What is a wheat allergy?
Wheat allergies are rare in the UK, and should not be confused with coeliac disease, which is an allergy to gluten, a protein in wheat. Foods that are labelled as being 'gluten-free' may not actually be suitable for a child with a wheat allergy. However, children with a wheat allergy can be sensitive to a protein called gliadin, which is found in gluten. Because of this, children with a wheat allergy are sometimes recommended to follow a gluten-free diet.
Allergic reactions to wheat can happen suddenly, within minutes of eating wheat or even just breathing it in, or may appear a few hours later. Common symptoms are skin irritations, stomach cramps, nausea and sickness, wheezing and breathing difficulties.
Foods to avoid
The most common sources of wheat are:
- Breakfast cereals
- Bulgur wheat
- Sweet and savoury biscuits and cakes
- Gravy and sauces
- Breaded meat or fish
Parents should also be aware that there have been reported cases of wheat-allergic children reacting to play dough. As a result of this some doctors in the USA are campaigning for non-food products containing food allergens to also contain warning labels.
There are many alternatives to wheat that are widely sold in health food stores. Most supermarkets also now have wheat-free food ranges that are guaranteed to be safe for children with an allergy.
Different types of flour such as rice flour, potato flour and soya flour can be used in cooking, and wheat-free pasta and bread are also available. If your child has to follow a wheat- or gluten-free diet, you may also be able to get wheat-free bread on prescription.
Wheat is used extensively in baking and particularly in processed food and for thickening sauces, but it comes in many forms. Look out for the different types of wheat and the names that they might be listed under, for example:
- Durum wheat
- Wheat bran
- Wheat germ
- Wheat gluten
- Durum wheat semolina
- Flour, wholewheat flour, wheat flour
- Starch, modified starch, hydrolysed starch, food starch, edible starch, wheat starch
- Vegetable starch, vegetable gum, vegetable protein
- Cereal filler, cereal binder, cereal protein
Wheat is everywhere, particularly in the foods that children like to eat: pizza, pasta, chicken nuggets and so on. So when it comes to eating out, choose your restaurant wisely. Aim for establishments where there is a wide choice of food, or where the main ingredient is something other than wheat – Italian food is not a good bet.
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Phone ahead to ask if you can see the menu beforehand, so you’re ready to ask the right questions. You could also talk to the manager at this point so that he knows you’re coming – with advance notice, the chef might be able to prepare something special for your child.
When you order your food, double-check with the waiter what the meal contains. For example, does the chicken dish come with a sauce and if so, is it a flour-based sauce?