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Veganism and Wheat Intolerance

Answered by Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

Q: I’m a vegan but have also been told not to eat wheat due to an intolerance. However, I’m finding it very hard to get the right nutrients and find foods that I can eat that don’t contain wheat or dairy. What do you recommend?

A: Unless you have been medically diagnosed with an intolerance to wheat, I suggest you reintroduce it into your diet and see your GP for advice and get a proper diagnosis from a qualified doctor. All too often, people are told to avoid wheat without good reason and this can have a serious impact on their intake of nutrients.

A vegan diet alone needs careful planning to ensure that you get all the nutrients you need for good health – and adding further restrictions to this can make it even more difficult. This is especially the case if you’re also trying to avoid wheat, as many wheat-containing products such as cereals, bread and pasta can make an important contribution to intakes of vitamins and minerals in a vegan diet.

In particular, you should ensure that you get a good intake of iron from plant foods to prevent iron-deficiency anaemia. Many breakfast cereals such as branflakes have iron added to them, making them an important part of a vegan diet. Nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, dried fruit and green leafy veg also contain some iron so you should make sure you also eat plenty of these. To maximise the amount of iron your body gets from these foods, combine them with vitamin-C rich foods such as unsweetened orange juice, kiwi fruit, berries, peppers and tomatoes.

As you don’t eat dairy foods, you also need to make sure you’re getting enough bone-building calcium. Soya products that are enriched with calcium can make an important contribution to intakes of this mineral, but you should also eat other calcium-rich foods such as white bread (white flour is fortified with calcium), green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, nuts, seeds, beans, dried fruit and oranges. However, bear in mind that the calcium in these foods is less well absorbed and used by the body than the calcium in milk and dairy products.

As a safeguard, you may wish to consider taking a daily supplement that provides a range of vitamins and minerals. Make sure it includes vitamin B12, as intakes of this nutrient are often low in people who follow a vegan diet as this vitamin is predominantly found in animal foods, although yeast spreads and fortified cereals both contain vitamin B12.

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