Can Celiacs Eat Quinoa?

January 30, 2014

A long-term consumption study brings us closer to the answer.

Quinoa is a nutrient-dense grain crop. But before manufacturers of gluten-free food products get excited about this ingredient, scientists still need determine if celiacs can eat quinoa.

Even though quinoa meets FDA’s legal definition for “gluten free,” in vitro data suggests that some quinoa plants may contain celiac-toxic peptides. To determine the suitability of quinoa in vivo, researchers at King’s College in London assigned 19 celiacs to eat 50 g of quinoa for six weeks daily. They consumed it as quinoa flakes and quinoa grains.

Using participant diaries and pre- and post-quinoa blood tests, the researchers looked for any unusual responses to quinoa. For added assurance, they performed gastrointestinal endoscopy on 10 of the participants, before and after the study, to see if quinoa would change the structural lining of celiac digestive tracts.

Despite some reports of mild and moderate symptoms in the first two weeks of the quinoa diet-which may have been merely related to an increase in dietary fiber-endoscopy results revealed no significant changes. The researchers concluded that “Addition of quinoa to the gluten-free diet of celiac patients was well tolerated and did not exacerbate the condition.” Some participants even said they continued eating quinoa after the study.

The quinoa used in the study came from a company that specializes in supplying gluten-free quinoa, but other quinoa supplies may run the risk of cross-contamination with other grains during shipping and processing. This type of risk is already a talking point around oats. The researchers note, however, that quinoa is less likely to be contaminated in fields because it is cultivated in the Andes, where it is usually grown alongside other gluten-free grains.

For what it’s worth, the researchers suggested participants consume the flakes for breakfast (as porridges and pancakes) and the whole grains later in the day (as side dishes and in salads, soups, and stews).

The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency provided funding for the study, which is now published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.

 

Robby Gardner

Associate Editor

Nutritional Outlook magazine

robby.gardner@ubm.com