Though nutritionists tout the benefits of whole grains in the diet, introduction of more modern and processed grains has led to an increasing number of reported sensitivities, giving gluten a bad rap. Gluten is a protein composite that is found mainly in wheat, barley, and rye – but it’s also in many processed foods due to cross-contamination. Experts find that many people who think they have a wheat allergy actually have gluten intolerance.

Find out how you can distinguish between celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and wheat allergy, so you could better manage your diet!

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a rare and life-long autoimmune condition triggered by eating foods that contain gluten. Autoimmune responses occur when the body’s immune system mounts an attack against on its own tissues. Those diagnosed are genetically predisposed, and have reached a gluten threshold in their diet that stimulated the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine which, over time, could lead to nutrient malabsorption. Symptoms include anemia, skin rash, abdominal bloating, and weight loss. The most effective way to manage celiac disease is to avoid gluten in your diet.

Gluten Intolerance

Also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance is when ingestion of gluten causes the body to have a stress response that does not involve the immune system. This often results in gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, and diarrhea, but does not lead to intestinal tissue damage. Often, people with gluten intolerance do not have sufficient enzymes in their bodies to digest the amount of gluten consumed, and these symptoms can be avoided by supplementing digestive enzymes, or reducing the gluten in your diet below your intolerance level.

Wheat Allergy

Like most allergies, wheat allergy causes the immune system to respond to a food protein it considers dangerous to the body. This immune response is often temporary and does not cause lasting harm to the small intestine, unless it produces anaphylaxis. Those who have wheat allergies can be affected by a number of proteins that are found in wheat, including gluten. Unlike celiac disease, wheat allergies can be outgrown. Symptoms include skin rash, nasal congestion, headache, difficulty breathing, cramps, nausea or vomiting, and can be avoided with a wheat-free diet.

Celiac DiseaseGluten IntoleranceWheat Allergy
CauseAutoimmune condition with gluten triggerLack of enzymes for gluten digestionSensitive immune system, environmental stresses
DiagnosisBiopsy of small intestine, testing for specific antibodies in the bloodRuling out celiac disease and wheat allergy, alleviation of symptoms with gluten-free dietSkin test, blood test, elimination diet, food challenge testing
Incidence1% worldwideExact number unknown, more and more cases are being reportedExact number unknown due to misidentification
SymptomsDiarrhea, bloating, gas, cramping, bone and joint pain, fatigue, seizures, skin rashes, mouth ulcerationsDiarrhea, bloating, gas, cramping, constipationSkin rash, nasal congestion, headache, difficulty breathing, cramps, nausea or vomiting, anaphylaxis
TreatmentGluten-free dietGluten-free or reduced-gluten diet, digestive enzymesWheat-free diet, antihistamines, epinephrine