With many more options available on the “free from” aisles at the supermarket it’s seems like it is getting fashionable to give up bread. Let’s have a look at the different reactions that can be associated with bread intolerance and whether giving up bread can be justified.
The staple ingredients of bread are flour, usually wheat flour, and yeast. Wheat and yeast can cause allergies, immediate severe reactions that can be potentially fatal. However, food allergies are rare with only about 2% of adults suffering overall. In addition, food allergy is normally associated with milk, eggs, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts not wheat and yeast.
So if it’s not allergy involved, why would you want to remove bread from your diet? Well it would be important to remove bread if you have coeliac disease. This is because wheat (and also rye and barley) all contain gluten; gluten is a protein that gives bread its elasticity helping it to keep its shape and making it chewy. Approximately 1% of the population has coeliac disease which is a lifelong intolerance to gluten. Coeliac disease causes damage to the small intestine and many other symptoms and tends to run in families. Symptoms of coeliac disease can range from mild to severe and include headaches, diarrhoea, stomach pains and lethargy. Strict adherence to a gluten-free diet brings complete resolution of symptoms. If you think you have an allergy or coeliac disease then you should go and see your doctor who can arrange for you to be tested or referred to a specialist.
If coeliac disease and wheat/yeast allergies are relatively rare then why are so many people removing bread from their diet? What sort of symptoms are they suffering? Well bloating, irritable bowel and lethargy are the most common; however, food intolerance symptoms also include headaches, migraines, skin problems, joint pains, sinusitis, low mood and weight changes. Symptoms of food intolerance are often confused with food allergy and coeliac disease, but food intolerance really is very different. Food intolerance is not life threatening, nor is it necessarily lifelong, but it does have a big impact and it has been estimated that (at least) 45% of the population suffers. Why feel bloated or uncomfortable, lacking in energy or under par if you don’t need to?
It is important to know that if you think you might have a food intolerance to bread, this will mean that you are reacting to the wheat, gluten or yeast proteins present in the bread, not the bread as a whole. You can try taking bread out of your diet on its own, as many people do, and may you may start to feel better. However, if you have a wheat, gluten or yeast intolerance then there will be other foods that have to be removed and (carefully) substituted as well.
It’s really important with any elimination diet that you don’t end up nutrient deficient. For example, yeast can be found in many foods stuffs apart from bread; foods that include Marmite, vinegar, alcohol, ginger beer, stock cubes, antibiotics and supplements. Yeast can be hidden on food labels under the name of hydrolysed protein, hydrolysed vegetable protein and leavening. If you have yeast food intolerance then you may also be intolerant to fungi-containing foods such as cheese, mushrooms, peanuts and malt. Yeast can also be present on foods naturally. They often grow on the skins of berries and soft fruits. Those with wheat intolerance should avoid all wheat products, not just gluten-free products. Those with gluten intolerance should avoid all products containing gluten. If these foods are removed from your diet then they will need to be substituted with appropriate alternatives.
It is also clear that many people with food intolerance suffer reactions to a number of different foods types (their particular food intolerance “fingerprint” of foods), that may include wheat, gluten or yeast, but also other food or drink ingredients as well. Removing bread will only be part of a bigger picture and it takes an overall approach, including identifying all trigger foods and (preferably) a consultation with a Nutritional Therapist, not just the faddy removal of just one food type, to really tackle food intolerance symptoms properly.
To find out whether you’re suffering from a food intolerance, take our FirstStep Test