Is Being Gluten-Intolerant an American Problem?

One reader asks why gluten-intolerance is so prevalent in America, but not in Europe.

| August/September 2013

I recently had a puzzling experience and wonder whether you might be able to shed some light on it. Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly unable to eat wheat without experiencing significant gastrointestinal distress, and I’ve been eating a gluten-free diet for about two years as a result.

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Hungary and succumbed to the temptation of eating some irresistibly fabulous, crusty European bread. I figured I’d pay the price but that it would be worth it. However, nothing happened. By the end of the trip I was feasting on croissants, thin-crust pizza, layer cake and giant pretzels, and though my clothes are tighter, my digestive system was completely unaffected. In fact, it felt better than it had in a long time.

A quick Google search turned up many similar stories of those in the United States who believed they were gluten-intolerant but had no trouble eating wheat in Europe.

Why are so many Americans gluten-intolerant now? Is something going on with our wheat supply? Is the problem even gluten, or is it the wheat itself? Could it be the varieties grown here, or the way it’s processed? Surely it’s not normal for so many people to develop this problem over such a short period of time.

Any chance you could look into this? I and many others would be most grateful.

Carolyn Welch
Lawrence, Kansas

1/9/2018 8:21:17 AM

Could it be how the US treats the wheat before harvesting? Large agriculture douses wheat with pesticides to enhance priduction RIGHT BEFORE harvesting........ European farming practice is very different from ours.

10/11/2017 2:22:23 PM

So, I recently returned from a two week vacation in Italy where I was able to eat just about anything and feel normal for once. It was absolute pleasure to feel good for once! I kept track of what I was eating and any effects, so that once I returned back to the U.S., I could try to stay to a similar diet. Upon returning, within 24 hours, I started getting facial rashes that I had had some times before and within 48 hours, the bloating started too. I quickly felt hopeless and like there is no way I can live here in the U.S. anymore. When I went grocery shopping for the first time back, I bought only Italian goods and organic produce. I even emailed companies too to check that they really are using 100% Italian flour and wow was I surprised that the De Cecco we had used for years was from about 5 different countries, including the U.S.! I will never buy it again. I started feeling better for a while while eating only Italian gluten foods (Jovial makes good crackers & cookies and Costco sells an organic pasta pac) but I once in a blue moon had a bit of American gluten (eating out, at get-togethers) and slowly started adding back parmesan reggiano (Italian of course!) and I feel that maybe I should nix all dairy to feel the best. I've had to also scan my supplements and skincare for hidden gluten (made in a facility with gluten, dairy, etc.) I also took note of what a typical Italian's daily diet was (not only did we eat at restaurants, but also stayed some days with friends, family) when we were in Italy this last time. YES, they eat carbs (PASTA!), croissants, sweets, espresso, cappuccino, meats, seafood, parmesan reggiano, but they also do NOT go crazy on snacks (like our 'healthy' bars here, etc) or eat tons of those 'heallthy' veggies like kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, that would give people a hard time with digestion. They eat some veggies, like chicory, zucchini, eggplant, salad, etc. and of course - whatever is IN SEASON. Most of it too is local. They eat little dairy, maybe a little mozzarella in a salad or on pizza and Parmesan, but not drinking milk all day or rich dairy foods. They drink wine and digestives. Remember, Sardegna is a 'Blue Zone' country and of course they are eating pasta! And drinking wine! Hope this helps many who read this. We MUST avoid AMERICAN wheat/gluten to stay healthy. And maybe for some eliminating ALL gluten is key, but just go to Italy for a short time even and you should notice too how many carbs you can enjoy too! It's extremely hard to live here with this problem. I hope things could turn around one day, but I'm not hopeful.

olivier wa
9/15/2017 6:17:48 PM

An amazing thing happened for our family this summer. For the “get to the point” people here is the short version: - American wheat is so messed up that many people have issues with it. (note: this is true in France too with the wheat used for the baguette) - You can probably eat “normal” pasta (i.e. not rice, etc..) if you buy one of these brands or others that you know are using Italian wheat: o Del Cecco o Garofalo – sold at Costco in packs of 6 o Rummo - My cousin and her husband’s favorite brand (they live in Rome, he is originally from Napoli) NOT Barilla. Since they were purchased by evil Kraft, even Barilla in Italy use American wheat. Longer version… My wife has very serious gluten intolerance. Whether it’s wheat, oat, barley… if she eats it she gets quickly bloated, and if she insists it even flares up on her face. She can’t baguette or any bread when we’re in France either. We spent several weeks in Italy this summer. She caved and decided to eat pasta after a couple of days. To her surprise she did not have any reaction at all. She tried again, and again. Nothing! After 1 month in Italy, eating pasta, even Pizzas, now back here for more than a month eating the brands above she still is doing just fine. And we’re talking maybe eating pasta 4-7 times a week for 2 months after 3-4 a year for 15 years !!! We had the ah-ah moment when my cousin (the one we met in Rome) told me that they stopped using Barilla years ago when it got purchased by Kraft and they switched to US wheat. They could see the difference in cooking time and texture (no gluten intolerance on their end, was just a texture and flavor issue). Just before going to Italy I had seen a report on French TV about a farmer/baker reviving old wheat strains to make bread and that his flour had not been approved for bread making because the gluten content was not high enough. He basically said “the hell with this”, and just opened his own boulangerie where he makes his own bread from a blend of his wheat strains. Adding both information it was clear that these GMO and/or bred wheat strains with their single gluten type at a high level were the cause for my wife’s ailments. Oh, and while you’re at it: only by “00” flour for Pizza making, not the crappy “bread flour” or things like these in store. Same story, much better gluten wise.

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