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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    How Safe is Quinoa for a Celiacs on a Gluten-free Diet?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 08/03/2012 - Quinoa is a highly nutritious grain from the Andes, with low concentrations of prolamins. Even though it is regularly recommended as part of a gluten-free diet, few studies have been done, and there is scant data to support this recommendation.

    Photo: CC--Emily BarneyA team of researchers recently evaluated quinoa together with millet, sorghum and wheat. The research team included Victor F. Zevallos, H. Julia Ellis, Tanja Šuligoj, L. Irene Herencia, and Paul J. Ciclitira. They are affiliated with the Division of Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences, Department of Gastroenterology at King's College London, United Kingdom, and the Departamento de Producción Vegetal at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, in Spain.


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    The study was supported by the Food Standards Agency PG1017 of the Clinical Research Trust, and the European Commission QLK1-CT-2002-02077.

    The team wanted to determine the amount of celiac-toxic prolamin epitopes in various quinoa strains from different regions of the Andes, along with the ability of these epitopes to trigger immune responses in patients with celiac disease.

    For their test, the team used 15 cultivars of quinoa provided by Irene Herencia in coordination with the germoplasm bank at INIA Peru, millet and sorghum provided by F Janssen of the regional food inspection service in Zuppen, Netherlands, and peptic/tryptic digested wheat gliadin donated by Herbert Wieser German Institute for Food Chemistry in Garching, Germany.

    They measured the concentration of celiac-toxic epitopes using murine monoclonal antibodies against gliadin and high-molecular-weight glutenin subunits.

    To assess immune response, they conducted proliferation assays of celiac small intestinal T cells/interferon-γ (IFN-γ) and production of IFN-γ/IL-15 after organ culture of celiac duodenal biopsy samples.

    Of the fifteen quinoa strains tested, the researchers found that four strains had measurable concentrations of celiac-toxic epitopes, but that these levels were below the maximum permitted for a gluten-free food.

    Notably, the Ayacuchana and Pasankalla strains triggered T cells at levels similar to those for gliadin and caused secretion of cytokines from cultured biopsy samples at levels comparable with those for gliadin.

    The end result was that most quinoa strains are safe for celiacs, and do not possess measurable amounts of celiac-toxic epitopes. However, 2 strains do contain celiac-toxic proteins that might trigger adverse immune responses in some patients with celiac disease.

    Because so many people with celiac disease turn to quinoa as an important source of nutrients, more study is needed to determine if all strains are safe, or if certain strains need to be avoided.

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    Ayacuchana is a Peruvian variety and the Pasankalla grows both in Peru and Bolivia. I believe the positive results were due to samples cross contaminated at the source. Because quinoa from Ecuador and Peru grow in fields that are rotated with other crops (wheat, barley, oats, potatoes), some of which are allergens, that quinoa most often carries fragments of wheat or barley (per our studies). Bolivian Royal quinoa grows in areas where there are no other viable crops and as such do not carry any cross-contaminants.

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    Yet again another article mentioning an allowable amount determined by those without celiac disease. I cannot tolerate any amount and have a hard time choosing gluten-free foods that are truly gluten-free. I have had quinoa that didn't make me sick, but I also had some that made me very sick. No thanks!

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    Yet again another article mentioning an allowable amount determined by those without celiac disease. I cannot tolerate any amount and have a hard time choosing gluten-free foods that are truly gluten-free. I have had quinoa that didn't make me sick, but I also had some that made me very sick. No thanks!

    Me too. I quit all grains and other foods as well. I can't tolerate them as well.

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    As usual, Jefferson found the most interesting thing to write about! Thanks for the info and study, Jefferson... it's going to make eating quinoa a little less secure for me for a while, but I'm glad to know about the study.

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    Guest Muriel MacArthur

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    I am very sensitive to gluten, but I have never had a problem with quinoa. I live in the USA. Would this make a difference? I notice the studies were done in England.

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    Thanks - I came here today because I was feeling quite ill with intestinal issues. I was at a retreat center yesterday who served glue free food - but quinoa was served, and then today I had chips with quinoa and I then got really sick. Anyway, it has been a long time since I've had a gluten type of reaction I have been gluten-free for 12 years... I think this is what is going on with me today.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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