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Is Quinoa Gluten Free?

A commonly asked question for those embarking on a gluten free diet – “Is quinoa gluten free?”

What Is Quinoa?

Quinoa is actually not a grain. It is a pseudocereal seed used by many as a gluten free grain substitute.

It is a commonly used staple crop in South America, specifically grown in the Andes. Quinoa has a favorable protein content and contains several minerals and B-vitamins. With the popularity of the gluten free diet on the rise, interest in quinoa has skyrocketed, and it is being touted as a safe and healthy alternative to wheat, barley, rye and other gluten-containing grains. Ergo the question – is quinoa gluten free and safe to consume for those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity?

Is Quinoa Gluten Free?

Is quinoa gluten-free? Technically speaking quinoa is gluten free based on the definition of gluten created for those with celiac disease. However, even though quinoa meets this definition, it is also considered a high-risk alternative. 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 particularly 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 create digestive suppression and inflammatory problems in humans, and they are known contributors to autoimmune diseases.

Additionally, quinoa does have “gluten-like” storage proteins that can mimic proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. These storage proteins are similar to traditional glutens and can possibly cause an immune reaction in celiac patients or 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.

The quinoa proteins were tested to determine if they led to increased production of IFN (interferon)-gamma and IL( interleukin) 15. These inflammatory chemicals (also called cytokines) play important roles in the human immune response to gluten. What did the researchers find?

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 proteins in wheat, barley, and rye are the only food proteins to be problematic in patients with gluten sensitivity.

Resource: Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Jul 3. [Epub ahead of print]

Gluten Definition Overhaul is Needed

Current testing for gluten relies on a methodology called ELISA. The testing measures the number of traditional glutens present in food. Unfortunately, it does not measure whether other glutens and gluten like proteins cause inflammatory problems in patients. This problem has been pointed out multiple times in research. Case in point – rice, corn, soy, and dairy have all been shown to cause inflammatory reactions and or villous atrophy identical to celiac disease in human studies. Even though these gluten free foods are supposed to be healthy, they can still be contaminated with gluten. Yet the generic recommendation by most doctors and nutritionists is to eat this food without concern. When you also take into consideration that up to 92% of people following a traditional gluten free diet don’t heal and continue to be stricken with multiple forms of autoimmune disease, it becomes clear that more precise definitions are needed. Gluten free foods are not always what they seem!

So, is quinoa gluten free? As we’ve discussed, while quinoa technically meets the definition to be “gluten free,” the truth is this current process and definition doesn’t provide a whole view. Quinoa is processed with grains like wheat, barley, and rye, making it highly likely to be cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains. Additionally, new research has found that quinoa triggers similar immune responses to that of the gluten found in grains like wheat. For this reason, we have to say that quinoa is not a good gluten alternative and should be avoided when possible.

Looking out for your health,

Dr. Osborne

55 Responses

  1. Great link. Informative, balanced information. Very helpful for health, but especially those with a diagnosed autoimmune disease.

  2. Allergy magazine recently ran an article in which corn was described as safe for
    celiacs. I sent the magazine Dr. Osborne’s list of the gluten content of grains and pointed out that corn is not safe. It replied that the gluten in corn isn’t harmful
    to celiacs. I asked Dr. Osborne for his comments so I could reply to the magazine
    but have had no response.

  3. My doctor gave me a blood test that tested for 28 other foods that can mimic a gluten reaction. Quinoa was one of those tested. I did test negative for it, as well as other foods. So glad I was tested!

    1. Carol,
      The test your doctor used was most likely a cyrex lab panel. The problem is that this test does not measure all of the known ways in which the immune system can have a reaction. I would advise caution.

  4. You have probably already discussed this, but how about seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, etc. that are supposed to be so good for you? Should gluten senditive people (and that is prabably almost all of us) be concerned about eating these seeds?

    1. John,
      I don’t necessarily think that all seeds are a problem for everyone. I do however strongly encourage people to avoid using seeds as a staple food in the diet.

  5. If you soak the quinoa, would that make it suitable for people with gluten sensitivity and autoimmune diseases? That helps remove the lectins in other seeds (and beans), I believe. It would be so nice to keep that grain on the ok list!

    1. Memmi,
      Not according to this recent study. My advice is to discontinue it if you are on a gluten free diet and still having health issues.
      All the best,
      Dr. O

  6. To your knowledge, have there been any studies done linking gluten intolerance with speech disorders such as apraxia? or any other developmental disorders affecting vision and speech, and muscle tone?

  7. Muscle tone might have to do with autoimmune diseases, such as Dermatomyositis. There is a known connection between Dermatomyositis & Celiac disease. Look up an article published in:
    Can J Gastroenterol. 2006 June; 20(6): 433–435. PMCID: PMC2659927

    Copyright © 2006, Pulsus Group Inc. All rights reserved
    Dermatomyositis associated with celiac disease: Response to a gluten-free diet.

  8. Has anyone quit eating Quinoa and noticed they got better? Just fixed a big pot of it. Do you say the same thing with Beans also?
    Also someone asked if you have multiple food allergies, as she mentioned ( I also have, like many of us) Potato, rice, corn, tomatoes allergies. What does that leave us to have other than Vegetables and meat, and some fruit, any suggestions on this?

  9. Has anyone gotten Better while having multiple food allergies, and eating Quinoa?

    I also wondering if being careful of the source you get it from. I know Eden foods, their’s is made in a factory with wheat I was told, BUT that they use extreme measures to clean equipment.

    IF this can make a difference in Lowering the bodies response to it, looking it as a gluten more so, because other sources, brands may not use the measures ones like Eden does in the factory.

  10. Kayla:

    Speaking as a “unofficially diagnosed celiac” with multiple allergies, I have problems with quinoa, reacting just like when I eat gluten and have problems with balance and nerve issues after eating it. According to an article I read (livestrong?), quinoa has an acid (elgic?) that can cause nerve problems in people that are sensitive. My sources of quinoa were gluten free processed in a dedicated gluten free facility . . .. Stopped eating quinoa and my problems with balance and nerve issues stopped. Thanks to Dr. O’s advice the brain fog is gone and my energy is increasing may his tribe increase . . . .

    1. I started eating quinoa 3 days ago I do not have a gluten sensitivity I was just trying to replace oatmeal the last two days I have had burning and stinging in both feet does anyone know if that could be from quinoa? I have Hashimoto’s disease that is controlled and doing fine could this quinoa be affecting that autoimmune disease? Thank you for all your comments they’re very helpful Susan

  11. First time I used quinoa, no problem, made a salad and it was delicious. Second time, different brand, I was a sick puppy just as if I’d eaten a plate full of gluten! The same thing happens to me with millet and all the products that go through the distillation process. I stay away from them all! AS for rice, I’ve only had a problem with a store brand white rice, I stick to a kosher white rice with no problems. Wild, brown and black rice don’t give me the same gluten reaction, however, I have a very hard time digesting them. At the same time, brown rice flour is one of my main flour substitutes. I can’t digest added glucose, sucrose, artificial sweeteners, etc. and I have found that the newly added stevia in my rice drink powder makes me crave sweets all day long. I wish they would remove it! The short of it all is that the ones making the decisions on what is safe and what is not are NOT people who suffer from this disease/condition. NO parts per million is gluten free. Read Dr. Rodney Ford’s book “Gluten: Zero Global

  12. Pingback: Anonymous
  13. Hi, I am so disapointed to read this research!! It was the only grain left for me! Is there a way that we could make those ”gluten like” protein break down before we eat it so it could be easier, like making them sprout and then cook them?

    1. There is a reply furthur back that said there is organic Qinoa from Bolvaria. Its not used through other machines to get contaminated. Maybe try it out?

  14. Hello, I hope my question gets answered here. I have Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease, should I stay away from Quinoa?

    Thank you.

    I’ll keep checking the website.

  15. What about the follow-up study by Zevallos et al in Feb of 2014. In this trial they fed 50grams of quinoa to celiac patients for 6 weeks and tracked both serological and gastrointestinal parameters. Their conclusions from that study showed…”Addition of quinoa to the GFD of celiac patients was well tolerated and did not exacerbate the condition. There was a positive trend toward improved histological and serological parameters, particularly a mild hypocholesterolemic effect. Overall, this is the first clinical data suggesting that daily 50g of quinoa for 6 weeks can be safely tolerated by celiac patients. “

    1. You make a good point Tom. Two studies with conflicting results. I typically recommend that those struggling with gluten sensitivity issues discontinue all grains and pseudo grains initially. In my clinical experience, more than half of my patients report problems with quinoa. Because there is no definitive test to measure all of the known immunological reactions one can have to food, and because many immune reactions are delayed or asymptomatic, I err on the side of caution. Thanks for chiming in.
      All the best,

    1. Alessandra,
      I would encourage you to avoid amaranth and buckwheat as well. Not only are these items cross contaminated, but many with gluten issues do poorly when using them as substitutes.
      All the best,
      Dr. Osborne

    2. I became aware of gluten sensitivity a year ago but it appear tha my health was compromised for a while it appears. I can eat no grains including corn, rice although itested negative for everything in my allergist’s office. I notice Iwas still itching a lot requiring benadryl quinoa also nakes me itch. Will be purchasing no grain no pain as I cannot yet afford a consultation with Dr. O. MY ADVICE: if you reactto a food item stop eating it.

  16. i had a feeling Quinoa might not be gluten free, just by my reaction when I ate it. First if all I loved it and could not get enough, just carried on stuffing it down (same reaction as when I eat wheat). Secondly my joints were really painful. I assumed it was because I had only just (one week ago) totally stopped grains and dairy and that my body was detoxing. I was feeling so depressed that my symptoms were worse instead of better. Thank you for all the help. It’s still early days fir me and I’m making lots of errors but onwards and upwards.

    1. Hi…. iam confused with oats n quinnova after having them in india my son is hvng bloating n indegestion

  17. I read a article on Quinoa and found that pure quinoa is free from gluten and safe for people with Celiac Disease. But not all all or every product containing quinoa is gluten free.

    1. I would like to know the same thing. Anybody know anything about Kaniwa? I have certified gluten free Kaniwa that I would like to consume.

  18. I’m just thankful of this research! I complained to my doctor for years about inflammation in my joints, migraines and stomach related issues. Diagnosed with reflux and arthritis and given pills for all the above. I was finally diagnosed with celiac decease two years ago and that was because I went gluten and caffeine free on my own when the pain got more than I could bare in head and my upper abdomen. Man oh man what I wouldn’t have given for some one to have thought I had an autoimmune disorder sooner. Keep doing what you’re doing! I’m glad information like this is out there or I’d still be taking a bunch of useless pills and be in bed! Blessings – and keep encouraging everyone to be their own advocates when it comes to gluten! What messes one person up won’t necessarily affect the next. I personally stay away from everything processed and cook everything myself. Cross contamination is a real issue that a lot of people just don’t understand. I’ve been seriously considering going dairy or sugar free next. Care to weigh in on which one you would do first? My will power is improving but I know in order to be successful I should probably only give one up at a time.

    1. You are welcome Kelly!
      Glad the information and research on Gluten Free Society is helping you. Dairy first is recommended because most dairy products can actually mimic gluten. So tackle dairy first, sugar second 🙂
      All the best,
      Dr. Osborne

      1. All dairy is a problem? Or can fermented dairy like Kefir and yogurt be tolerated. And what grain substitutes do you recommend?

  19. I have noticed that some quinoa is not combined with corn to get it to grow here. Could that be the problem? I make sure I buy ancient traditional quinoa and have not noticed any problems but then everyone is different. Another example of how companies can “improve” the foods as they were originally given to us so that they can increase their profits by growing altered version of ancient grains.

  20. Hello everybody! I am kind of new but already gluten free in 99%. I do not stop reading and with my mind open, because even if I have not gone to the doctor or have any test for Celiac or intolerance, I know my body. The changes I have seen since I change my diet, no doctor can refute. I AM SO MUCH BETTER!!”
    I know I still need to pay more attention in some grains or cereals, so this was very informative. I thought Quinoa was completely safe.
    What about MAICENA? And Potato flour? I have tolerated very well Maicena.

  21. I am not celiac, but gluten intolerant. I’ve also been diagnosed with IBS and have been re-learning how to eat for over a year now. It has taken a lot of trial and error to find a diet which my body seems to accept. I went through a very frustrating time of trying to figure out what was gluten-free and what wasn’t. I lost a lot of weight because I was afraid to eat. It got so bad that I had so much anxiety about food that it was causing physical symptoms, which made me think I couldn’t eat certain foods. You’ll find guidelines and articles about what works everywhere, but the only way to truly know what your body can tolerate is to try it out. Everyone’s body is different. I find that some foods make me feel worse than others, including those that contain gluten. I’m still testing to see what effects me worse than others. Obviously, if you are celiac, you shouldn’t try to eat gluten. But I agree with those here who have trouble with corn. I cannot tolerate corn, but I can tolerate rice, especially arborio rice. To those trying to figure out how to deal with this new lifestyle, don’t give up. Read labels, listen to your own body, and consult a nutritionist if you need help to determine how you can eat a balanced diet while being gluten-free or dealing with IBS. I hope this helps someone out there who is struggling! You are not alone!

  22. Recently gave up nightshades and wow, all kinds of inflammatory processes that had not budged for years, like asthma, were miraculously diminished and eventually gone. I believe it also effects arthritis. Shocking!

  23. After 13 years on my Celiac diet , I am certainly improved but not close to feeling alive.
    I am just now getting learning about Grain Free, infact I am 5 days free from it but
    Like a lot of people I worry what will I eat when I go on vacation or even out to a restaurant. I have lived on salad, eggs, fish meat most of this week. And I might add
    That I can’t always buy organic it’s just not available even if you could afford it.

  24. Is there a list of foods that are Grain Free anywhere? I am thinking about some of
    The ones I usually eat I.e white navy beans, split peas, is there a recipe for Grain Free
    Bread, I would really like to have an occasional sandwich, so many questions?

  25. Thank yu …have just found this site…..much great info
    I am continually doing research….and am off gluten, sugar and dairy….struggle mostly re carbs…..I know my proteins……and healthy fats…….salads/fruit….but get lost with what carb do I eat…..yams/Buckwheat groats, brown rice???????not sure…..

    I appreciate others info…..good way to learn…plus listen, listen to my body…..

    M. Bishop

  26. C’mon. With this philosophy you cannot eat ANYTHING but meat, veggies and berries. Nothing else – because ANY seed, nut, grain, legume and sugar in fruit (and many times dairy and eggs) causes an inflammatory reaction. Might as well go paleo right away but much more strict than paleo. The problem here is that, for many people, this kind of restrictive diet is not an option and they don’t feel well on it or can’t stick to it. The other problem is that it hasn’t been studied either and we don’t know what kind of nutritional deficiencies this is going to create.
    Therefore, diet should be an individual approach. I’m glad I got tested for immune reactions to foods, and there is still a lot to be tested because there is no comprehensive test out there yet but I’m glad to get any guidelines… And overall IgG test has been pretty useful – it showed immense reactions to gluten & some other things like nuts, soy… Combined with other tests like IgE & IgG4 I got a nice picture, incomplete, of course, but reasonable to follow as a dietary basis. I’m feeling better & I’m glad I don’t have to remove all the other grains from my diet because I would not have much left to eat – with all the exclusion of nuts and legumes which were problematic and starchy potatoes I would not have left any carbs to eat, and that is essential for me to survive and feel well.

  27. I find Maize of any sort a nuisance as it is in all medicine and headache tablets etc it is hidden. Most have some forms of Cellulose or Magnesium Stearate it is disguised especially in Blood Pressure medication even supplements and the doctors don’t know which one has maize in it don’t they care if you can’t take any medicine. It’s all about money. It goes without saying nothing Processed.

  28. “When you also take into consideration that up to 92% of people following a traditional gluten free diet doesn’t heal and continue to be stricken with multiple forms of autoimmune disease, it becomes clear that more precise definitions are needed”. Thanks for this article. But it seems that the premise of the quote above is that “since people on gluten free diets still get sick, then it must be an issue with our definitions”. That matches the research that shows that many gluten sensitive people who keep a gluten free diet continue to have endoscopic abnormalities. But it seems like the whole line of thinking is focussing only on the issue of gluten exposure when there may be much more going on. Curious for your thoughts on that.

    Once a sensitive person is exposed to gluten, and they develop gut inflammation and barrier dysfunction, they can develop a variety of intolerances that can result in continued gut and systemic inflammation. The mainstream approach is to merely stop gluten, without addressing other food sensitivities or providing nutrients that typically help the gut heal.

    So don’t we need to think more broadly about “why people on gluten free diet continue to get sick” besides just our definition of what is the safe diet?

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