I Am Not Gluten Sensitive – How About You?

free from gluten-free

This is a quick update and follow-up of my Am I Gluten Sensitive? series of articles, where I share with you my reasoning about the phenomenon of non-celiac gluten sensitivity using my own intolerance issue as a leading thread.

I talked of the possible role of fructans in bread as an alternative explanation to mine and many others’ issues with wheat (and related cereals). Now, after finally having been diagnosed by a specialist of nutrition and digestive problems (who I hope to be able to interview for you guys soon), I found out that:

1) I don’t react primarily to the gluten in wheat;
2) My “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” is truly a form, with its own features, of IBS;
3) The most problematic food compounds are for me resistant starches.

While resistant starches are very common in food of vegetable origin, there are some foods which are very rich in them, and, incidentally, they are just those I had the most issues with since my digestive problems began.

Here a list of some foods with high resistant starch content:

Wheat bran (does not actually contain resistant starch but it makes resistant starch more indigestible)
Uncooked oats
Cold (and eventually reheated) potatoes
Cold (and eventually reheated) pasta
Cold rice (like that in sushi)
Corn starch
Potato starch
Legumes (beans, lentils, green peas, split peas, chickpeas, cashews)
Green bananas
Sweet potatoes
Frozen bread – it has 2 to 12 times the amount of resistant starch found in fresh bread

It was illuminating putting my food intolerance story all together and realize that:

a) I have a familiarity for digestive problems;
b) in my teenage years and my 20’s I overdid it with diet food, full of additives, that increased my predisposition to later develop digestive problems;
c) moving to another country and changing food habits created the final input to precipitate the predisposition into an actual health problem.

To notice that when I had my first “crisis” I was actively trying to further change my food habits, eating more of several of the food items in the list above. At the time, I was in fact trying to become vegan, and I was also trying to follow the dominant trend of eating large amounts of whole-grains, which was unprecedented in my life. Previously, I had been eating the typical Italian diet, which, when it comes to wheat, included good quality, long fermented, and fresh (I didn’t own a micro-wave) white bread. It also included good quality, freshly cooked, and warm (I did not own a micro-wave) white pasta. While it did not include exotic foods like sushi or plantains nor sweet potatoes. Potatoes just occasionally. No oats, which instead are often eaten raw in muesli in Northern Europe. And no rye nor barley.

Most likely, an inflamed colon with an imbalanced gut flora will start giving issues also when eating foods different from those which triggered the initial reaction. That would explain why I started, later on, to have problems with long fermented white bread too, and high gluten content foods, like seitan.

I am still puzzled by the reason why I tolerate one variety of white wheat (Turkey Red) better than the other varieties I tried. But my sample is still quite limited, and it is difficult to test on myself different wheat varieties because most flours (at least those based on modern wheat varieties) are mixes of several different wheat types.

I can think that wheat may vary in resistant starches content… or rather in the amount of enzymes in wheat (ATI) that actually prevents our stomachs from digesting resistant starches. It has been hypothesized that ATIs (Amylase-Trypsin Inhibitors) in wheat have become more and more aggressive in the last 50 years or so, as a spontaneous defense of the plant to pesticides. This means that taking a plant that has been exposed to decades of aggressive farming and cultivating it in a different way (organic farming) may not solve the problem. The ATIs have changed and we don’t know how long it will take to change them back.

But… we still have a few old varieties, which did not undergo the same treatment, to safely eat. More on this in future posts. Of course there is much research to do on these issues, but this may be a good explanation.

This surely makes me stronger in wanting to help promote wheat diversity. As we are all different, and we can develop very complex and peculiar reactions to food. Diversity and accessibility is truly the key. Also… avoiding all fads. Including the whole-grain one, a type of food which can be beneficial to many but may be harmful to some. And lastly, before going gluten-free, try to go deeper in all the range of food items you react to. Your problem may not be the gluten and you may want to know what lies behind your wheat intolerance issues in order to truly eat what’s best for you.

Because, in the end, we all should follow what is best for us. Taking into consideration also what’s best for others (including animals) and the environment, which often means doing a compromise, because all these “best options” may be in conflict with one another.

I will come back with more detailed information, and I am also going to create a page full of references on these topics, which I will update regularly (ehm, my way of “regularly”) for the more insanely interested.

And I can truly say with confidence: keep breading! The way it’s best for you.
For me this means making long fermented bread out of old wheat varieties that have been carefully sifted. I wonder if it could work also for other people affected by wheat intolerance.

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Barbara Elisi

Hi there! I am the "soul" behind Bread & Companatico. My main interest is the preservation of bread tradition and craft, with an eye to health. I hope you are having a good time reading this blog, and please don't be shy to connect with me through comments or emails and do keep on bread-ing! 🙂
2 replies
    • Barbara Elisi
      Barbara Elisi says:

      thanks a lot Karin for the quote (and sorry for the late reply). I so did not like those articles against organic farming. I am not a purist and I am so totally not against modern means of agriculture, but there have been abuses and for us consumers, when the farmer is unknown, the only warranty is the “organic grown” label. as you seem to have grasped really quickly from my short mention to wheat breeding methods and wheat digestibility, damage is likely to have occurred during the long decades of frequent abuses of modern systems. modern is good. unthoughtful use of technology and chemicals is bad, very bad. so stupid to reduce everything, as usual, to a “trend”. like the gluten-free phenomenon. not just a trend, problems are real. solutions are needed.


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