Controversial Foods To Study
Are oats safe? What about spelt? Why are some foods widely condemned and yet
others say they are safe? Browse this page to get a good understanding of the
issues surrounding many foods.
More information on these foods can be found right here on the
web at the Food and Drug
- Alcohol can be made from many substances; each has its
own manufacturing method and list of ingredients. See
- Annatto color
- A coloring agent derived from the seeds of the Achiote,
also known as the Lipstick tree (Bixa orellana), it is
often used in cheese but also in many other
orange-colored foods. The seed itself is unlikely to
contain any gluten, it is the processing of the seed into
a colorant that causes concern as it appears to use
alcohol in the process. There is also suspicion that
caramel color may be included in the annatto colorant.
Anecdotal evidence has some celiacs reacting to foods
with annatto color in them but this may be a non-celiac
reaction to the annatto itself.
- Distilled alcohol
- The distillation process puts a gas up into the air in an
enclosed vat, and lets the gas circulate through a series
of tubes, in which it cools and drips out into another
vat. No solid -- and the gluten in the grain used to make
some alcohol is definitely a solid -- can be carried into
the distillate. If the alcohol is genuinely distilled, it
should be gluten-free.
- Distilled vinegar
- Is safe, but because some societies have not yet "got the
word" it has been moved to the "But I Heard
It's Not Safe To Eat..." page, where you'll find thorough
explanations of why it is safe.
- Almond extract, vanilla extract, or the many other types
of flavorings are usually in a base of alcohol. See
"distilled alcohol" for a discussion of the
risks you need to consider before using alcohol.
- Grain alcohol
- Because it is derived from grain -- which could be wheat
(or rye, or barley, or even oats), we need to consider
whether some of the toxic peptide chains from the
originating grain can end up as part of the alcohol.
Since not all alcohol is distilled, it is certain that
some grain alcohols will have harmful gluten in them.
- Mono- and di-glycerides
- These are fats, used as stabilizers in foods. Although current FDA
regulations require that mono-glycerides and
di-glycerides in the U.S. be made from corn starch or
potato starch -- gluten-free -- these ingredients only remain pure in
their original "wet" form. For many applications, mono- and
di-glycerides may be dried, and anti-caking ingredients added to the mix,
which could contain wheat (although it is clear that most mixes do not).
The situation is even less clear when you find mono- and di-glycerides in
it is important to understand that in drugs mono- and
di-glycerides are allowed to be made from toxic grains,
however, one researcher found that in the U.S. all
manufacturers used corn starch. This means that it is
possible that in the future a drug containing these
ingredients could contain wheat, but at this time they
- Vanilla extract
- The problem many celiacs have with vanilla extract is
that it usually contains, in large part, alcohol. Usually
this is distilled alcohol (see above) since it does not
have much flavor, and the extract makers want the flavor
you taste to be the vanilla, but it could conceivably be
another form of alcohol.
- Vinegar, when listed on an ingredient list all by itself (as in:
Ingredients: Water, Corn Syrup, Vinegar, Tomatoes...) is apple cider
vinegar, and is gluten-free. For more information on various kinds of
vinegars, see "But I've Heard It's Not Safe To
Eat..." for information on vinegar.
- Wheat starch
- Some countries use wheat starch that has had its gluten
content reduced in foods labeled as
"gluten-free." Although in laboratories it is
possible to remove gluten, most plants are not as
thorough as lab scientists are, and some gluten gets
through, so it is thought that even gluten-reduced wheat
starch is not safe. Certainly wheat starch in the United
States and Canada is not safe as it is not
Grains and Flours
- Amaranth is the tiny seed of an herb, and is not a member
of the cereal family at all. It may well be that some
celiacs have reacted to this grain -- but if so, it was
unlikely to be a celiac reaction. The likelihood of this
seed, unrelated to the grasses, having a peptide chain
similar to those in wheat, rye and barley is
astronomically against. Amaranth provides good
nutritional value, and was prized by the Aztecs.
- Probably has gotten a bum rap for a variety of reasons.
Buckwheat pancake mix is widely available, but is mixed
with wheat flour, which would certainly give most celiacs
a bad reaction. There is always the possibility of
cross-contamination either in bulk-food bins or even in
the field. But the grain itself is not related to wheat,
rye, barley or oats, and in fact is more closely related
to the rhubarb.
- See sorghum.
- Is a form of wheat; no doubt about it. It is related to
hard spring wheat (like durum wheat). It is an ancient
form but is clearly wheat.
- Is another grain which is unrelated to wheat.
Cross-contamination may have given it a bum rap, in that
it is frequently milled to flour on the same equipment
that mills wheat flour. However, whole millet should be
quite safe, and you can always mill it into flour
- See sorghum.
- Oats appear on the "taboo" list of this site
and most celiac society lists; I myself do not eat them.
It seems as though oats do not have the offending peptide
chain in them that wheat, rye and barley do, that
triggers the autoimmune response in celiacs. However, in
the U.S. oats seem always to be grown in rotation with
wheat, and so it is believed that it is impossible to get
an uncontaminated supply of oats (you would have what
they call "volunteer" wheat sprouting in the
same field as the oats). Very controlled research in
other countries indicates that oats in and of themselves
are probably safe. I have seen it argued that you should
be able to separate wheat from oats and get an
uncontaminated supply, but then what of small bits of
broken wheat grains? They will still sneak in. Much as I
miss oats in my diet, I will avoid them until I can be
assured of an uncontaminated supply.
- A member of the goosefoot family, quinoa (pronounced
"KEEN-wah") is a closer cousin to beets, chard
and spinach than to wheat, rye, barley or oats. Prized by
the Incas, this "mother grain" packs terrific
- More closely related to corn and millet than to wheat, this grain even
looks like corn as it grows in the field. Used primarily in making
molasses, it is becoming a popular gluten-free grain to cook with,
particularly under the name of "Jowar Flour" -- it is also known
- An untamed variety of wild wheat, probably similar to
wheat before it was domesticated for use in making bread,
many celiacs claim that they react to wheat, but not to
spelt. This may well be because the component in celiacs
that causes the overt symptoms (diarrhea, gas, nausea,
fuzzy-mindedness and more) may not be the same component
that causes damage to the small intestine. It may be that
the overt reaction is an allergic reaction, while the
damaging reaction is the classic immune response; this
would explain why only some celiacs have the quick
obvious reaction. At any rate, it is clear that the
peptide sequence in spelt is likely to be the same, or
very close, to the one in wheat (which is very close to
the one in rye, which is also close to the one in
barley). Celiacs should stay away from spelt until it is
proven to cause no harm.
- Often used to make the Ethiopian bread,
"injera" teff is a grain with African origins.
It is unrelated to wheat, rye, barley or oats, and
provided that it does not suffer from cross-contamination
problems, should be safe for celiacs.
Copyright ©1998 Linda Blanchard All Rights
Reserved. Date Added: February 16, 1998. Last Update: November