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Contamination of Naturally Gluten-Free Grains

Celiac.com 08/31/2010 - In my work as an author, researcher, and gluten-free advocate, I know how challenging the gluten-free diet can be. One of the most vital and tricky parts of the diet is learning what foods have gluten and which are "naturally" gluten-free as well as learning how to read labels. Unfortunately, these aren't always enough. Just because a grain is supposed to be "naturally" gluten-free, doesn't mean that it is. In fact, a recent study tested 22 so-called "inherently" gluten-free grains and found that over thirty percent of them had gluten.

Gluten is a protein found in the grains wheat, barley, and rye, and is inherently lacking in grains such as oats, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, soy, sorghum, flaxseed, rice, and amaranth seed. A study tested 22 of these "naturally" gluten-free grains, and 7 of them had a gluten amount higher than 20 ppm, which would disqualify them from being labeled as gluten-free under the proposed FDA guidelines.

One type of soy flour tested had nearly 3,000 ppm of gluten, two millet flour products had an average of between 305-327 ppm, and the sorghum flour had a mean average of 234 ppm. Four of those seven products didn't have allergen advisory statements.

What's the reason behind these alarming research results? Dr. Mercola, an osteopathic physician and board-certified family medicine doctor, attributes the cause to cross-contamination during the processing of these grains and also to a lack of testing of final products for gluten.

Dr. Mercola, who is trained in both traditional and natural, or holistic, medicine, raises the question, however, about whether not only celiacs but people in general should even be consuming grains in the first place.

According to Dr. Mercola, "Most people need to avoid grains." On his website, he states that several autoimmune disorders, not just celiac disease, can be "significantly improved by avoiding grains," and eliminating grains from your diet can also decrease your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, Type 2 Diabetes, and cancer.

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This is due to the fact that, as Dr. Mercola explains, "grains and sugars are inherently pro-inflammatory and will worsen any condition that has chronic inflammation at its root – and not just inflammation in your gut, but anywhere in your body." In his experience, about 75-80% of all people benefitted from going grain-free.

According to Grain Free Living, the health benefits of going grain-free have been proven "through the personal experience of hundreds of people worldwide who have experienced significant relief from symptoms of Crohn's disease (and many other illnesses of the digestive system) and also for chronic fatigue." The mainstream medical community has been critical of the "anecdotal evidence" from the testimonies of those who have reported an improvement in health. Clinical studies on the matter have yet to be carried out.

A grain-free diet doesn't have to be boring. In fact, grain-free cookbooks have come out with grain-free recipes for favorite American foods such as pancakes, muffins, lasagna, cakes, and cookies. For those who have a digestive or other condition or who wish to eliminate health risks, I would recommend talking to your healthcare practitioner about a grain-free diet.

For the gluten-free community who wishes to continue to eat grains, this study of the gluten content of "naturally" gluten-free grains can be startling. Look for grain products that are certified gluten-free by such organizations as the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) or make sure to do thorough company research before you try "inherently" gluten-free grains.

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9 Responses:

 
Clarkie
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said this on
06 Sep 2010 8:07:37 PM PDT
I'm frustrated that this article didn't follow through on its promise--by telling the reader which grains and/or brands are most suspect and how to tell which ones are safe or not. That two "millet products" tested high is interesting but not helpful to those of us who want to continue eating millet. I think this article should be entitled "The Benefits of a Grain Free Diet for Celiacs and Everyone Else."

 
Edieanne Boudreau
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said this on
08 Sep 2010 10:53:29 AM PDT
I AGREE !!!!

 
Anna
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said this on
08 Sep 2010 1:46:04 PM PDT
I agree that the information is interesting, but incomplete. How about some actual names of those products? Sounds like someone has an agenda going on here!

 
Brian Johnson
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said this on
08 Sep 2010 3:59:05 PM PDT
I think the important point to remember is that just because a grain is NOT wheat or one of its relatives that you shouldn't automatically assume that it is gluten free. We already know this about oats-- they are naturally gluten-free but are routinely contaminated by growing and processing techniques. Look for products that are labeled as having passed a standard GF test. Some brands display the "GF" badge indicating that they've been certified gluten-free by GFCO. So if your particular brand of grain flour (or whatever) does NOT specify conformance to a given standard or testing then perhaps you should think twice about consuming it before you can get the manufacturer to clearly indicate steps taken to prevent cross-contamination. Simply put-- caveat emptor!

 
Charlotte
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said this on
12 Sep 2010 7:52:46 AM PDT
While she states some interesting research, what's the help for the reader to take from this article? I would call it half of a good article. Let's have some details, names,etc. that we can follow up on in a concrete way. If we have to replicate the research, what good does the article do us??

 
Stephen Lonefeather
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said this on
06 Dec 2010 6:58:56 AM PDT
As stated by others - this article is not very helpful because it doesn't specify which grains are absolutely gluten free and which are only low ppm.

 
Paulette Stout
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said this on
16 Feb 2012 2:01:28 PM PDT
This leaves the reader with the false impression that most gluten free grains are unsafe. Really bad job. We have a safe diet that includes GF grains. One just needs to be aware and check product labels.

 
Sheila
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said this on
20 Mar 2012 6:17:28 PM PDT
Most ARE unsafe, save for crops that have never been rotated with gluten-free grains, nor processed anywhere near glutinous foods. Gluten-FREE does not mean gluten-free, unfortunately, with the rule that "under 20 ppm seems reasonable", as stated from the FDA (information in link below). So, all the certified grains I thought were gluten-FREE, some smaller amounts than others, as this eloquent writer above mentioned, are not. Bob's (certified) Red Mill told me it's under 20 ppm. How much is healthy? None. This is what all the fuss is about and it's all over the internet. Even whole grains like rice, buckwheat or quinoa are shown to be contaminated, which is why I'm either not going to eat any grains or rinse first before processing myself (after checking on growing conditions, which is difficult information to acquire, as you have to take someone's word for it, someone who has money at stake, and not your health.

 
Gretchen
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said this on
19 Mar 2013 7:28:36 AM PDT
There was some helpful information here, but this author, like many others, does not address the topic of "whole grains." We criticize the average American who eats refined flour and not whole grains. It would be helpful to have a follow-up article focused on this part of the celiac issues.




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Hi! I've just been recently diagnosed as Celiac through the whole biopsy-shebang, and I have a little bit of insight on the whole diagnosis thing and how I was eventually diagnosed, and my advice for you. Brace yourself, this might be a bit long, but it might be worth the read and I promise I will eventually get to the point. If you don't want the huge story, skip to the long line of capital As: I first saw my doctor when I had a few problems swallowing. I've compared it to when you're nervous and you feel like you have a lump in your throat - but after I eat and (sometimes) drink. I just mentioned briefly it to my family doctor when I was addressing another issue, but right away he referred me to a gastroenterologist and ordered a barium swallow x-ray test. The x-ray came back completely normal, and so the g.e. then suspected GERD, put me on acid blockers to see if they would work, no harm done sort of thing. The only thing I got out of the acid blockers were the side effects, so it was back to square 1. The g.e. said that the next test he could do was an upper endoscopy with biopsies. (hint: the celiac test!) Wanting to find a solution to my problems, the endoscopy was scheduled. Pretty painless, I was in and out in a day, but the results took much much longer. Biopsies, or the little pieces of my esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, were sent to the lab, and they came back clean. I didn't really go back to the g.e. for a whole year after that because life became busy, I wasn't prompted to follow up, and I just dismissed the swallowing problems the best I could and went on my way. Now, I've never been huge on the gluten, big bread-y sandwiches or croissants or pies were never foods that I super "enjoyed". I wouldn't feel bad after eating them, I just didn't like the taste of bread so much, but I loved cookies, cake and a lot of other things that do have gluten in them. I lead a lowish gluten life but I wasn't really monitoring it that way. Everything changed when I got really nasty (systemic) poison ivy. My eyes were swollen shut, and the rash was everywhere. I almost went to the hospital, but cooped out at the family doctor's place and got a script for prednisone (a steroid). But, I found that after I had tapered off the steroids, I had magically become lactose intolerant. So back to the family doctor again probably because I broke my toe or something, but we also got to talk about this magical lactose intolerance business (because I love anything dairy and it was indeed devastating). He was surprised as there is literally no correlation between steroids and becoming lactose intolerant. He asked me if I still had the swallowing problems, which I did, and so it was back to the g.e. for round 3. because my family doctor "does not believe in coincidences". Meeting with the G.E., he mainly addressed the swallowing problems telling me that he had done what he could to diagnose with the technology that we had at the highly specialized hospital that we were at, and I would have to travel about 3 hours away to see a different doctor who would do some tests involving the muscles in the esophagus. But right before I was about to leave, we started talking about lactose intolerance. He brought up other foods that I was avoiding (if any), and then the conversation went to gluten. I mentioned that I had an aunt that was gluten-sensitive. He advised that I do the blood test that can show an indication of celiac whenever in the future. I decided to do it that day. At this point in time, I was not eating much gluten because of the fact that it was personal preference. The normal range for values in this test is from 0 to 20. A few weeks later, I learned that I scored a 35. A second upper endoscopy with biopsies was scheduled, but this time I was told to eat a moderate amount of gluten everyday before the procedure. I ate about two slices of bread per day, which is more than I normally would. I was normal for the first two-three weeks of the gluten plus diet, but then I became really sick. I started getting the normal celiac symptoms, like diarrhea and extreme tiredness. Near the end, I had debilitating stomach pain and I was 2 times more asleep than awake each day. I couldn't do the 2 pieces of bread a day some days, but the pain was still there. I knew that I wouldn't ever have to force myself to eat bread for a test ever again. I was called a few days before my endoscopy telling me that a kid in a worse state than me had to take the OR during my time. I forced myself to eat more bread for another month and a half. The day finally came. I was diagnosed celiac, which I have concluded to be initiated by (1) the steroids/poison ivy and (2) the gluten binge fest. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA Celiac Disease isn't completely understood yet. Most of the time if you weren't showing symptoms when you were a baby (so your case) it means that celiac was/could be triggered by an event in your life that causes stress on the body (like stress, physical injury, etc.). The positive result that you got from the blood test doesn't automatically mean celiac, but it could. Here's some options: Talk to your doctor (or a different doctor) or even a specialist gastroenterologist (you can get a referral from a family doctor (general physician)) and see if you can do the blood test again, you have to have some kind of gluten for this to work in advance, so if you don't want to break your gluten-free streak, than don't really invest in this option. If you feel comfortable, you could even ask to do this test under a few scenarios (no gluten (now) and after a gluten binge, compare results). If you do this test and your indication is low off gluten and then high after gluten, I'd probably skip the biopsy. That's a strong enough sign that you don't need to put yourself through the painful-gluten binge. Maybe this is what that first doctor just assumed. But having that test when you haven't had any gluten could make the difference - it acts as a control. Go straight to the biopsy. You could do this, but I'd probably do the blood test first. I went through a lot of stress with the gluten-binge that you have to do to get an accurate result, you would also be breaking your gluten-free diet that may/may not be helping you right now. Do nothing, stay on your gluten free diet hoping that it is helping you. But if you are not celiac or gluten-sensitive (celiac before it starts to wreck your small intestine), going gluten free isn't healthy - you can do some research on this if it interests you. If you feel bad/unhealthy after going gluten free it's probably a sign. Good luck, also know that you might come to a point of stress in your life that can start celiac's destructive path. Ultimately, it is your body, and you should not feel forced or hesitate to act on health issues that impact you.

I'm sorry that life is so hard right now. Really. I can't imagine working 3 jobs and trying to manage this terrible illness. I think about American society and their obsession with food often. Whenever you look at the internet, there are all these fabulous gluten-free recipes, but when you don't have time or money to cook these things, a simple gluten-free lifestyle is just that - simple. There isn't a lot of variety, so it's kind of boring. But, I guess I have gotten used to being boring. I just eat corn chex and fruit or yogurt for breakfast. I eat a lot of eggs, beans, rice, corn tortillas, nuts, chicken, fruit and veggies. A loaf of gluten-free bread will last me 4-6 months in the freezer. I buy a bag of dried beans for $1.29, I soak them overnight, and put them in the crockpot the next day. I add different spices, sometimes chicken and Voila! - dinner is ready when I get home from a long day. Family gatherings are miserable and I haven't quite figured out the best way to deal yet. If my grandmother were still alive, I imagine she would be a lot like yours - well-meaning but not really able to understand the nitty-gritty. I just reassure my family that I am fine and that they really shouldn't do anything special for me. I bring a bag of Hershey's kisses or other gluten-free candy I can nibble on along with my meal and then I try to treat myself to a nicer home cooked meal later in the week when I have time to cook - because who has time to cook during Christmas???? And, I agree with knitty knitty. If someone else in your family/friends were gluten-free for medical reasons, it would make socializing a bit easier. One of my husband's good friends is NCGS. When we get together as a group, we can make each other special dishes and it helps to feel less isolated. Good luck!

Hi! Um, please forgive my quirky sense of humor..... Celiac Disease is genetic... All first degree relatives of people diagnosed with Celiac Disease should be tested for the disease, too. Gall bladder problems are often associated with Celiac Disease. Your diagnosis might save your whole family from further medical problems as they age and the disease progresses... You need to set a good example if relatives are similarly diagnosed.... and then everybody will have to eat gluten free at family gatherings....

That's what I thought! My father has gluten sensitivity and I almost regret telling the doctor that because I feel that made her jump to conclusions because of that. He never had the biopsy either. I feel like doctors think it's just easier to say it's celiac when they show a gluten sensitivity to avoid additional testing, even if that diagnosis doesn't make any sense at all. My doctor didn't even offer the biopsy, and said the blood work was enough. Should I seek a third opinion? I mean, I've been gluten free for 9 months...

It will prolong your life....celiac is a autoimmune disease that causes your own immune system to attack you. The longer your eating gluten the worse it gets, I mean all kinds of other autoimmune disease, food allergies, food intolances. One day you could lose the ablity to eat carbs, or sugars, or become randomly allergic to tomatoes or corn all cause you decided not to be on road to healing I am not kidding here. I am allergic to corn, can not process meats, have another autoimmune disease that makes it so I can not eat dairy or CARBS/SUGARS. I wish I could go back in time and go on a gluten-free diet a decade ago. Worse that could happen you could develop cancer or other complications and yes we have had this happen to a member before on our forums. Think of it like this your just changing brand here I will give you some links to some gluten-free foods, and how to order them, You can even order alot of them online this should help simplify it for you. I suggest thrive, amazon, or one of hte other links from there, Many you can order from the manufacture. https://www.celiac.com/gluten-free/topic/117090-gluten-free-food-alternatives-list/