The Difference Between Gluten-Free and Wheat-Free

by Carrie

in Tips & Tricks

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions on both the blog and our Facebook community about the difference between a wheat-free diet and a gluten-free diet.

I felt I needed to elaborate on the answer to this question. It is a longer answer than can be said in the comment section.

First off, I am gluten-free!

I was diagnosed with Celiacs disease 5 years ago, and thus a strict gluten free diet is my new life plan.

With my diagnosis came mixed reactions to packaged gluten free foods and a desire to bake really good gluten free foods. (That’s what Wheat Free Mom is all about: just because you’re gluten-free, DOESN’T MEAN your food should taste anything less than delicious!)

That is how this blog happened. I was frustrated at times and so happy at times and wanted to share this with you all.

When I found a gluten free recipe that tasted so good, I wanted to weep, and sharing these with others has been a blessing for me. I knew others were out in this world like me.

They too, wanted to make a warm batch of gluten-free muffins….

gluten free muffins

A chocolate dessert to wow your company (gluten-free cupcakes)…

gluten free cupcakes

A savoury gluten-free pizza

gluten free heart pizza

A pile of gluten-free buttermilk pancakes for Sunday morning

gluten free buttermilk pancakes

So I started the blog Wheat free Mom with my son back in August 2009. (Crazy how far the blog has come!)

Why wheat-free and not gluten-free?

Simply: gluten-free mom was taken and so I became Wheat Free Mom.

Gluten-Free vs. Wheat-Free

First off, they are NOT the same.

Gluten is the protein found in many grains including wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats.

Celiacs disease is a medical condition, an autoimmune response to gluten.

If you have Celiacs disease even a small amount of gluten is harmful. It damages the surface of the small intestine resulting in poor absorption of nutrients (protein, fat, vitamins and minerals) which are necessary for good health.

The treatment for Celiacs disease is a strict adherence to a gluten-free diet for life!

What is Wheat-Free?

Basically… avoiding all products that list wheat as an ingredient.

Some ingredients are obvious, such as wheat, wheat bran and whole-wheat.

Less obvious ingredients are couscous, bulgur, semolina, durum and kamut.

Rye, spelt, barley and Oats are wheat-free but not gluten-free.

My recipes are all gluten free, which means they are also than wheat free.

Most wheat-free recipes contain some sort of gluten so they are NOT gluten free.

A food labelled “wheat-free” is safe for someone with a wheat allergy, but NOT for someone with celiacs disease or gluten sensitivity.

This is why it’s INCREDIBLY important that you take time to educate yourself on the differences AND the various ingredients to watch out for. It’s also a great reason to focus on non-processed foods and to cook for yourself as much as possible so you can ensure your meals are going to be clean.

I feel like I’m getting long winded in answering the question.

Simply: Gluten-free will be wheat free BUT wheat free will not be gluten free, unless it is labelled gluten free.

For me, I have a medical condition called celiacs disease, and for the rest of my life I will be following a gluten free diet. I am extremely sensitive to gluten so I am very careful where I eat and what I eat.

I appreciate all the discussion lately about wheat-free and gluten-free and I hope I’ve answered some of the questions. Again, I am not a doctor so please consult a doctor regarding your health issues.

Our bodies are all unique and what one person can easily digest is not necessarily the same for someone else.

Ask questions and seek professional medical help if you are having any health issues.

Lastly, again, ALL recipes on Wheat Free Mom will be both gluten and wheat free.

P.S. Congratulations to Kristin who won the latest giveaway!

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Ummi's House February 18, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Awesome article. I am new to Wheat Free and blogging for that matter and just wrote a post today about this topic. I loved your explanation, it actually helped give me some clarity. All of your recipes look so delicious, but I avoid them due to the use of starches/flours that cause a spike in blood sugar.

diane bolt February 18, 2013 at 5:07 pm

thank you so much for avaiable information and i must at 67 i’m still learning about this gluten free and wheat free,1980 i was told i has IBS, i suffered so much had to be so careful ,after 10 years later it was better,i still not aware of gluten free products then,
20 years later i was sick again did more testing now i have celiac, wow my doctor is very pleased i’m taking control of my health i can’t thank you enough

Rochelle @ WheatlessRochelle.com February 18, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Thank you! I get the same questions about my blog, too. WheatlessRochelle just *sounded* better than GlutenlessRochelle. :)

Jenn February 18, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Thank you for this post! I do not have Celiacs but have terrible issues since my gallbladder came out, I have colitis but my GI also suspects Crohns. I have had a wheat and dairy intolerance since I was a child, but never really paid much attention until my body forced me to. Bottom line is, as someone who avoids wheat I CAN eat the occasional bite of cake, but really do notice a difference for the better when I am gluten free. In many ways being wheat free has it’s own set of challenges because without really paying attention to ingredients, it is easy to get into trouble. In some ways, sticking to GF starting out makes it easier, at least until you get the hang of things. I don’t find a lot of products labeled “wheat free.” Finding dairy free is equally as challenging.

Thanks for your great posts! Your blog was one of the first GF ones I found and I am so grateful for the community of fellow people who have to follow a strict diet. It is nice to feel like other people “get it” even if they are hundreds of miles away.

Yvonne February 18, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Great article! I have been meaning to ask you a question. Do you have any recipes or ideas for things that are only “wheat” free but do contain barley & rye. I’ve never tried to use just the two, they are kind of heavy on there own. My daughter needs to eat “wheat free” for one week for an upcoming test.

Victoria Adams February 18, 2013 at 7:25 pm

great article and clear explanation.

Magda Blumenthal February 18, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Great article! I do know that if you are gluten intollerant, you must stay away from wheat as well. I do have Celiac disease and must be very careful of what I eat. I do have a question though, is there the slightest possibility to try gluten products later in life without getting sick or is it really terminal?
I sit with the spasms as well and can hardly sleep when I do digest gluten. That makes me very attentive of what I eat and drink. Thanks for what you share, it is very helpful. Have an awesome day!

Lynne February 19, 2013 at 1:07 am

Although I agree with you on some of your points, you are wrong when you say that if something is gluten free it is also wheat free. That very statement from others has caused me problems with my allergies in the past. Look at your gluten free labels carefully. Many gluten free products DO contain wheat. I discovered it myself when I just could not figure out why my skin allergies kept flaring up. I began reading whatever I could get my hands on and found a whole chapter on the subject in THE WHEAT BELLY. A book by William Davis MD. I do not have Celiac disease and I feel for those that do, but wheat causes A LOT of different illnesses including skin irritations. I was born with eczema and I struggled with it for my entire life. I am 51 years old and I am completely cleared up and my skin is finally in a healthy state and has been for a little over a year. It’s incredible to think that all of this time it had to do with Wheat. Unfortunately wheat is in just about everything. If you have not read this book, you’ve missed a good one. I recommend it to anyone that has an underlining health issue, including auto immune.

Sharon February 19, 2013 at 6:47 am

Hi, it is my understanding that Oats do not contain gluten naturally, however, to remain gluten free the oats must be processed in a gluten free facility to avoid contamination. Both Guten and the protein Gliadin (found in peas, etc) are off my list but oats are okay if they are GF Oats. Thanks for a FANTASTIC blog, you have helped me in so many ways…I have fewer disasters and door stops thanks to you and many others out there sharing their culinary knowledge!!

Trusting my gut February 22, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Ditto what Sharon did about oats. There is also risk of cross contamination from the source if farm equipment is shared. One farmer could use his combine for wheat (or other grains containing gluten) and if he lends his combine to the oat farmer then that batch is at risk.

Having worked in the food industry before we traveled our own GF (and dairy free) path, I had a manager who promised the goods were GF yet knowing what I know now, there is no way that could be promised. Baking the goods in the same pans, using the same utensils and cooling racks – huge risks for cross contamination. I guess that’s why we see so many gluten “friendly” menu’s now with full disclosure that there are no guarantees.

Here is a link to more info on oats if it helps: http://drrodneyford.com/extra/documents/234-oats-safe-to-eat.html

Nadine April 24, 2013 at 9:18 am

Hello!! Just wanted to tell you how creative your blog is. I love the pictures and the simple descriptions. My interest in wheat free started 2.5 years ago when my son was born. He started showing signs of a skin rash that would come and go! So we took him to a allergist. They pricked him with the patch tests and found he is #7 allergic to wheat and peanuts/tree nuts. So we tested this ourselves by limiting the amount of wheat products he consumed and didn’t dare let him go near peanuts!! But since then we have relaxed ourselves and know now its just eczema a reaction to the wheat he eats. So his rashes stay in the same spots too. He knows he has this problem which makes it easy to keep going. We give him only rice cereals (now they manufactures are producing more brand name choices). I have tried some wheat/gluten free products and tried baking too!! So many crappy ones! So far we haven’t found any good ones. I am looking forward to trying the blueberry muffins, just have to get some tapioca starch. My son enjoys all kinds of foods now and we just limited the amount of breads and goodies he eats. Keep lots of itchy cream around the house!! We also found out for ourselves that THANK GOODNESS he is not deathly allergic to peanuts or tree nuts. We keep him from eating peanuts.

Carrie April 24, 2013 at 11:28 am

You are welcome. I too had excema plus asthma as a kid. My excema(30 yrs)actually went away after going gluten free and also dairy free for a year. Of course I a still gluten free because of Celiacs disease. Have had no flare-ups of excema since diagnosis.

Richelle December 4, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Thank you very much for taking the time give this detailed answer – it quickly answered questions I’ve been searching the internet for…. this will help me a great deal with my 6 year old.

Steph January 1, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Oats are gluten free however they usually are processed along with wheat containing grains and that results in contamination. You can purchase gluten free oats :)

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