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Should I Be Concerned about Gluten in Quinoa?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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In its pure form, there is no gluten in quinoa. There may, however, be gluten in quinoa products. People with and without gluten sensitivities can still have negative reactions to the seed, which may or may not depend on how it’s prepared. Still, for many people, replacing traditional gluten-containing foods with quinoa is a good alternative, especially if this replacement occurs at a manageable pace.

Partly because there is no gluten in quinoa, it’s been used in a number of foods for people with gluten allergies or sensitivities. Consumers need to exercise some care when they buy these products, as there are now numerous foods on the market that contain the seed, but aren’t gluten free. People should inspect packaging to determine if a product has been labeled as not containing gluten. Those with extreme allergies should also read about the manufacturing of products to be certain that companies don’t use equipment that comes into contact with gluten.

Even after thorough checking to be sure it hasn't been contaminated with gluten, some people may still react pooly to quinoa. Reports of adverse reactions include a rash, extreme stomach upset, and feelings of faintness. The stomach upset may occur occasionally if people don’t properly prepare the seed. It is covered with a bitter coating that needs to be thoroughly washed off before cooking. If too much of this coating remains on, people may well develop stomach upset, even though there is no gluten in quinoa.

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Many people are already aware of these potential pitfalls and buy pre-washed quinoa or gluten free foods with it. Some still may find they react negatively to quinoa. It’s hardly surprising, in some ways, because most foods cause unpleasant side effects for some people. Since the seed is a recent introduction to many Western diets, it’s too soon to say how often these reactions will occur and what percentage of the population might be affected. Adverse reactions are certainly not limited to people with gluten intolerance and have occurred in a number of individuals who report no previous food allergies.

As there is no gluten in quinoa, given its highly fibrous nature, another explanation for stomach upset after eating it is possible. If people suddenly switch from more glutinous grains to quinoa, they may be consuming more fiber than usual. This can sometimes cause the digestive tract to work very quickly.

Rapid alterations in the diet may result in bloating, gas, and diarrhea, which might be misinterpreted as gluten sensitivity or allergy. To avoid this reaction, people should start intake of dietary fibers slowly, gradually increasing fibrous foods as their bodies build more tolerance. The average low fiber eater who can’t resist consuming a stack of quinoa muffins might regret this choice in hindsight.

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