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Lingering confusion surrounding these grains may stem from outdated information still available on the web and in cookbooks written several years ago.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
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).

Copyright © by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD

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Inherently Gluten-Free Grains