Unless you have a serious allergy to gluten, wheat or grains, you are probably like me and get very confused by their differences. About a year ago, I set out to eat “gluten free and wheat free”. I wasn’t 100% sure what that meant but I knew I wanted to cut out all bread and flour. I was feeling extremely tired all of the time and my body was so stiff in the morning when I woke up I had trouble walking. I had heard of the benefits of going gluten free because it reduces inflammation. Having suffered eczema (an inflammatory auto immune condition) since childhood, I always wondered the connection between inflammatory foods and by body. If removing wheat and gluten free foods would help, why not give it a try. To my surprise, much like many of the articles I read where people realized the amazing affects of going gluten free, I soon experienced similar benefits. My body processed food much faster, I wasn’t sluggish, I could fall asleep more easily and I stopped waking up with a “carb hangover” feeling. Another benefit I discovered is it opened my mind to exploring many more food options that I never thought I would enjoy as much as I do. This journey lead me to grains and understanding the difference between grains, gluten, wheat and yes, seeds. It can get a bit confusing so I thought it would be helpful to break it down and cover the basics for the average “gluten sensitive” person who does not have a full blown allergy (ie those suffering from Celiac) and also do not need as much of the scientific explanations.
IS GLUTEN THE SAME AS WHEAT?
- Gluten is in all wheat products and it’s important to remember that wheat is inclusive of refined white flour(which is wheat processed down) and whole wheat flour. Gluten is a protein substance that exists in some grains that makes the breads we eat chewy. I think of it as a glue that binds the flour together. Some people are sensitive to gluten and others just wheat. Both can cause bloating, gas, skin irritations, rashes, hives, nasal congestion, and digestive tract issues among other symptoms.
NOW ON TO GRAINS
Simply put, grain products grow from the seeds of grass and some have gluten and others not. Bread(made from wheat), pasta (made from wheat), oatmeal, breakfast cereals, flour tortillas are examples of grain products.
Below is grid to help distinguish which grains have gluten vs not.
AND WHAT IS A SEED?
Yes, it does get a bit more complicated. Most people know and enjoy eating Quinoa. Did you know that Quinoa is a seed and not a grain? Neither did I. Seeds, Grains, beans, nuts are all in the same family as they are actually all seeds. Grains grow from the seeds of grasses, such as wheat, corn, oats or rice as mentioned above. Beans are the seeds of legumes. Examples include: peas, lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas. Nuts, such as almonds, pecans, and walnuts, come from the seeds of a tree. And then there are the ones we refer to as seeds directly, such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Below is an example list of seeds (gluten free) that you can enjoy by themselves or in flour form for baking when eating gluten and wheat free.
Once you understand these basics, it is much easier to read labels and explore different food options. Going gluten free helped me eat better in general because it forced me to get creative and welcome so many wonderful wholesome gluten free grains and seeds into my diet. In return I have better digestion, more energy, and the stiffness (inflammation) I was experiencing, is almost entirely gone. Try it and let me know how you feel.
(Now, do I recommend sneaking in a piece of tuscan loaf bread dipped in olive oil. I do, but just limit it to special occasions. You will find in time, your body won’t want it and it actually doesn’t taste as good once you’ve weaned off. You will find you will be craving many other wholesome foods instead.)