Well yes. But no. Let me explain, or rather I shall get Dr O to as he has just written a post about this very tricky and confusing question. Dr O got much of the info from this article, I believe, so click through to read the whole piece. I have written about it before here too.
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa is actually not a grain. It is a pseudocereal seed used by many as a gluten free substitute.
The Problem With Quinoa…
Technically, quinoa is gluten free. However; the processing of the pseudo grain is often performed in facilities that also process other grain based foods. This is where cross contamination becomes a major issue. A recent study found that 41% of processed products randomly pulled from grocery shelves contain enough gluten to cause damage to those with gluten sensitivity. As stated above, quinoa is a seed. One of the problems with seeds in general, is that they are particular hard to digest. Many seeds contain gluten like proteins and chemical compounds called lectins. Many of the lectins and gluten based components have been shown to created digestive suppression and inflammatory problems in humans, and they are known contributors of autoimmune disease.
Is Quinoa Gluten Free?
Technically speaking quinoa is gluten free based on the definition of gluten created for those with celiac disease. However; quinoa does have seed storage proteins in the “prolamin” family that are distantly related to the gluten proteins present in wheat. The obvious question is: are these storage proteins sufficiently similar to wheat gluten that they could cause an immune reaction in celiacs or in patients with other forms of gluten sensitivity?
New Study Identifies Quinoa as a Potential Danger
A recent research paper published by V.F. Zevallos and co-workers examined 15 different varieties of quinoa, to examine their safety for people with celiac disease. First, they tested the quinoa samples using an ELISA to test for “gluten” content. Protein samples from all 15 varieties gave gluten readings below the typical cutoff of 20 ppm (four samples gave a very low, but detectable signal).
The proteins were also tested for their biological activity, either using cultured T-cells or using biopsy samples obtained from celiac disease patients. The biological responses were monitored by measuring the production of two immune-stimulating substances (“cytokines”), IFN-gamma and interleukin 15. These cytokines play important roles for the human immune response to gluten. Two out of the 15 quinoa cultivars (“Ayacuchana” and “Pansakalla”) stimulated an immune response that was as potent as that observed for wheat gluten. This result suggests that quinoa is not necessarily safe for ingestion in those with gluten sensitivity. Additionally, the results shed more light on the traditional flawed thought that wheat, barley, and rye are the only grains to be problematic.
Resource: Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Jul 3. [Epub ahead of print]
In short: I do not recommend quinoa as a safe gluten free grain alternative. It can be cross-contaminated and seems to be able to cause a similar inflammatory reaction to wheat. Nuff said. Sorry, don’t shoot the messenger.