If you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with a wheat allergy or a gluten intolerance, then you may be wondering, what’s the difference between wheat and gluten?
You’re not alone! There is a lot of confusion around the two. Are they the same thing? Are they different? Does gluten-free mean wheat-free? Read on for the answers to these questions!
What’s the Difference Between Wheat and Gluten?
Seven years ago I didn’t know what the difference between wheat and gluten was myself – or even if there was a difference. Back in our pre-food allergy days I had heard a lot of phrases such as “Gluten free” and “Free from wheat and gluten” but that was about all I knew. I knew what wheat was. And I knew there was something out there called gluten that some people avoided. But I didn’t look into it much assuming it was mostly just a fad.
Just after my oldest son’s first birthday he was diagnosed with several food allergies – wheat, eggs, dairy, peanuts, and cashews. His doctor specified his allergy was an allergy to wheat – not to gluten and it was not a gluten intolerance. I went home from that appointment and had to Google the difference between wheat and gluten and the difference between an allergy and an intolerance. I was clueless.
It’s pretty simple once you understand the difference. As I’m sure you know, wheat is a grain. There are lots of different grains, such as:
Gluten however, is not a grain. Gluten is a protein. This protein is found IN grains but is not a grain itself. Gluten is a sticky protein found in some grains that bind things together.
Gluten can be found IN some grains such as:
Oats and rice are grains too but do not have this sticky protein – they are naturally gluten-free.
Do Gluten Free and Wheat Free Mean the Same Thing?
Nope. They aren’t the same thing. Wheat is not the only grain that contains gluten, so something can be wheat free without being gluten free. I could make my son a loaf of bread out of rye flour and have it be perfectly safe for him to eat – because it doesn’t have any wheat. That same loaf of bread would NOT be safe to eat if he had a gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Why? Rye has the protein gluten in it. This loaf of bread would be wheat-free but it would not be gluten-free. A wheat allergy is not synonymous with gluten intolerance.
Which Grains Contain Gluten?
Which Grains Do Not Contain Gluten?
Technically quinoa, amaranth, and millet are seeds but they are often considered and used as grains.
If Oats and Rice are Naturally Gluten-Free Why Can You Buy Gluten Free Versions?
I was confused about this for a long time. If oats and rice are gluten free then why do you see certified gluten free oats at the store? If you have a wheat allergy or a gluten intolerance do you need certified gluten free rice and oats?
Oats and rice really are gluten free. While some say oats and rice are sometimes labeled as “Gluten Free” as a marketing scam to sell more product, the real reason is to provide uncontaminated foods for those with severe food allergies and intolerances.
The reason why you can buy certified gluten free versions of these grains at the store is because they can become contaminated with gluten during processing. This is because many factories will use the same equipment to process different grains.
Oats could be processed on the same equipment as wheat. The oats can pick up wheat and therefore gluten and become contaminated. Is this important? It totally depends!
For some people they can eat the contaminated oats and rice and be completely fine – while for others it could make them very sick, like those with celiac disease. It’s important to talk to YOUR doctor to know if you need certified gluten free oats.
What is a Wheat Allergy? What is a Gluten Intolerance?
A wheat allergy might sound like the same thing as a gluten intolerance but they are actually quite different – even though many of the same foods are off limits!
An intolerance is largely an issue with digestion. It is caused by a person’s body not correctly digesting a food. In the case of a gluten intolerance the individual’s body cannot correctly digest gluten – which causes a lot of pain and discomfort!
On the other hand, a food allergy involves the immune system. When someone has a food allergy their body recognizes that food as harmful and sends out an attack in response – which may or not be life threatening depending on the severity of the allergy.
Both of these situations greatly impact an individual’s life and are no small thing to deal with. Both situations require the affected individual to be vigilant about what they eat and their surroundings.
So What’s the Difference Between Wheat and Gluten Again?
Wheat is a grain and gluten is a protein found in grains. Not all grains contain gluten; wheat is not the only grain that does have gluten. If something is wheat free, it may still contain gluten. If something is gluten free it will also be wheat free – you can’t have wheat without the gluten!
Wheat and Gluten Free Foods
It’s relatively easy these days to find foods that are free from both wheat and gluten. Thankfully more and more food companies are trying to become more allergy-friendly and are providing safe options for those that need them. You can easily find wheat and gluten-free crackers, bread, pasta, cereal, waffles, as well as many other wheat and gluten free products.
If you are looking for recipes that are free from wheat and/or gluten then have a look around my blog! Every recipe on my blog is free from both wheat AND gluten as well as dairy, eggs, peanuts, cashews, and sesame!
Some blog reader favorites are:
- Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Cucumber Avocado and Tomato Salad
- Blender Banana Muffins
- Tomato Basil Pasta
- Sheet Pan Steak Fajitas
To make sure you never miss one of my allergy-friendly recipes follow me on Pinterest and Instagram and sign up to get recipes sent straight to your inbox!