Is Quinoa Safe For Celiacs?

Quinoa salad

Could quinoa be unsuitable for some celiacs? Some folks think, possibly.

I keep hearing about this quinoa possibly not being safe for celiacs malarky. There don’t seem to be any concrete findings on this issue as yet but I decided I was too intrigued by the possibility of quinoa being another dodgy grain for celiacs not to ask for your thoughts.

Quinoa is a grain-like crop grown primarily for it’d edible seeds. It’s not really considered a grain but I only discovered this fairly recently since it looks, acts and tastes like a grain to me. 🙂 I didn’t discover quinoa until I was diagnosed as celiac and began looking for tasty new gluten free alternatives. It’s since become one of my favourites as it’s so flexible! I love eating it for breakfast with peanut butter and fresh fruit or later in the day as a salad or a side. It’s gluten free, high in protein and very tasty so it’s perfect for celiacs…or is it? Mwahahaha (evil voice)

A new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has found that some varieties of quinoa may in fact trigger symptoms in some people with celiac disease. My response when I first read this was not a happy one. Sometimes it feels like all of our “safe, go-to foods” are slowly being taken away from us.

So why do some people think quinoa may not be 100% safe for celiacs?

Researchers tested 15 different varieties of quinoa and found that two contained “levels of celiac toxic elements sufficient to cause an allergic response in a minority of gluten-sensitive people.”

Interestingly though, all of the varieties tested were confirmed to have lower than 20ppm which is the level currently believed to be safe for most celiacs. 20ppm is the limit set for “gluten free” products in most countries and the proposed limit that products would have to adhere to here in the US. So do these findings really show any kind of a threat at all? I wonder how other naturally gluten free grains like rice, buckwheat or amaranth would test on the gluten scale..

Whilst research such as this is always a little concerning for those of us who are already on a limited diet, I definitely wouldn’t worry about it just yet. A lot more research still has to be done to figure out whether a gluten response from quinoa really is a possibility in those of us with celiac disease.

Personally I eat quinoa pretty regularly and I feel great. I have never had a negative response to quinoa. How about you?

 UPDATE: I’m revisiting the quinoa issue as I’ve had a few mild gastro symptoms recently and something I’ve been eating quite a lot of is quinoa. I’m not completely sure and I’m not ruling it out quite yet but I’d love to hear your experiences. Do you eat a lot of quinoa?

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  • I’ve never had a “gluten reaction” to it, but I never feel good after eating it. That doesn’t surprise me. Thanks for sharing.

  • My immediate thought was whether it is the quinoa itself that is causing the problems for some celiacs, or whether it is the result of cross contamination with another grain (during harvesting, processing, etc)? I eat quinoa all the time and have never had a problem. But, as I do with all grains and flours, I ONLY eat quinoa that is labelled gluten-free.

  • Quinoa, even certified GF and well rinsed, gives me an immediate, severe reaction same as GF oats. Don’t know if its like gluten or not, cause I don’t touch gluten except for very occasional cross-contamination issues, nothing in quantity like a big, heaping bowl of oatmeal or quinoa.

  • I think Else raises a good point – could it perhaps be the contamination? I regularly rely on quinoa (it’s made having to give up cous cous bareable!) and have never had a problem with it. It is frustrating that ‘gluten’ type proteins seem to keep cropping up everywhere, sometimes it feels like everything is being taken away! Perhaps I’ll just stick to meat and vegetables and hope they don’t somehow evolve to eventually contain gluten….

  • I agree, Sarah/Else. Cross contamination during harvesting or production has to be the biggest concern. Since quinoa is naturally gluten free I shouldn’t think that the quinoa itself would result in a reaction for most celiacs. If someone also suffers from an additional quinoa intolerance or allergy that’s another story.

    Does anyone know how quinoa is harvested? I know it’s mostly in South America. Could there be possible contamination the way there is with oats? I didn’t think so but I’m no farming expert.

    It’s interesting to hear that some of us get a reaction and others don’t. Even certified gluten free oats can make me feel a little glutened but I’ve had no issues at all with quinoa and plan to continue eating it in moderation. It’s so good!

  • I read about this last year as an article was circulating on the Canadian Celiac Association regarding this. I have not eaten quinoa for 18 months. A friend gave me some red quinoa to cook 2 years ago and that affected me adversely and as a result, I’ve shied away from it and then this article appeared on the Canadian site. I’m doing quite well and don’t want want to play guinea pig with myself!

  • I can’t eat quinoa. No gluten-style reaction, it just seems to pass through me undigested. I have trouble with most grains/seeds/nuts though, which is why I don’t really eat them. I think my guts have just been too messed up after years of gluten to be able to handle anything that’s even a little difficult to digest. Hopefully this isn’t permanent – I’ve healed a LOT in the year since I’ve gone GF, but I think there’s a long way left to go.

  • Jill F

    Mar 9th, 2013

    I get very sore and bloated if I eat quinoa. After getting the same results every time I gave up trying after a few goes. It is not exactly how I react to gluten though, so not sure whether it was cross contamination or just that my system can’t take quinoa either.