Wheat, Gluten, Grain, Starch Intolerances

This appendix includes:

  • Summary of different types of problems with digesting carbohydrates
  • General tips on GF and SF baking
  • Ways to combine flours to get a better texture
  • Some possible combinations

Different types of problems

You may have been put on a special diet by your health practitioner or you might have just figured out yourself that you feel bad when you eat bread or other grains. There are a number of problems with wheat, grains, and with carbohydrate foods in general. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Wheat intolerance:

  • Specifically a reaction to some component of the wheat. If this is the only issue, you would be able to eat other gluten grains and other carbs.
  • Or you might react specifically to any other carb food (or any other food for that matter)

Gluten intolerance:

  • A bad reaction to the gluten part of the wheat. Also react to the gluten in spelt, kamut, triticale, rye and barley. May also be sensitive to oats.
  • There are many indicators of gluten intolerance including problems with digestion, weight, fertility and autoimmune disease.

Starch intolerance:

An inability to completely break down starches into sugars. These undigested starches then create problems.

Foods to avoid include:

  • grains (eg. bread, pasta, baking, rice, flour, cereals)
  • legumes (eg. peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • roots and root vegetables (eg. arrowroot, tapioca, potatoes, kumera)
  • some fruits (eg. unripe banana)
  • and processed foods, which often have modified starches added

You may or may not be able to tolerate simple sugars, honey, maple syrup, lactose (in milk) and fruit, and later on alcohol

Conditions that can respond favourably to a low starch diet include digestive issues, Chrohns disease, colitis, autism, and autoimmune diseases such as ankylosing spondylitis

There are some good books on starch free diets. They have slightly different guidelines on what foods are allowed, but are mostly pretty similar:

  • Breaking The Vicious Cycle, by Elaine Gottschall. This diet is known as the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet)
  • Gut and Psychology Syndrome, by Natasha Campbell McBride. This diet is known as GAPS, and eliminates everything eliminated by the SCD, plus all casein (ie all dairy except ghee) in the initial stages
  • The New IBS Low Starch Diet, by Carol Sinclair. Unlike the other two, this is not a whole food diet, and includes some foods that are starch free but not really healthy.

Carbohydrate Addiction:

This is explained in depth in The Carbohydrate Addicts diet by Rachel & Richard Heller

The premise here is that Carb Addicts don’t process insulin properly. Too much insulin is excreted with each meal (specifically each time carbs are eaten) so that some is left in the blood stream. This prevents the normal release of serotonin, which is what triggers satisfaction with your meal. Consequently you keep eating.

If you have weight issues and feel that you are addicted to high starch foods, this could be you. Though note that not every overweight person is a carb addict, and not every carb addict is overweight.

In this case, you not only need to avoid starches, but simple sugars as well, such as fruit, fruit juice, sugar in all forms, alcohol.

The good news is that the Hellers have had great success with people limiting their carbs to one meal a day. This appears to break the insulin cycle without having to go completely carb free.


You may not have a specific intolerance, but may need to restrict carbs due to overgrowth of candida albicans, or other gut flora imbalances. Once this is corrected, you may be able to eat moderate amounts of carbohydrate with no problems.

Metabolic incompatibility:

Humans have only been eating grains for about 10,000 years. When grains became a major part of the diet, human health declined and disorders such as arthritis began to appear.

Many writers believe that we have not yet adapted to eat grains, and are better suited in general to a Hunter Gatherer type diet

Some examples are:

  • Bob McFerran’s Hunter Gatherer diet – excludes grain, but includes legumes and some root vegetables
  • Life Without Bread by Christian Allan & Wolfgang Lutz – recommends that carb intake, from all sources, be limited to 72 grains of useable carbs (ie. excluding the fibre) per day
  • Dr Mercola’s No Grain diet – excludes grains and potatoes, for anyone who is overweight or in poor health
  • Paleo diets in general – exclude grains, legumes, potatoes, dairy, sugar and salt

For all of these diet restrictions

You can start with a good basic diet that includes meat, organ meats, poultry, fish, stock, eggs, some dairy, good fats, non starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds. Stocks, good fats and fermented vegetables are especially helpful foods, if you have any kind of digestive difficulties. If you’re eating unprocessed foods, it’s just the extras you need to watch out for. The good news is that there are now lots of options for restricted diets.

There are quite a lot of recipes around for gluten free breads and baking. But they don’t include soaking the flour, and some of the other ingredients are not whole foods. The mixes or recipes that are made up solely of refined starches such as white rice flour, potato starch or tapioca don’t need soaking and can be eaten as a compromise food. But remember that although they are safe for gluten intolerant people to eat, they don’t have a lot of nutritional value, and are not usually safe for people who are starch intolerant.

For the whole food cook who wants to bake gluten or starch free and nutrient rich, a lot of experimenting needs to be done. Luckily I’ve done some of that for you! In this course, I’ve included a number of wheat-free, gluten-free or starch-free recipes. If you want to try others, below are some suggestions that may help.

I have called a recipe starch free (SF) if it excludes grains, legumes, sugars and starchy vegetables. It may still have honey or fruit, and you will need to check whether any of the other flavourings are on your personal “avoid” list.

Remember, you are the expert on what foods you can have. These recipes are guidelines, but it’s your responsibility to check that each one is in line with your OK foods.

General Tips

Gluten holds moisture and binds food, so when you remove this, things start to unravel. This is why it is so important to include a binder so the end result will be successful. It seems to be best to use 2 or more gluten free flours together when substituting them from wheat flour. A mixture of GF flours gives a better texture and flavour than just one on its own. When baking it is good to have 2 grainy or crumbly flours and a binding one. But there are some recipes that will work well successfully with only one flour.

  • When using a combination of GF flours it is essential to mix them thoroughly first before adding other ingredients
  • Certain combinations of flours work differently from recipe to recipe. A certain combination may work well in a pancake recipe, but may not be as successful in a spongy cake.
  • GF mixtures need to be wetter for cakes and muffins and drier for biscuits
  • GF baking sticks to the baking surface so use baking paper or grease tin well
  • GF products are better when baked at a slightly lower temperature for a longer period of time.
  • When making biscuits chill the mixture for 1/2 hour before cooking and they will be easier to handle
  • When making pastry press the dough into the dish instead of trying to roll it out, this saves time and frustration!
  • Non-gluten flours are heavier than those with gluten and take longer to cook. To help them rise, add 1 tsp guar gum or 1 tsp pectin for each cup of flour.
  • Not all baking powders are gluten free. A suitable replacement for 1 tsp baking powder is ½ tsp cream of tartar, plus ¼ tsp baking soda.

Starch free is even more restrictive and your best bets are:

  • Coconut flour
  • Nut flours

You may be able to tolerate guar or xantham gum, but probably not. Other foods you can use in baking are:

  • Baking soda
  • Honey
  • Dr Natasha likes to use dates in GAPS baking as a sweetener
  • Spices
  • Ripe banana, apple sauce or mashed pumpkin as a binder
Choose 2 of the crumbly or grainy flours: Add a binding flour: And/or use 1-2 of these binders: Optional: Add 1-2 of these for extra flavour & texture & lower carb ratio
Potato flour
Potato starch**
Tapioca flour**
Pea and pulse flours*** Note that many gluten free recipes use soy, but it’s not a whole food
Guar gum*
Xantham gum*
Linseed gel
Ground sesame seeds
Ground flaxseed
Ground crispy nuts Ground almonds*
* Some people find brown rice hard to digest. White rice is easier and often used. While easier to digest, and fairly low allergy, it is pure starch and not high in nutrients.

** A common allergen, and also needs to be soaked in lime water, rather than acids

*** See notes below

* Buckwheat can be sprouted, dried and then ground into flour that doesn’t need further soaking. But if you use ready bought buckwheat flour, it will need to be soaked.

** Like white rice, these are very refined and are pure starch. For the occasional cake, these are fine, but for breads eaten frequently, choose more nutrients dense flours

*** Use in small quantities only, as they are better soaked

* Some people react to guar gum, so xantham is better. If you also react to that, try pectin. If still no go, try without it, it will just be a little heavier. * While many gluten free recipes use ground almonds, remember they are not soaked so the anti-nutrients aren’t neutralised. Ground seeds are better.

Some notes about coconut flour:

  • It’s a starch free, high fibre flour, and makes a good range of starch / gluten free foods.
  • It can be a bit dry in some recipes, so I sometimes combine it with almond flour
  • For a full range of recipes, I recommend buying Cooking with Coconut flour by Bruce Fife

Some other possibilities, not commonly available in New Zealand, include teff, sorghum, montina (Indian rice) and mesquite (which is low carb).

Some possible substitutes for 1 cup of wheat flour:

My favourite combinations:

  • For a whole grain, soaked flour recipe: a mixture of buckwheat and amaranth soaked, then arrowroot, and either ground almonds or ground seeds added later
  • For a grain free mix: ground crispy nuts + coconut flour + arrowroot
  • For a lighter mix: white rice, arrowroot and ground almonds

In New Zealand, there are some baking mixes available:

  • Healtheries Simple range has a Bread mix and a general baking mix. The bread mix is suitable for making a basic white bread, and can be used in the recipe in Lesson 4. I haven’t tested the baking mix, but a friend uses it for GF brownies, which are very popular (though not whole foods!).
  • The range I prefer is Gluten Free Goodies www.glutenfreegoodies.co.nz/ who have a range of different mixes. I’ve only tested the Cake and Biscuit mix so far, which is good. They have many recipes on their site, and sell ready made products such as biscuits.

Combinations recommended by other GF cooks:

  • 1 cup kamut flour OR 3/4 cup spelt flour – some people who can’t tolerate wheat can have kamut or spelt. The gluten is more delicate and needs less kneading.
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 1 cup corn flour
  • 7/8 Cup rice flour
  • 1/2 cup arrowroot starch
  • 5/8 cup potato starch flour OR tapioca flour
  • 1/2 cup rice + 1/2 cup maize
  • 1 c maize + 1 tbsp millet flour
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat OR quinoa + 1/2 cup potato starch
  • 3/4 cup amaranth flour + 1/4 cup potato flour OR tapioca starch
  • 3/4 cup quinoa + 1/4 cup tapioca starch OR arrowroot

And if you want to avoid flour completely, here are top tips from Chef Craig Roger.