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Scott Adams' June 27, 1999 Post Regarding Oats, Gluten-Free Grains and Cross-Contamination

I am always amused by the argument that one grain or another is more likely to be contaminated than another, as I believe the real source of danger for contamination is found at mills and processing plants, and is more or less spread out equally for most gluten-free grains. Oats are often cited as having a higher chance of cross-contamination with wheat than other grains because it is often a rotational crop with wheat or barley, and kernels of these gluten-containing grains occasionally get mixed with the non-gluten grains. I do not understand why the same people who make this claim do no also include soy in this category, as it is one of the crops that is most commonly rotated with wheat.

In any case, from the knowledge that I have gathered over the years about farming and processing grains, I must say that with most grains there is little likelihood of contamination due to the mixing of two different whole grains (i.e., the rotational crop hypothesis). This is due to the different sizes and shapes of different grains, and the machines which sort them after a harvest. If any grains do get mixed together the amount of actual contamination would likely be extremely low.

In Trevor Pizzeys (Vice President of Operations for Can-Oat Milling) October 30, 1998 letter he expresses his belief that celiacs should avoid oats because he finds between 2.1 and 4.1 kernels of barley or wheat in every 4,000 (0.0525% and 0.1025% respectively). He says that this level can legally go up to a maximum level of 10 kernels per 4,000 (0.25%). In either of these scenarios we are talking about very low amounts. Even at these amounts the likelihood that a celiac eating these grains would eat 1 or 2 kernels of wheat or barley on a given day would be very, very low. Also, since most people who eat oatmeal tend to eat the whole oatmeal as a hot cereal, which means they can take very simple additional precautions to make their chances of eating any kernels of wheat or barley practically zero. The obvious way to do this is to look at the oats before you eat them or mill them and pull out any kernels that are of non-oat type.

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Now we turn to the other part of the argument to scare people away from grains that, taken by themselves, do not cause harm to people with celiac disease. This is the wheat dust in the mill (or during transport, or somewhere else) argument. There are many reasons, both health and safety, why mills take steps to keep dust levels down. Dust contamination is still possible, but I think we are also talking about even lower amounts that we were with the occasional kernel of wheat that pops up in oats, although there is no data that I know of to back this up. I think with whole oats (i.e., oatmeal) people can reduce any possible risk of wheat-dust contamination to almost zero by rinsing off their oats well with water before cooking or milling them.

The famous oat study that was done in Finland and published in the NEJM used a source of non-contaminated oats to eliminate any possible factors that could ruin the results of their long and expensive study. It is possible that they could have used regular, uncontrolled Quaker oats for their study and gotten the same results, but again, the reasons for not doing so were to eliminate any possible factors that might affect the results of their study. This is the scientific process, and it is important with any study to eliminate any possible factors which could affect the outcome of the study.

Last, there is a danger of contamination which comes from unclean equipment at mills, and at processing plants. This danger is present with any gluten-free grain, bean, etc., that is milled using the same equipment as is used to mill a gluten-containing grain. In other words we cannot speak of only oats with regard to this issue, as rice flour, soy flour, etc., could be contaminated equally in this way. Aside from legislation to require cleaning between milling runs, those who are worried about this need to buy flours from mills which they have researched and found to be gluten-free, or ones that adequately clean their equipment between runs.

I think contamination issues are real, but need to be put in perspective with regard to other, perhaps more important issues, like labeling laws and getting agreement between the major celiac organizations in this country with regard to which grains are safe.

See Also:
Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Dec. 1997 v97n12p1413(4). Do oats belong in a gluten-free diet? by Tricia Thompson.

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3 Responses:

 
Ann Mittelstaedt
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said this on
05 Mar 2012 5:07:27 PM PDT
Information: The oat grain and the wheat grain are in fact the same size and general shape and therefore cannot be separated by mechanical sorters after harvest. That's why there is a valid issue with these two grains being grown in rotation. Other grains can be sorted out mechanically.

 
Jan Lovern
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said this on
17 Nov 2014 12:37:31 PM PDT
Ok, they should be sorted BEFORE harvest !

 
Meg
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said this on
29 Jan 2013 4:25:28 PM PDT
Thanks for the informative post!




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I am very interested in this too. My daughter tested negative for celiac, but has terrible primarily neurological symptoms. Because she tested positive for SIBO at the time and was having some GI symptoms, I was told it was just a Fodmap issue. I knew better and we have been gluten free for 2 years. Fast forward to this February. She had a SIBO recurrence that I treated at home with diet and herbal antibiotics because I couldn't get the insurance referral. She was doing great. Then stupid me brought in gluten containing chick feed for the new baby chicks we got. Feed dust everywhere. Total mess. Really, no GI symptoms (she was SIBO free by then)...but the neurological symptoms! my daughter couldn't walk for three days. Burning down one leg, nerve pain in the foot. Also heaviness of limbs, headache and fatigue. Better after three days. But unfortunately she had a TINY gluten exposure at that three day mark and had another severe reaction: loss of balance, loss of feeling in her back and arms, couldn't see for a few seconds, and three days of hand numbness, fatigue, concentration problems. Well, I actually contacted Dr. Hadjivassilou by email and he confirmed that the symptoms are consistent with gluten ataxia but any testing would require a gluten challenge. Even with these exposures, antibodies would not be high enough. His suggestion was maintain vigilance gluten free. I just saw my daughter's GI at U of C and she really only recognizes celiac disease and neurological complications of that. But my impression is that gluten ataxia is another branch in the autoimmune side of things (with celiac and DH being the other two). At this point, I know a diagnosis is important. But I don't know how to get there. We homeschool right now so I can give her time to heal when she is accidentally glutened, I can keep my home safe for her (ugh, that I didn't think of the chicken feed!) But at some point, she is going to be in college, needing to take exams, and totally incapacitated because of an exposure. And doctors state side that are worth seeing? Who is looking at gluten ataxia in the US?

Caro..............monitoring only the TSH to gauge thyroid function is what endo's do who don' t do a good job of managing thyroid disease. They should do the full panel and check the actual thyroid hormone numbers.........T3 and T4. The importance of the TSH comes second to hormone levels. In order to track how severely the thyroid is under attack, you need to track antibody levels.......not the TSH. I did not stay with endocrinologists because I found they did not do a very good job and found much greater help and results with a functional medicine MD. You should not have a goiter if your thyroid is functioning well and your TSH is "normal". Maybe they should do a full panel? Going gluten free can have a profound affect for the better on thyroid function and that is something that is becoming more and more accepted today. Ask most people with Celiac and thyroid disease and they will tell you that. My thyroid never functioned well or was under control under after I discovered I had Celiac and went gluten free. It was the only way I got my antibody numbers back down close to normal and they were around 1200 when it was diagnosed with Celiac. I was diagnosed with Hashi's long before the Celiac diagnosis. I am not sure Vitamin D has anything to do with thyroid antibodies but who knows? Maybe it does have an affect for the better. It is really hard to get Vitmain D levels up, depending on where you live. Mine are going up, slowly, even after 12 years gluten-free but I live in the Northeast in the US and we don't have sun levels like they do in the South. I take 5,000 IU daily and that is a safe level to take, believe it or not. I get no sun on my job so the large dose it is! Having Celiac Disease should not stop you from being able to travel, especially S. America. I travel, although I do agree that some countries might be very difficult to be gluten free in. You can be a foodie and travel with Celiac so no worries on that front. You may not be able to sample from someone else's plate, unless they are eating gluten-free too but I have had awesome experiences with food when traveling so you can too!

I don't know what you drank or where.... so here are a few thoughts. - sure, a dive bar might have dirty glasses and serve a cocktail in a beer glass? But a nice reminder place, with a dishwasher, should be fine. If it's a sketchy place, Stick to wine, then it's served in wine glasses that aren't used for beer or bottled ciders in the bottle. - ciders on tap might, just a slight chance, have an issue. Because of beer on tap, mixed up lines, etc. - you may have a problem with alcohol - you may have issues with The high sugar content of the drink. I know I have similar issues if I drink serveral ciders of extra sugary brands - are you positive it was a gluten-free drink? Not this " redds Apple" pretending to be a cider - it's beer with apple flavor. Or one of those " gluten removed " beers?

Hi Stephanie, I'm also from the UK, I've found this site more helpful than anything we have! As already mentioned above, in my experience it could depend on what and where you were drinking. Gluten free food and drink isn't always (not usually) 100% gluten free as you may know, maybe you have become more sensitive to even a trace of gluten that is probably in gluten free food/drink. Is it possible you have a problem with corn, particularly high fructose corn syrup that is in a lot of alcoholic drinks? This was a big problem for me and the only alcoholic drinks I can tolerate are William Chase vodka and gin. I contacted the company last year and all their drinks are 100% gluten and corn free, made the old fashioned way with no additives, so maybe try their products if you like the occasional drink and see how you get on. If you drink out, not many pubs sell their products but I know Wetherspoons do and smaller wine bars may too. l was never a spirit drinker but I must say their products are absolutely lovely! Very easy on a compromised gut too considering it's alcohol. I second the suggestion on seeing a natural health practitioner. I've recently started seeing a medical herbalist, as I've got nowhere with my now many food intolerances since going gluten free last year and I've noticed a difference in my health already.

Sorry for the very late reply and thanks for the replies, I didn't get a notification of any. In case anyone else comes across this and has been wondering the same as I was, I did try a vegetable broth and I did react to it in the same way as if I'd eaten the vegetables. As for the candida, I've been using coconut oil and am seeing a medical herbalist for this and leaky gut. It's only been a few weeks but I've noticed an improvement all round.