps are a quick and easy lunch and it’s now fashionable to eat pasta, pizza or cous cous for dinner. Furthermore, if you’re snacking on cakes, biscuits and donuts in the day you’re unwittingly eating wheat six times a day.

Not everyone needs to give up wheat

Just cutting down will do your health a lot of good. For most people consuming small amounts of gluten in the occasional slice of bread won’t do any harm. It’s when we eat it every day that the problem starts.

If your child is suffering from any of the following – eczema, tummy trouble, constipation, diarrhoea, hay fever, any behavioural or sleep problems I would seriously consider looking at their wheat intake.

For Melissa eating wheat is an infrequent affair. I avoid it totally at home so she only gets it at friends’ houses or out and about when there’s nothing else. The results have been a happier child with a sweet, gentle and cooperative nature, as well as the added bonus of a better night’s sleep. Interestingly, my husband recently also went wheat-free to join us, and despite being very fit, tall and slim has also noticed numerous health benefits including ‘no bloating’ after eating and the disappearance of an annoying itchy rash (dermatitis herpetiformis) he’s had on his elbows for as long as he can remember.

If you’d like to check out our wheat and gluten free recipes please click here. I’m sure you’ll love our amazing focaccia recipe; it’s so easy and delicious to make. Also here’s 10 easy ways to live without wheat – and not compromise on taste or health.

Have you had any experiences in going wheat-free? Or do you have any recipes you’d like to share? I’d love hear about them. Please leave comments below.

Visit Caroline's blog, My Daughter Won't Sleep, for more insightful posts on gluten free living.

Hello, I'm Caroline, a Mum, Nutritionist, Herbalist and blogger from Oxford, UK. This site connects my passion for natural remedies with my devotion to my daughter Melissa. I write about up-to-date research on a wide range of strategies for children’s health, sleep and well-being. My goal is the same as yours, to be a good parent with a happy healthy child.