Is Oat Sensitivity the Overlooked Culprit in Claims of Gluten in Cheerios?

Is Oat Sensitivity the Overlooked Culprit in Claims of Gluten in Cheerios?

Jefferson Adams

Jefferson Adams is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. His poems, essays and photographs have appeared in Antioch Review, Blue Mesa Review, CALIBAN, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Huffington Post, the Mississippi Review, and Slate among others.

He is a member of both the National Writers Union, the International Federation of Journalists, and covers San Francisco Health News for Examiner.com.

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Are oats more likely to cause an issue for celiacs eating gluten-free Cheerios? Photo: Don O’Brien

Celiac.com 12/13/2016 – One in five people with celiac disease have a sensitivity to oats. Could that be the real issue behind claims of adverse reactions to Cheerios and other General Mills products?

In an effort to answer questions regarding the safety of gluten-free Cheerios for people with celiac disease, we recently ran an article on warnings by the Canadian Celiac Association that Cheerios, and other General Mills cereals labeled ‘Gluten-Free’ are unsafe, are likely to be contaminated with trace amounts of gluten.

Celiac.com found those claims to be lacking in evidence, and grounded mainly on unsupported claims that the proprietary process used by General Mills to sort oats is somehow problematic, and likely to permit ‘hot spots’ of gluten contamination that can exceed the 20ppm gluten-free FDA standard. Along with unsupported claims about General Mills’ sorting process, the CCA seems to base their opinion on vague claims of unnamed people with celiac disease suffering adverse reactions after eating the cereals.

Yet, so far, no one has documented any actual problem with General Mills’ method for sorting gluten-free oats, and certainly no one has shown any kind of a systemic problem, as the CCA seems to allege. No evidence has been offered up to support any such claims. Again, to our knowledge, no one has provided any evidence of any actual gluten contamination in any box or batch of General Mills Gluten-Free cereals.

Interestingly, that very lack of evidence to support claims of gluten contamination is cited by the Celiac Disease Foundation in its endorsement of General Mills Gluten-Free cereals. The CDF also points out that nearly 20% of people with celiac disease also suffer from oat sensitivity, and suggest that oat sensitivity is the likely culprit behind any sensitivities to the product.

The CDF’s full letter was posted on Celiac.com’s Gluten-Free Forum by a member known as cyclinglady.

The entry by cyclinglady reads as follows: “This is interesting. I sent an email asking the Celiac Disease Foundation about gluten-free Cheerios which they endorse/support, but the Canadian Celiac Disease Organization and the Gluten Free Watchdog do not? What do you all think?”

She includes the full response by the Celiac Disease Foundation, which reads:

“Aside from the initial contamination in Cheerios when they were first put on the market, Cheerios has had no other issues with the gluten-free status of their cereals. Most people with celiac disease can tolerate gluten-free oats, however, about 20% of the population with celiac disease cannot tolerate oats in any form, even if they are gluten-free. It’s that population that should avoid Cheerios. Our Medical Advisory Board has no evidence that General Mills gluten-free cereals are not safe for celiac consumption. General Mills is a proud sponsor of Celiac Disease Foundation, and they understand the importance of safe gluten-free food to our community. In fact, we enjoy Cheerios at the National Office ourselves where half of us have celiac disease. Cheerios only need to be avoided by those with celiac disease who also cannot tolerate oats.”

So, once again, the Celiac Disease Foundation endorses General Mills Gluten-Free Cheerios, and by implication, Lucky Charms and other cereals, as safe for people with celiac disease, with no medical evidence to the contrary. However, they do recommend that people with oat sensitivities avoid oat products. This runs counter to the warning by the Canadian Celiac Association that General Mills products were “unsafe” and the General Mills “had problems” with its sorting process.

The fact that the folks at the Celiac Disease Foundation, including those with celiac disease, say they eat Gluten-Free Cheerios provides another positive testimonial that Cheerios are safe for people with celiac disease. However, it really all boils down to basing any proclamations about gluten-free safety on actual evidence, not stories, or opinions, or things we heard.

In their letter, the CDF notes that “Our Medical Advisory Board has no evidence that General Mills gluten-free cereals are not safe for celiac consumption.”

Until evidence appears to the contrary, the overwhelming evidence is that General Mills gluten-free Cereals, including Cheerios and Lucky Charms, among others, are safe for people with celiac disease, but should be avoided by anyone with oat sensitivities.

Anyone claiming they are not safe for people with celiac disease is simply not basing their claim on hard evidence. Of course, people should base their diets on their own experience, especially people with celiac disease, and/or sensitivities to oats or other things beyond gluten.

 Stay tuned for news on this and other important gluten-free topics.

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Published at Tue, 13 Dec 2016 16:30:00 +0000

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