Friday, 26 June 2009

Diary of a Wheat-Free Student

Image thanks to Mr Bologna

This is a guest post by Claire, a student blogger at
The View From Here who is also an avid foodie, with almost as many recipe blogs on her googlereader as fashion ones! Becoming wheat-intolerant last year forced her to change the way she baked - a huge part of her life!

When Megan put out a shout for foodie articles, I thought it was time to step up to the plate. I’ve been wheat-intolerant for about a year, which is long enough that I’ve learnt how to deal with it without it affecting my life too much, but short enough that I remember what it was like in the beginning.

Is Wheat-Free Living for You?

My first bit of advice is only to try a wheat-free month if you’re experiencing symptoms like bloating, nausea, stomach cramps, extreme tiredness etc. Seriously, going wheat-free is such a hassle, particularly at first, that it’s not worth avoiding it completely unless you really have to. That said, intolerance's are impossible to diagnose, and it’s based on gut feeling. Cutting wheat out for a month may reduce your symptoms, or you might find it’s something else.

If you do find it helps, that’s great – but it might be worth going back onto the wheat and then going to see your Doctor for blood tests to see if you have coeliac disease. I didn’t, but it’s a gluten allergy, and is much more dangerous.

If you don’t find it affects you, then get back onto it! Please don’t stay off the wheat for weight loss or because it’s the cool thing to do or celebrities are doing it – this is becoming more common and it’s really silly! It’s really annoying to get those looks in restaurants when you’ve asked for a wheat-free option, as they just assume you’re part of the Heat magazine generation (I know, this probably won’t apply to most of you, it’s just something I needed to get off my chest!)

Secondly, wheat is in everything. Most processed foods have it in – for me, the surprise was finding it even in “Finest” burgers and sausages. And Pringles and couscous, more surprisingly.

Day-To-Day Eating

Being wheat-free is easiest when you’re preparing your own food. For me, the hardest part was cutting out pasta (although I discovered I liked rice pasta, I don’t really use it that often). Since I was preparing all of my meals from scratch, it wasn’t hard to avoid bread or flour. If you find that you eat a lot of ready-made meals, you’re going to have to change that!

Shopping will be difficult at first. You will have to check the labels on a lot of items! Some things don’t have gluten but do have wheat (it’s a method of processing or something), and I still react to it (Pringles being the example that springs to mind). Obviously some things don’t contain wheat, like fruit, vegetables and unprocessed meat and fish, but check EVERYTHING else. I still get caught out – M&S baking powder has wheat flour in, even though Dr. Oetker’s doesn’t.

Eating Out

More complicated is eating out. Most places don’t know much about eating wheat-free. I usually just say gluten-free, as it’s easier. It’s best to tell the person when making a reservation, and they can advise you on what best to do. Brasserie Blanc, for example, has a special gluten-free menu that they will bring to you.

Things to watch out for:

Italian. Obviously no pasta or pizza (or even the salad – croutons!)

Chinese. Most dishes have soy sauce, most varieties of which contain wheat (look out for Tamari, it’s one without) also, check what the noodles are made from.

British traditional fare. Gravy is often thickened with flour.

Indian and Thai tend to be okay.

Eating at friend’s houses can also be a cause for concern – it feels awful, you’ll feel horribly picky and self-conscious and paranoid, but, ultimately, it’s your health. My friends know that I’m wheat intolerant and ask me if I can eat specific things.

Image thanks to evil erin


I love baking. It’s what I do to relax!! So not being able to use wheat flour if I want to eat what I make was a big problem. Some recipes are obviously wheat-free, like flapjack or flourless chocolate cake! Others can be converted by using a different type of flour. I learnt that there are many types of flour and that the best results are gained by mixing flours, such as sorghum, rice, millet, cornmeal, buckwheat, coconut… Although these can be expensive, I’d advise looking in Asian supermarkets.

Not all recipes convert easily. I’ve not tried to make bread yet, because it relies so much on the gluten in wheat. Also, the only sponge I made was with Dove’s Farm wheat-free self-raising blend. It was good, but the flour mix is expensive. Generally, the recipes which convert best are those which involve lower proportions of flour and no “rising” when cooking. Brownie converts really well! Xanthan gum is weird but add a teaspoon to the flour mix and whisk well and it helps to “stick” cake and biscuit mixes together.

I’m no expert in wheat-free baking, but the Internet is an absolute Godsend and a few sites which I’ve found really helpful are:

Karina’s Kitchen. She has several FAQ pages for those who’ve just started being gluten free!

Ginger Lemon Girl

Gluten Free Girl

If you’re a baker, you will have to accept that not every recipe will work, and that trial and error is a big part of it. I regularly have to process my cake failures, giving me cake crumbs which I freeze and make into cheesecake, but trial and error is the way we learn and it’s still fun.


In general, I would only recommend going totally wheat-free if you really have to – for me, I can tell if there’s wheat in something, even if it’s only small amounts. You might be different and either, not benefit at all, or benefit from just cutting out some wheat from your daily menu (e.g. don’t have shredded wheat for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner!). We’re all different when it comes to diet, but I hope that this article raises more awareness about wheat-intolerance.

A note from Megan - Thanks so much for this Claire, really insightful and useful, first-hand advice! If anyone else has something to share on the topic of diet, health and fitness, we'd really love to hear about it! Get in touch:


Sherin said...

I love claires blog. This is a very interesting article. I don't think I could go wheat free though.

Absolutely Not Martha said...

just discovered your blog and thought you may like to check mine out some time. :)

Her Heatherness said...

I just wanted to thank you for posting this. I've been eating gluten free for one and a half years now. This article was really good, and I appreciate that you're raising awareness on it, even though your blog is not a food related one.

(Another good gluten/wheat free blog is Gluten Free Mommy - like Karina's Kitchen, she has a lot of helpful articles and the recipes I've tried have been very tasty.)

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