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Wheat: a grain that makes you bloat?

January 3, 2024 - By Anick Vézina

Temps de lecture 6 minutes

In recent years, the “no bread, no pasta” trend has grown in popularity. A 2022 survey revealed that the Canadian population considers that to eat healthily, it’s best to restrict carbohydrate intake. Many people wonder about the impact of wheat products on digestion. We often hear that wheat is bad, pro-inflammatory, causes bloating, etc. But are these allegations true?

Let’s have a look at this controversial cereal.

A popular cereal

Wheat is one of the three most widely produced cereals in the world. In 2021, Canada was the world’s 4th largest producer of this popular grain. Hard wheat is used more for bread and pasta production and contains more protein. Soft wheat, on the other hand, contains less protein. Its flour is preferred in the production of baked goods such as cakes, cookies, muffins, and crackers.

There are many varieties and cereals derived from wheat, such as Kamut, triticale (a hybrid obtained by crossing wheat and rye flours), bulgur (cracked wheat), spelt and farro. Most of the time, wheat is consumed in the form of pasta, semolina (couscous), flour, bran/germ, breakfast cereals/hot cereals and crackers. It is also found in many commercially processed foods (salad croutons, seitan, breadcrumbs, beer, sauces, seasonings, croutons).

Who reacts to wheat?

Wheat allergy

Allergic reactions are adverse reactions that occur when the immune system overreacts to a particular allergen. A wheat allergy occurs in those who react abnormally to wheat proteins (about 0.2% of the Canadian population). The spectrum of symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, from cutaneous (red patches on the skin, itching, swelling) to respiratory (coughing, shortness of breath, throat constriction, nasal congestion, runny nose) to gastrointestinal (nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea). A medical diagnosis of wheat allergy is obtained by means of blood tests, skin tests and, if necessary, provocation tests under the supervision of an allergist.

Celiac disease

A distinction must be made between wheat allergy and celiac disease. A person diagnosed with celiac disease (an autoimmune disease affecting around 1% of the Canadian population) reacts more specifically to a group of proteins from the same family contained in wheat and several other cereals (prolamins and glutenins). The body defends itself against these proteins, causing inflammation of the intestinal wall. This inflammation affects the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients efficiently, putting us at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies. Symptoms of celiac disease include digestive issues such as bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, gastroesophageal reflux and/or vomiting. Joint pain may also be experienced.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity

In contrast to celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity involves a series of gastrointestinal symptoms when gluten-containing products are consumed, which are similar to the symptoms observed in individuals with celiac disease, but with negative test results for celiac disease and wheat allergy. The inflammatory reaction within the body does not occur, but there are uncomfortable digestive symptoms. Current studies in Western countries estimate the prevalence of this condition at between 0.5 and 10% of the population.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Individuals suffering from irritable bowel syndrome may also experience unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms (bloating, gas, cramps, diarrhea, constipation), but these tend to be in response to a particular family of carbohydrates from a variety of foods. Foods containing fructans include many cereals (including wheat), onions, garlic, and certain fruits and vegetables. Irritable bowel syndrome is a complex condition, involving a lengthy diagnostic process and rigorous follow-up with a dietitian-nutritionist. Learn more in our article Mood swings associated with the intestine (such as IBS).

To avoid or not to avoid?

Wheat poses no risk to people without celiac disease, wheat allergy or gluten-related disorders. For individuals with no medical indication, there is no credible evidence that reducing wheat in the diet is beneficial.

On the contrary, it’s a cereal that, in its whole form, is packed with beneficial nutrients! To name but a few:

  • Starch, an important source of energy for the body
  • Dietary fiber, which helps maintain good intestinal health and regularity, regulates cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and helps prevent certain cancers.
  • Proteins, which help us feel fuller and repair muscle, skin and nail cells.
  • Group B vitamins, which contribute to the transformation of food into energy, to the body’s many essential metabolic reactions and to the production of blood cells.
  • Vitamin E, which helps maintain immunity and has an antioxidant function.
  • Multiple minerals such as iron, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and zinc.

Self-diagnosis, a good idea?

I have no diagnosis, but when I eat bread and pasta, I often feel bloated after eating them…Am I gluten intolerant? Do I have an allergy?

Don’t jump to conclusions! There are many possible reasons and confounding factors related to diet (or others) that can explain digestive difficulties. In general, a few periods of bloating here and there after meals is nothing abnormal and part of the digestive process. If you suffer from recurrent, troublesome digestive symptoms for which you don’t know the source, or if you’ve just received a new medical diagnosis of allergy/intolerance, guidance from a dietitian-nutritionist will help you personalize your diet and find strategies to minimize your symptoms. A nutritionist will also be able to offer you nutrient-rich cereal alternatives to replace wheat if you need to remove it from your diet.


Wheat: a grain that makes you bloat? is a post from Nautilus Plus. The Nautilus Plus blog aims to help people in their journey to fitness through articles on training, nutrition, motivation, exercise and healthy recipes.
Copyright © Nautilus Plus 2024

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