A wheat-free diet involves cutting out all products made from wheat and wheat flour, such as bread. It is not the same as a gluten-free diet. On a wheat-free diet you just have to cut out wheat products alone, but on a gluten-free diet you must cut out all wheat, oats, barley and rye, because all of these foods contain gluten. Basic foods such as bread and pasta will need to be avoided, as well as any foods which contain wheat and wheat flour ingredients, such as some soups, sauces and other foods.
It is not easy to completely eliminate wheat from the diet, but it is easier than eliminating gluten. There are also a variety of wheat-free products available from health food stores, and gluten-free foods will also by definition be suitable for a wheat-free diet.
Wheat is one of the most commonly mentioned foods when talking about food intolerances and IBS, and eliminating wheat from your diet may be a good place to start if you suspect your diet is causing your symptoms. However, it's important to consult a doctor or nutritionist if you intend to follow any kind of strict diet for a long period.
REVIEWS OF A WHEAT-FREE DIET
Review by RJ
I have had gas, bloating and hyper-acidity for 12 years. My doctors were no help at all. All their temporary treatments were futile. Then I went to see an ayurvedic physician. Ayurveda is the ancient system of healing from India. My ayurvedic healthcare practitioner asked me to go on a dairy and wheat-free diet. His logic was that the wheat sold in America is not healthy.
He told me that the way we ate wheat just 100 years ago was much healthier. Back then, the wheat was kept in the fields for many days after the harvest, which allowed for wheat to sprout - and sprouted wheat is much easier to digest! Even some people with gluten intolerance are able to tolerate sprouted wheat. Also, 100 years ago or so, people ate whole wheat or whole wheat flour, which was healthier. Today, most snacks and prepared food contain wheat flour, even things you wouldn't expect!
Long story short. I tried the wheat-free diet and after a few days I noticed a huge improvement in my symptoms. Agreed, wheat-free food is expensive, but being healthy makes it worth it! I don't have IBS symptoms anymore. I do get gassy sometimes, but I have noticed that this is usually because of a very spicy or heavy meal. Overall, I feel energetic.
Review by Catie
An excellent source of information for anyone who has symptoms from wheat or suspects a wheat allergy or intolerance is Healthier Without Wheat by Dr Stephen Wangen. I purchased this book when I decided to seriously apply myself to getting healthy again. I had my allergies tested years ago, but had not followed any particular diet. IBS appeared as a diagnosis countless times in doctors' offices, but no-one directed me in how to be healthy again.
After earning a certificate in nutrition while teaching cooking classes, I realized that I really must practice what I preach. I am now wheat-free and feeling so much better. As I was first diagnosed as gluten intolerant instead of wheat allergic/intolerant, I spent a fortune on stocking my kitchen with gluten-free foods and ingredients. I cannot tolerate all the starches in GF baking, which also cause weight gain and simple carb overload. I am now researching healthier baking without wheat, but using other flours containing gluten. I am also lactose intolerant and I have other food allergies, so it is a difficult road, but health is worth it.
Review by Chris
In April 2009 I started a low-carb diet to lose weight. At that time, I was also having problems with lose stools, a problem which had gradually built over time. At this point it was such an issue that I feared taking long trips. No amount of Imodium would help, and that ad for Activia? Yogurt was a laugh, because anything with lactose was causing major issues.
I suddenly realized that by cutting out carbs, especially wheat, my symptoms subsided. After doing some internet research I discovered that there is a link between wheat intolerance and lactose intolerance. After going totally wheat-free my intestinal symptoms completely subsided and I was once again able to eat dairy products!
Last weekend I decided to try a slice of lasagna. Mistake. Big mistake. It took five days for my intestinal symptoms to clear up. I'm convinced that wheat is the culprit. I look at it this way - it can't hurt to try cutting wheat out of a diet to see if symptoms clear up.
Review by Anne
I have had trouble with chronic diarrhea and trouble gaining weight all my life, as well as headaches. (Well, the trouble gaining weight went away as I aged.) I even had trouble gaining weight when pregnant. I also had skin problems (rosacea, for one), energy highs and lows and low blood sugar. Also, lactose intolerance. Keep in mind that I am a health nut eating good, wholesome foods with lots of fiber, taking supplements and I am physically active.
As I entered my 50s I started having problems with what seemed to be rheumatoid arthritis (symmetrical pain in my hands and feet) and then leg cramps, but I tested negative for rheumatoid arthritis. My doctor really was little help. This summer my cousin told me she tested positive for celiac disease and that since it is hereditary I should look up the symptoms on the NIH website. (I had been told by my dermatologist that I should get tested as well.) I put off looking at the symptoms (not wanting to imagine avoiding gluten) and boy was I surprised to see all of my symptoms listed, including the symmetrical pains in my hands and feet, leg cramps and inability to gain weight in pregnancy.
Although I tested negative for celiac I went on a gluten-free diet anyway. What a difference! Normal bowel movements every single day, all the pain is gone, my energy level is consistent and I feel great. There are so many great gluten-free products in my grocery store that it is just a minor inconvenience, but well worth it. After six weeks I tried a bagel to see what response I would get and it wasn't pretty. It has been about three months now and I feel wonderful. I have also noticed my waist has returned after disappearing when I turned 50.
Review by Louise
I have had bowel problems over many years. I suffer with a prolapsed bowel and general digestive problems (bloating, gas and constipation). My doctor has said that any bowel problem that is irregular is IBS. He does not believe that food intolerances exist and when I asked if I should try a wheat-free diet he said it was up to me. He advised high fiber but that makes my stomach swell.
I've been on a wheat-free diet for three weeks now and my muscle pains have reduced, my extremely bad headaches have gone and my tummy feels better. A few days ago I gave myself a day off and ate anything! I woke in the early hours with what I can only describe as a migraine which lasted all day and severe tiredness. Could this have been down to the wheat in the food I ate? Who knows, but I'm not willing to take that risk again.
Review by Tuesdai
To all fellow IBS sufferers, please try wheat-free living. I am a 30 year-old women who has suffered from IBS with chronic constipation since I was a child. I have tried everything and been to many doctors. They all told me to eat more fiber - while I was eating nothing but fiber. I took pills that made me sick and drank gallons of water.
I read a few books on grain and celiac disease, and thought that I should give a wheat-free diet a try. I was amazed. My bowel habits became those of a normal person. No more of the terrible bloating, heartburn, and constipation that had plagued my for years. While eating wheat-free was tricky at first, I no longer give wheat a second thought. My previous desire for starchy food has all but disappeared and I feel better then ever.
Review by SF
I am 57 and I have had a stomach ache of one kind or another since I was 12 years old. I have taken just about every kind of prescription antacid since they were first invented. I have also suffered from sporadic but extremely painful IBS-D for most of my life. Oddly none of my physicians ever connected the stomach acid/GERD problem with the IBS.
Two months ago I had a very bad episode of IBS and just gave up eating altogether for about four days. (I was having water and Gatorade.) Getting pretty hungry, I had a nice slice of my usual whole-wheat bread and soon had a strong reaction to it.
Since then I have cut out all wheat products. In eight weeks I have been able to quit taking the antacids and have not had an IBS episode at all. I am enjoying a big bowl of brown rice for breakfast every day and loving life like I never did before. What's more, I lost 10 pounds off my waist. I swear I did not change anything except skipping the wheat. If I had only known...
Update on SF...
I have completely eliminated wheat from my diet for the last 10 months. During this time I have not had a single IBS episode and I have not suffered acid indigestion/GERD - conditions I had for many years. I find staying away from wheat to be very easy. I am not the least bit tempted by pasta, pastries, bread or anything else that I once thought that I could not live without. What is even more remarkable is that I have lost 15 pounds - 167 to 152 - in those 10 months. I don't think that the weight loss was caused by calorie reduction alone; I still eat plenty of junk food like chocolate bars and corn chips, just no wheat.
My IBS condition seemed hopeless and depressed me terribly. It was not just the pain of the episodes but also the nagging fear that one would happen without warning. What a difference going wheat-free has made for me.
Review by Kelly
All my life I had been told I had celiac disease, until I went to the Mayo clinic, and lo and behold...nope. No celiac disease. The specialist there indicated IBS with a wheat trigger.
I went to a nutritionist a few years ago when I was ill with incredible pain and diarrhea for three months, and lost 15lbs. She put me on a diet of no wheat, alcohol, dairy, sugar, caffeine, sweeteners, beans, or raw vegetables. It was very restrictive, but I will admit that I felt great, my skin looked fabulous, and I continued to lose weight in a healthy manner. I think I need to go back...
Review by Kathy
I have had IBS symptoms for about 10 years now, and although I don't suffer from it non-stop, if I have a bad patch I'm pretty much incapacitated for a day or two. I have tried enteric-coated peppermint oil and mebeverine with limited effect.
About 18 months ago I started avoiding wheat and the difference was very noticeable within days, much less cramping and bad patches becoming far fewer. The reason I know it's making a difference is that when I get tempted to have more than a tiny taste of pizza or a mere morsel of pitta bread, I'm doubled up in pain within 24 hours.
I tend to avoid milk and cannot tolerate coffee or mushrooms at all. If I go out for a meal, for the sake of comfort I'll avoid red meat and too much alcohol (boo!). It's thanks to sites like this that I found out how many people with IBS improve on a wheat-free diet, and until a treatment is found for the syndrome as opposed to the symptoms, I'll stay wheat-free.
Review by Steve
I've used a wheat-free diet and discovered that it does make a difference with my IBS. I stopped eating all high carbs/high starches such as breads, pastas and rice. I did try gluten-free bread but it didn't work so I stopped eating them too. I noticed that when I'm on a low carb, low starch diet my IBS symptoms are relieved and I have lost almost 10lbs in three weeks (I did try the Eating for IBS diet and that was a high carb, high starch diet and I gained almost 15lbs in two months.)
Eliminating all the wheat, starches, etc in my diet has really made a difference to my IBS. I know I can go and enjoy a nice steak dinner and have no problems. But I don't eat the potato, bread etc that accompanies the meal.
Review by Jasmine
I have to admit first up that I have not been formally diagnosed as having IBS. When a doctor told me that it was likely that I had IBS, I thought he was just lumping me in some basket so he didn't have to deal with me. I didn't know what IBS was. He told me that wheat was definitely a trigger for a lot of people and I resolved to go back onto a wheat-free diet. I had been wheat-free previously as a way of avoiding terrible stomach cramps, but had fallen off the wagon while living with a vegetarian who loved pasta (don't we all).
Years later, and having managed to stick to a wheat-free, and largely dairy-free diet, I find myself feeling so much better than I have in years. Unsuspectingly I ate a meal a few weeks ago that should have been fine and I ended up doubled over in agonizing pain. Voila - the IBS. That was literally the first time I had ever given IBS a moment's thought in years...but now it all comes back to me. I don't drink very much anymore and when I do, I get tummy pains. I don't do dairy very much - it hurts too. I don't do coffee or tea as I suddenly need to run to the bathroom. I don't eat fatty meals anymore, or even really a lot of red meat compared to what I used to.
These changes have all happened as a result of simply not eating things that make me feel bad. Keep a food diary for a few months - it's worth it. I've done the hard yards, and it definitely helps when you can easily backtrack to see what might have made you sick.
Other tips: It's worth checking out any other allergies or intolerances you might have in case they are causing some specific discomfort, not related to the general dietary rules. If your tummy/bowels are already sensitive and reactive then don't stress them out with other intolerances.
My other tip is specifically for people finding their way round a wheat-free diet for the first time - try spelt. I usually tend to be gluten-free as I've found over the years that I don't like most rye breads and barleys etc. But it's also hard to find breads that are wheat-free only rather than gluten-free. Recently I tried some spelt bread and some spelt biscuits. You will be amazed!
I also just tried some spelt pasta. After being wheat-free for so many years, it was like suddenly being back in the land of the living. I can make a sandwich, or eat pizza, or have a really simple pasta meal. Try it and see - just remember, spelt does have gluten, so if it doesn't work, perhaps you're gluten intolerant. And don't over do it - if you're not used to eating processed grains go easy and gauge your reactions. Also for the new people - beware of glucose in almost anything - it's usually from wheat. Good luck one and all.
Review by Claire
I didn't know much at all about IBS when I was first diagnosed with it eight months ago...but I had heard more about celiac disease, and my symptoms were very similar. So I decided, just for a trial, to see what would happen on a wheat-free diet (I did go gluten-free but that was too hard!). Within a fortnight, my symptoms had not disappeared, but they had dramatically died down. I felt less tired, less cramped and bloated, I was able to go to the toilet more often (I was severely constipated at the time) and people commented on how much more happy and energetic I was (and the weight started to drop off).
I then had a few blood tests - I didn't have celiac disease. I gave in, and ate all my fave foods again. A month or so later, I paid the price. I now had diarrhea IBS (a massive shock to my 22 years of constipation), so I cut out all wheat. A few days of agony passed (I then cut out dairy too), and I was much better.
A longer period has passed, and I have religiously stuck to my non-dairy, non-wheat diet. My symptoms have improved so much, that I intend to make this diet last as long as it needs too. Sure, I want that donut, but the effect isn't worth it! If a rice cake is going to get my stomach in a tizz, I can't imagine what a big cream eclair would do!
Review by Carolyn
Since eliminating wheat from my diet a little over a month ago I've lost nine pounds, the gas and bloating are gone, and my digestive tract feels incredibly calm. As a bonus, the peri-menopausal joint pains I was experiencing are now completely gone.
You need to be a good label reader to cut out surprise sources of wheat. I recently ate a fast food restaurant salad and prided myself on not using the packet of crispy noodles that came with it. Even so, I cramped up and bloated after eating the salad. A little detective work revealed that the salad dressing had wheat in it.
Wheat-free eating isn't just a diet for me. I feel so much better that I plan to make it a way of life. The trade-off is definitely worth it.
Review by Julie
I'm not sure if I have IBS or simply a wheat intolerance, but I do have a hiatus hernia which has been a real problem for years. The worst aspect was acid reflux at night, with dreadful burning in the chest, throat, and sometimes up to the ears! I stopped eating any kind of starch in the evening, on a recommendation by a friend, which helped a lot - but I still had a lot of heartburn in the evening.
Then I gave up wheat completely, and have had none of the previous symptoms (as well as wind, bloating, etc). So - whatever the particular problem is, doing without gluten has solved it. Unfortunately I have discovered baking with almonds - great for the tastebuds and discomfort, but I now have to count those blasted calories again!
Review by Nicholas
I will just say that I suffer from cancer of the prostate and unfortunately I am one of the unlucky ones and suffer side effects from the drugs to control it. I should not complain really I am still alive!
I had all the symptoms of IBS and my doctor did all the tests and concluded I had IBS, and said I should try eliminating various foods from my diet. Straight away I dropped wheat from my diet because white bread used to blow my stomach up. The result was a flat stomach again and 8lbs lost in weight. I had to keep looking in the mirror to see my flat stomach, which is very rare in a 56 year-old male!
Now I have got that far I am now trying various drugs as prescribed by the doctor and I report back to him on how they are controlling my bowels. I will say I am lucky in having a caring doctor who listens to me while I moan away, but as everybody who suffers from this knows you have to plan your day by the distance to the toilet. I am better now than I was - as my mom would say 'Nicholas, there are people worse off than you out there', so what can I say.