I'd never even heard of wheat allergy until a few years ago, and suddenly everyone I meet is claiming to have one. It reminded me of the mid-90s, when everyone was suddenly lactose-intolerant.
There is a serious autoimmune intestinal disorder called celiac disease caused by ingestion of gluten (the protein in wheat, kamut, rye, barley, spelt and semolina) that can have severe symptoms and affects just under 1 per cent of the population.
As for the rest of you, here's what might be going wrong.
What the experts say
"Practitioners outside of the medical field often recommend cutting out wheat, but very seldom is wheat allergy a real problem. Food allergy symptoms appear in different areas: respiratory, on the skin or in the gut (nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps). People do respond sometimes to the elimination of wheat, partly because they often cut out white flour and start eating whole grains and more fruits and vegetables. But [removing] an actual allergen is usually not the reason they're feeling better. I often see people who think they have wheat allergies, but they're eating kamut without realizing it's a wheat derivative, and they still feel better. Whole wheat pasta is one of the most nutritious whole grains, filled with iron, fibre and B vitamins. I think [allergy concerns] could be linked to the anti-carb craze."
SUSAN OSHER, registered dietitian, Toronto
"A food senstivity is a chronic low-grade immune response rather than an allergy, which is a fast, severe response. The sensitivity response can be different for everybody. I eat wheat and three days later get a stuffy nose and sinus trouble. The wheat we're eating now is not what our grandparents ate. It's genetically modified, and heaps of pesticides are used. It's also incredibly processed, which is why some people can tolerate other gluten grains like spelt, rye or kamut. To find out if you have a wheat allergy, cut it out of your diet for at least three weeks, then reintroduce it alot - have pasta, bread, a lot of wheat. Then don't have it again for three days and see how you feel.'
MASINA WRIGHT, naturopath, Toronto
"[If you want to try cutting wheat out of your diet, try] quinoa, millet, teff and amaranth. They can be eaten like rice or made into a cereal, and they also come in flour form. Although rice is gluten-free, I'd still be leery of it because it's heavy on the digestion. People who are wheat-intolerant may have a slightly compromised digestive system, so brown rice may be heavy. Wheat has been hybridized and GMO'd. Our modern diet has so much wheat and flour that everybody could probably feel better by eating less. You have your toast in the morning, then you grab a muffin, then you have a dinner roll or pasta. It adds up.'
VIVIAN LEE, Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, Toronto
"Wheat is on the list of the eight common foods most often responsible for allergic reactions. The most common form is atopic dermatitis, or eczema, in kids. One oddball condition is a wheat-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis, when people eat a wheat product in combination with other food and then exercise and have a severe reaction. When you look at most countries, the foods consumed most often are the ones related to allergies. Where corn is the main staple, there are more corn allergies. In Japan, where more buckwheat is eaten than wheat, the major allergy is to buckwheat."
PETER VADAS, director of allergy and clinical immunology and medical director of the Regional Anaphylaxis Clinic at St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto