Wheat Alternatives: How Helpful Are They Really?

06/05/2016 7:01 AM AEST | Updated 28/09/2016 9:59 PM AEST
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Gluten intolerance and diet concept. Man refuses to eat white bread. Selective focus on bread

wheat alternatives

A thick slice of white sourdough topped with perfectly smashed and seasoned avocado is the quintessential breakfast. For those with a sweet tooth, perhaps a fluffy, flaky croissant with jam is your ideal start to the day.

But not everyone can enjoy common wheat pastries and breads without feeling like crampy and bloated afterwards.

If you're one of the unlucky ones, you may have an intolerance, or irritable bowel syndrome.

"Grains are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet for most people. However, some people have conditions that require them to limit or avoid certain grain foods," Charlene Grosse, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for Dietitians Association of Australia, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Wheat intolerance occurs when the body has difficulty digesting wheat and therefore reacts to it. Symptoms may take days to appear if it is an intolerance. Digestive symptoms include poor digestion, bloating, wind, fatigue and altered bowel motions.

"For some people with IBS, the fermentable sugar fructan found in wheat can exacerbate their gut symptoms."

spelt rye

It's important to see a medical professional if you suspect you have IBS or an intolerance. Many people, however, self-diagnose a wheat or gluten sensitivity, opting to choose other common wheat alternatives such as rye, spelt, kamut and barley instead.

Although nutritious, how effective are these alternatives, really?

According to Grosse, this choice for alternative grains may help IBS symptoms -- however, they may also exacerbate others.

"Different foods can contain different levels of fructans," Grosse said. "It is also important to note that cooking, manufacturing or refining processes, and the fermentation of foods, can change their FODMAP rating and fructan levels.

"For example, spelt sourdough bread is lower in FODMAP levels as the yeasts use the fructans during the fermentation process.

"Rye is high in fructans and can trigger gut upset in people intolerant to wheat."

Dr Paul Bertrand, senior lecturer and researcher into gut and neurosciences at RMIT, says there is a clear distinction between gluten intolerance and possible wheat sensitivities.

"For people with coeliac disease, you can very clearly test whether you are coeliac in which case, gluten is definitely out, there's no question about that. But there also seems to be a large range of people that believe themselves to have a wheat or gluten sensitivity, and I'm not sure how real that is," Bertrand told HuffPost Australia.

When people self-diagnose wheat and gluten sensitivities, they may be misdiagnosing the problem.

"Sometimes they fixate on potential problems and because the underlying problem is unknown, if you try to test at home by taking things out of your diet, it's a bit hit-and-miss as it might have gone away on its own," Dr Bertrand said.

"It does seem like a lot of people have it, but the research seems to be lacking a bit on what is the cause."

stomach ache

Your upset stomach might not necessarily be caused by wheat or gluten.

Regardless of whether or not you really have a wheat sensitivity, Bertrand says it's not harmful to instead eat the alternatives such as rye, barley, kamut and spelt -- as long as you're not cutting out all grains without reason.

"I see no problem with wheat alternatives in general. It's much better than trying to cut out whole food groups that are very good for you. Many nutrients and micronutrients are in these foods," he said.

"I can't see any problem at all with replacing refined white flour with less refined products."

According to Grosse, alternatives grains like rye or spelt aren't necessarily 'better' than others, as all grains provide us with important nutrients.

"Grain foods are the leading contributors of seven key nutrients in the Australian diet -- fibre, iron, magnesium, iodine, carbohydrates and B-group vitamins including folate and thiamin," Grosse said.

"There’s no single grain that’s the 'superfood' or healthiest. Gains are all high in carbohydrate, low in fat, moderate sources of protein and provide varying amounts of fibre, vitamins and minerals."

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