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Tricia Thompson, MS, RD is a nutrition consultant, author and speaker specializing in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. She is the author of The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide and has a MS degree in nutrition from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts and a BA degree in English Literature from Middlebury College in Vermont.

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Living Gluten-Free

 
by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, The Gluten-Free Dietitian

 
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A manufacturer of gluten-free foods contacted me and asked me to please help set the record straight regarding the safety of grains, such as amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, and sorghum for persons with celiac disease. According to this manufacturer she still gets calls questioning the inherent safety of these grains, many of which she uses in her products.

While this is somewhat surprising to me, for anyone in the gluten-free community who still has questions about these grains, hopefully the information that follows will help ease your mind.

Bottom line: The grains millet, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa (as well as many others) are naturally gluten free. As long as you purchase only those products labeled gluten free these grains are perfectly fine for you to eat.

In fact the American Dietetic Association recently released nutrition practice guidelines for celiac disease that among other recommendations encourages dietitians to advise individuals with celiac disease to consume whole gluten-free grains including all of those listed above.

Historical perspective
Lingering confusion surrounding these grains may stem from outdated information still available on the web and in cookbooks written several years ago. While the grains millet, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa are now generally accepted as safe for persons with celiac disease, this hasn’t always been the case.

Way back in 2000, I conducted a survey that was published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association entitled, “Questionable foods and the gluten-free diet: Survey of current recommendations.” Participating in the survey were four national celiac disease support groups. Survey respondents were asked about the acceptability of selected foods in the gluten-free diet including amaranth, sorghum, millet, quinoa, and buckwheat. Two of the four US support groups thought quinoa, millet, and amaranth were acceptable and three of the four felt buckwheat and sorghum were acceptable (you may find it interesting that at the time this survey was conducted only one of the four support groups thought distilled alcohol and distilled vinegar were acceptable"but that is a topic for another blog!).

Using plant taxonomy (a system for classifying plants), cereal chemist Donald D. Kasarda, PhD was instrumental in helping those in the celiac disease community understand why these so-called “questionable” grains could be eaten by persons with celiac disease. As I wrote in the article,

“Plant taxonomy suggests that millet, sorghum, buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth are safe to include in a gluten-free diet. The taxonomic relationship of these plants to wheat, rye, and barley (the grains generally regarded as harmful) and rice and corn (the grains generally accepted as safe) has been characterized by Kasarda.”

“…millet, sorghum, and corn belong to the subfamily Panicoideae, and wheat, rye, and barley belong to the subfamily Festucoideae. Because millet and sorghum are more closely related to corn than to wheat, they probably can be consumed safely by persons with celiac disease. Buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth belong to the subclass dicots, whereas wheat belongs to the subclass monocots. Because of their distant relationship to wheat, it is unlikely that buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth are toxic to persons with celiac disease.”

If you would like more information about the survey, let me know.

Labeled gluten-free products
As I wrote in last week’s blog, I strongly advise everyone who follows a gluten-free diet to eat only those naturally gluten-free grains and flours that are labeled gluten free. Keep in mind that the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act covers ingredients only. It does not cover substances (e.g., wheat) that may be in a product due to contamination. This is why you generally don’t see the word “wheat” on packaged oat products even though we know many commercial varieties are contaminated with wheat (as well as barley).

Follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/triciathompson) where I will be posting weekly links to my Living Gluten-Free blog!

Tricia Thompson, M.S., RD is a nutrition consultant, author and speaker specializing in celiac disease and the gluten-free ...    Continue



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@ 2:38am ET on August 25, 2009
There's way to much information missing from this blog to make any valid points on these non-wheat grains. First, is non-contaminated millet actually available? At a large support group meeting recently, the subject of reactions to millet arose: more than 45 out of 60 people reported gluten-like reactions to millet products which had been labeled GF. Is it the millet, or cross-contamination? Impossible to tell without more scientific study. Second, I've met several folks originally diagnosed with sprue non-responsive to a GF diet who later tested positive for an allergy to sorghum, and removing it from their diet cleared up their supposed intractable sprue.
These grains are still rare enough that we don't have a large body of info on how large populations of celiacs react to them. Perhaps they are perfectly safe for most people, but early sweeping generalizations like worry me: too often people assume that every food reaction is wheat/barley contamination, and fail to consider that sensitivities beyond those are common in celiacs. Thus, they may continue eating something you call GF which is actually harmful to them.


@ 7:26am ET on August 25, 2009
Hi,

Thanks for your message. You are correct, this is a blog and not a full-length article. The point of this piece was to assure readers that these grains and pseudocereals are inherently gluten free. Because of their taxonomic relationship to wheat, barley, and rye it is highly unlikely that they would contain the amino acid sequences harmful to persons with celiac disease. If you are interested in learning more, please read the excellent articles written by cereal chemist Dr. Donald Kasarda (retired from the USDA).

Contamination is another issue. As mentioned in the blog, it is very important to eat only those products labeled gluten free. Labeled gluten-free millet grain and flour are available through Bob's Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills. You can read their safety standards online. Both companies test their products for gluten.

I would love to learn more about the responses to millet experienced by your support group. What types of products did they react to? Did they make the products themselves using millet flour and grain or were these processed gluten-free foods (e.g., bread)that contained millet? Were these products from one company or multiple companies? Please contact me via my website if that is more convenient for you www.glutenfreedietitian.com.

Thank you,

Tricia


@ 8:09am ET on August 25, 2009
Unfortunatly there is a great deal of inaccurate information online. It's always good to review what is gf and what is not. Our diet is restricted enough that we do not need to avoid grains that are acceptable.
Dr. Kasarda's articles are online in several locations. A very good way to understand the relationship between the grains is a chart from one of his talks on the taxonomy of grains.
It can be seen at http://wheat.pw.usda.gov/ggpages/topics/tree.jpg
Keep up the good work Tricia!


@ 6:56pm ET on August 25, 2009
Tricia,

Have you seen, or conducted any cross contamination studies/testing on the rice flours that come from Asian countries [e.g. Thailand]?

These flours tend to have a much finer grind to them, thus giving the final product a much less gritty mouth feel.

Thanks!

Al


@ 7:00am ET on August 27, 2009
Hi Al,

Thanks for your question. There is limited data available on cross contamination of inherently gluten-free grains. I have not come across any published studies on rice flours from Asia. Hopefully we will have some more general information on contamination soon.

Tricia

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