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 Administration's website.


Alcohol can be made from many substances; each has its own manufacturing method and list of ingredients. See "grain alcohol."
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 drugs. Here 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 should not.
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 gluten-reduced.

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 yourself.
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 nutritional value.
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 as "milo."
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.




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Copyright 1998 Linda Blanchard All Rights Reserved. Date Added: February 16, 1998. Last Update: November 14, 1999