Learn how to manage sensitivities to wheat, yeast and gluten with FLARE's latest health report...

How to manage sensitivities to wheat, yeast and gluten


When stylist Andrea Ford, 28, forgoes the focaccia at dinner, she’s not cutting carbs to lose weight. Steering clear of the doughy goodness she craves is the only way Ford, who’s based in Toronto, can avoid sore joints and painful swelling and bloating. Plagued with digestive problems since high school, she put up with the symptoms for years, thinking there was little she could do about it. That is until last year, when a nutritionist diagnosed her with gluten intolerance.

Gluten, wheat and yeast are just three common food sensitivities, and the reason they’re becoming so common, says Christine Matheson, a naturopathic doctor at the Daily Apple Centre in Toronto, is the prevalence of wheat-and gluten-based grains in the North American diet. “We need to learn to not only eat in moderation but also in rotation,” she says. “Eating the same thing over and over can cause food sensitivity in some people.”

And symptoms aren’t just digestive. Reactions can include itchy ears and watery eyes, as well as muscle and joint pain, acne, rashes and even emotional side effects, such as anxiety, mood swings and depression.

With such a wide range of symptoms and because intolerances are often missed in diagnoses (a reaction may appear as much as 72 hours later, after eating that bagel, for example, compared to an allergic reaction, which is immediate), the prevalence is hard to pin down. However, an estimated one in three people suffers from yeast sensitivity and one in seven from gluten sensitivity (this intolerance is not to be confused with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that can cause a reaction to gluten, resulting in seri-ous damage to the digestive and immune systems). As for how many of us are intolerant to wheat, according to Shirley Plant, au-thor of Finally…Food I Can Eat (a cookbook for people with food allergies and intolerances), there are a lot of us.



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Here’s what you need to know: Gluten is a protein that gives dough its elasticity, and it can be found in many grains, including wheat, barley, rye and spelt. If you’re intolerant to gluten, you’re intolerant to all of those grains. But you can be sensitive to wheat and have no problem with gluten. And for those in the latter category, be prepared to get creative with your diet, since, as Plant points out, “wheat is in almost everything. If starch is an ingredient, that usually means wheat.”

Yeast, as most of us know, is used to make bread and other baked goods, but it’s also in soups, vitamins, a variety of processed foods and alcohol. Yeast becomes a problem if you have an excessive level of it in your body—which is a condition called candida. “The internal lining of our bodies is meant to have a balance of good bacteria and a small amount of yeast,” says Matheson. If you’re eating a diet high in yeast, sugar and fermented foods, taking antibiotics (which deplete the good bacteria in your body) or taking the birth-control pill (which can affect your body’s ability to metabolize carbs), it can lead to an overgrowth of yeast. This surplus can affect not only your digestive system but also the upper respiratory system, lungs, bladder and reproductive system. Women with candida often have recurring vaginal yeast infections.

As for determining whether you have a food sensitivity, your naturopathic doctor can give you a blood test, which uses an enzyme and an antibody to detect immune responses in your blood sample. Another option is an elimination diet, during which you stop eating the foods your doctor suspects you’re sensitive to, then reintroduce them one by one, monitoring how your body reacts. “But,” says Matheson, “most people feel [so good] after an elimination diet they often don’t want to [go back to] eating the yeasty bread, refined carbs, sugary foods or the foods they’re sensitive to again.”

First published in the May 2008 issue of FLARE.