Gluten / Wheat Intolerance or Enzyme Deficiency?

You may have a problem with more than just gluten. Gluten-free items still may contain wheat. Gluten / Wheat intolerance is becoming an accepted reality. Giving up wheat sucks, but maybe you don't need to. I discovered the primary cause of my gluten / wheat intolerance was an enzyme deficiency. Have you tried digestive enzymes?

You may have a problem with more than just gluten. Gluten-free items still may contain wheat. Gluten / Wheat intolerance is becoming an accepted reality. Giving up wheat sucks, but maybe you don't need to.

Is Gluten / Wheat Intolerance Real?

Pros and cons of gluten / wheat intolerance abound. I'm surrounded by the constant debate of whether gluten intolerance even exists, and I'm sure you are, too. Initially, I didn't want to contemplate that some of the health issues I was having could be caused by wheat.

I know I'm not alone in my issues with gluten / wheat because of the number of gluten free products I can buy in the grocery store. Manufacturers don't make products without demand, and they don't continue making products that don't sell. Every time I go to the store, I see ever more gluten free products. 

Gluten intolerance is much more accepted than overall wheat intolerance, and even gluten intolerance is suspect by many unless you have celiac disease.

I knew from reviewing my diet, that I reacted to wheat and not just to gluten (which is derived from wheat). Intuitively, I believed just giving up gluten wouldn't work. I thought I needed to give up all wheat and wheat-related foods.

If I had to give up wheat, what would I eat? I love pasta, cake, pies, bread, pizza and just about anything else you can think of made with wheat. What would I order when I went to my favorite Italian restaurant if I couldn't have wheat? Sniff, sniff, sad face, sigh.

Lisa looking pensive

Who Cares? I Hurt!

Finally, my list of physical ailments reached critical mass. I've never been one to ignore my body, and my body was screaming. I had

  • a swollen abdomen
  • abdominal pain, specifically the feeling I'd eaten glass after I ate foods containing wheat
  • way too much gas
  • tired, achy joints, especially in my hands
  • an overall tired feeling that was worse when I ate wheat in any form
  • an inability to lose weight in my stomach
  • a strong craving for wheat-containing foods

I did a ton of research, and all fingers pointed to wheat intolerance. There are quite a few different hypotheses to what causes wheat intolerance in someone who hasn't had it before, and no one really knows for sure what causes it. 

You can take an allergy test to find out if you're allergic to wheat, however,  I didn't need any type of test to find out if I had any type of intolerance. I decided the true test would be dropping wheat and it's close cousins in the plant family from my diet. Then, if my symptoms went away, I'd know if I was wheat intolerant.

Stomach with Out of Order Written on It

Two Weeks to Drop the Wheat

I decided two weeks of no wheat or related plant foods would be plenty of time to discover if wheat was causing my problems. I could do anything for two weeks! You can do this I assured myself.

I made a list of everything I had to exclude from my diet during the two weeks:

  • Wheat in any form
  • Gluten
  • Spelt
  • Barley
  • Malt
  • Rye
  • Brewer's Yeast
  • Beer made from wheat

Then, I made a list of foods I liked that I could eat in place of everything I had to eliminate. My first choice would always be a food with wheat in some form. I needed to ensure I knew what to reach for when I stopped my hand from grabbing any of the wheat-filled foods available for my partner, Beck.

I also went through the menus of our favorite restaurants and determined what to choose in place of my normal favorites (which all contained wheat). I knew eating out would be my downfall for avoiding wheat if I didn't have an iron-clad plan and the determination to stick to it.

Lisa looking depressed with mirror

Drum Roll: My Results

The very first day I dropped those wheat and wheat-related foods from my diet I felt better. My intestines still felt sore, but it felt like the sore of healing instead of like I'd just eaten ground glass. (I've never eaten ground glass, but I can imagine what it would feel like.)

By the second day, the bloating in my abdomen was decreasing. I was less gassy and my joints were feeling better.

By the third day, I felt a little less tired and I had dropped a pound. Even though I wasn't on a weight loss diet, dropping wheat seemed to have the same effect. 

Up to and through the third day, I had the constant urge to eat wheat. I dreamed of a warm piece of bread with butter and jam. I could smell my favorite pasta and sauce along with the bread sticks from my favorite Italian restaurant. Well, you get the idea. 

I felt irritable even though overall I was feeling better. I kept thinking I'd forgotten something, and I had. I'd forgotten to eat wheat! My usual feeling of happiness was elusive with the unrest I felt from irritability and cravings I wasn't going to give into.

By the end of the two weeks, I had no doubt I had a wheat intolerance. It didn't really matter exactly what caused it because the end result was the same. If I ate wheat, then I'd have the symptoms that went away when I stopped eating it. Sigh. I wasn't happy with my dietary experiment, I'd not so secretly hoped wheat wasn't the culprit.

Load of bread on board with side of olives

OK, I'm Wheat Intolerant...Now What?

I went through months of avoiding wheat in its many forms. Every once in a while, I'd unwittingly eat a small amount, then realize I'd done so. However, I didn't seem to react to very small quantities. 

I found alternative base recipes for my favorite desserts, breads, pastas, etc. As usual, I began tweaking the recipes to make them taste better to me. Often, I made so many changes to them, I had to write down all the changes. 

I told everyone who asked why I was no longer eating wheat. Several of my friends and family had a similar list of complaints (no big surprise), and they had exactly the same response to giving up wheat that I'd gone through. 

Their faces looked just like mine, I bet, when I was confronted with a possible wheat intolerance. I didn't push them. I just gave them the information I'd discovered, and left them to their own decisions and actions.

Organic Wheat and Digestive Enzymes Help

My friend Belinda discovered eating organic wheat helped her. We talked about it and decided it made sense if part of our problem with wheat was due to herbicides or pesticides. I tried adding in organic wheat, but even the organic wheat bread still caused me to have digestive distress, although a little less than non-organic.

Then one day, about six months into trying to eat a no wheat diet, I picked up the box of digestive enzymes, Equate: Gas and Bloating Prevention from Walmart,  that I used for beans. Beans, especially pintos, which Beck loves, give me terrible, stinky gas. It doesn't matter how the beans are prepared and cooked. I've tried all the possibilities for preparing the beans to decrease the gas, and I can't tell any of them help me very much. So, I take the digestive enzymes and problem solved for beans.

I read through the listing of food the enzymes might help digest:

  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • corn
  • lettuce
  • oat bran
  • onions
  • peas
  • peanuts
  • peppers
  • soy
  • and last on the list...whole grains

Wait a minute, I thought, I didn't know wheat intolerance could be caused by an enzyme deficiency. I always ate whole wheat because I thought it was better for me. 

Hooray! I Can Test the Enzymes for Wheat

I couldn't wait to put those digestive enzymes for a test with wheat. Yummy! I was an enthusiastic guinea pig in the pursuit of science. (Smirk)

We went out to my favorite Italian restaurant the next day, at my suggestion, and I ordered my favorite breadsticks, vegetarian lasagna, salad, and berry lemon mascarpone cake for dessert. 

I swallowed an enzyme pill with my first bite of breadsticks, then another about half way through my lasagna because I was eating a large amount of wheat. I totally enjoyed that meal! (Note I don't usually eat this way because if I did I'd be extremely overweight. However, I do allow myself to eat foods I enjoy as a treat.)

After the meal, I kept waiting for my wheat intolerance symptoms to appear, but I waited in vain. I had no symptoms from eating all that wheat! None of it was even organic!!

plate of pasta with basil leaves and tomatoes

Even with Enzymes, Moderation Helps

I didn't go wild eating wheat again because I'd begun trying food combining ala Trim Healthy Mama (THM) and I'd just come off keto which is anti-carbohydrates. I'd give myself a wheat treat several times a week, and every time I'd take the digestive enzymes with it. 

I noticed if I ate wheat too many times in a row or too much over too many days, I still would have digestive upset. However, it was nothing like before the enzymes. 

I decided to have a wheat free house, cook wheat free recipes, and only eat wheat as a treat occasionally when I went out or ate at someone else's house. Beck also decided his joint pain was caused by wheat and stopped eating wheat regularly. 

I still prefer to eat organic wheat because I'm concerned about herbicide and pesticide contamination of foods overall, but I will eat wheat that isn't organic if I'm out. So far, the enzymes are a wonderful solution to all my wheat intolerance. 

What Causes Gluten / Wheat Intolerance?

Possible causes of the inability to digest wheat and other wheat-related symptoms are different strains of wheat due to genetic variations than our ancestors ate, different ways of preparing the wheat in more modern times than in the past, and reactions to herbicide and pesticide levels overall.

For myself, I believe some of my problems with wheat are associated with my gallbladder or lack thereof. I had my gallbladder removed several years before I began having problems with wheat, and I believe this exacerbated my digestive issues. I've even read that my inability to digest wheat may have added to some of my problems with my gallbladder. 

I have no other issues (that I know of) from not having a gallbladder. I digest all other foods except wheat and beans without obvious problems. However, the list of other foods that might benefit from the gas and bloating prevention digestive enzymes is pretty long. I plan to keep up with how I digest other foods on the list and add in enzymes with those as necessary.

What about you?

Does any of my experience sound like what you're experiencing? Have you tried digestive enzymes for wheat issues? Does my story help you connect any dots? By sharing your own stories in the comments, you can help others, too.

If you like this post, you may be interested in others like this one. I suggest 

​My Weight Loss and Maintenance Story

For the Love of Sugar: Addiction and Natural Substitutes


Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity: piecing the puzzle together:

The War on Gluten:

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