Think before you ‘wheat free’ …

Another of the problems caused by free-from brands dissing such allergens as wheat (usually, but sometimes milk) is that fellow free-from brands are tempted to do likewise. Where Genius have led, others have followed.

I don’t know much about this small free from company, and judging by the conversation which followed on Twitter today, I’ve no reason to believe Yummy Tummy Co’s hearts are not in the right place and are merely trying to make a name for themselves in a cluttered market. But still …

I asked what kind of results might you expect from going without wheat for a week?

And it’s on that basis, apparently, that these non-dietitians have advised strangers – indiscriminately – to make a major overhaul to their diets. So common have become the ‘give up wheat / dairy’ messages we see these days, that it’s now normal – perhaps even expected – to advise people whose medical histories you know nothing about to alter the nutrition they put into their bodies. Ditching food has become casual everyday ‘common sense’ advice – like ‘take an umbrella’.

The trouble with free from brands entering the market without fully understanding coeliac, food allergy, food intolerance and dietetics is they fail to see how potentially dangerous such advice can be.

The initial tweet was linked to an article on coeliac disease. Giving up wheat before you’re investigated for coeliac disease is the opposite of what you should do. What you should do is carry on eating wheat – and go to the doctor. Coeliac tests don’t work unless there is gluten in the diet.

The problem with advice to give up wheat for a week is not so much in the recommendation, per se – I’m sure you’ll be absolutely fine – but in the absence of follow-up guidance on what to do once the week is over.

What would be needed – at least – is evidence-based advice, depending on how you feel.

Because you may feel better, the same – or worse. All these possibilities I covered in a previous article on this blog, Dear Girl on Twitter, which outlines the problems of giving / taking advice to give up wheat/gluten, and of doing it without medical or dietetic support.

I don’t expect free from brands to stop playing the ‘wheat is bad’ card anytime soon, but I don’t think it’s a phenomenon the ‘free from’ community should ignore. As I’ve said before, I like to see new free from brands come onto the market, and wish them well – but they’ve got to properly learn the subjects with which they’re dealing, and they’ve got to play fair.

The Yummy Tummy Co make healthy-looking free from lunches for Londoners. Click into their site for more information. 


  1. Jocelyn Droppa

    I think also it reinforces the perception that we're all faddists trying to lose weight or have clearer skin etc on a gluten free diet, so that when you say you are gluten free, you almost have to qualify it by stating you are a coeliac. That doesn't stop people not taking you seriously though.

    I am all for the non-coeliacs eating gluten free and opening up the market (and indeed they are partly responsible for the retailer having such a vast range compared to when I was diagnosed 20 years ago), however it's creating a negativity amongst food service providers and that is actually more creating a problem for us than solving one.

    What I am also finding is that as more foods come on to the market that's gluten free, the different levels of sensitivity amongst us is causing issues. So although a food may be gluten free, it may be made with oats or have barley malt extract in it, which not all coeliacs can tolerate (similar to the codex issue). There is now becoming a 'virtual rolling of the eyes' when you mention that you can't tolerate oats either, or minute amounts of barley malt extract and that is within the coeliac community itself.

  2. Alex G

    Absolutely – I eat lots of GF food I wouldn't have eaten before I got involved in free from, but as a non-coeliac I carry on eating wheat and rye. I've no problem with the idea of promoting 'free from' for flavour / new taste experiences, or functionality in the kitchen, or indeed for any inherent health benefits (if supported by evidence) – but wheat scapegoating and alarmism is getting out of control.

    Thanks for mentioning barley malt extract – I really must investigate this issue properly.

  3. What Allergy

    Grrrr! I hate it because you know what? Wheat is not a bad food. There are bad kinds of wheat if you look at processed bread but wheat itself is not bad. It's bad for me, really really bad but I would LOVE to be able to eat wheat. It isn't necessarily going to make any difference to anyone's health unless they have an intolerance, coeliac disease or allergy. I know these are hard to diagnose and how many of us discover we have a problem simply by trying to cut stuff out to identify a culprit. But simply looking for a pep in your step? I can think simpler ways of getting that 😉

  4. Alex G

    Urgently need to know what gives Ms What Allergy a pep in her step …. But yes, exactly. Wheat is not a bad food – it's really that simple. It's a good food (for most), which is sometimes stripped of its nutrients and chucked into junk food and which is scapegoated far too often, both because of that, and because it contains gluten …

  5. Jocelyn Droppa

    What's weird about barley malt extract – or maybe it's just me! – but it appears to build up until I have a full coeliac melt down (if you get my drift!) So for example, own brand cereals are fine for a couple of days and then BAM – they are so not. So I avoid them (and other barley malt extract things). I have no idea why this happens. I'd be interested in your findings.

  6. Alex G

    I need to get to the bottom of barley malt extract vs barley malt flavouring, trace gluten, and other components which could – theoretically – be causing problems. I did look into it once, but there was very little research about it. I hope to get time soon, and will keep you posted!

  7. Jocelyn Droppa

    Cool – thanks. 🙂

  8. What Allergy

    HAHA well you'll have to wait for that Alex, if we ever get that lunch/coffee/meetup organised 🙂

  9. Alex G

    Post Allergy Show – I promise!!!! 🙂


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