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Contamination of Naturally Gluten-Free Grains 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:

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said this on
06 Sep 2010 8:07:37 PM PST
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 PST
I AGREE !!!!

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said this on
08 Sep 2010 1:46:04 PM PST
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 PST
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!

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said this on
12 Sep 2010 7:52:46 AM PST
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 PST
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 PST
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.

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said this on
20 Mar 2012 6:17:28 PM PST
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.

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said this on
19 Mar 2013 7:28:36 AM PST
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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