Well dear reader this one is a bit more complicated to answer because not only does it involve the safety of how gluten free products are processed but it also has to do with lots and lots of advertising dollars that have gotten tied up in the mix and that is why there has become so much controversy around this topic. So I'm going to try and briefly break the main points as there are many articles floating around all over the Internet.
First off let me start with a few main facts:
- There was a Class 1 recall for 1.8 million boxes on October 8,2015 for a combination of plain Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios for undeclared wheat from their manufacturing location in Lodi, California.
- Cheerios uses "washed" oats and not certified gluten free oats. This means that these oats are mechanically separated from mainstream gluten grains and because of this, these oats are generally extremely gluten contaminated. For more information see the Gluten Free Watchdog article which explains the difference between purity protocol vs mechanical sorting of oats.
- The New England Journal of Medicine did a study back in 2004 which shows that this is a legitimate concern for people with celiac disease. However, many companies still have chosen to use "washed" oats and General Mills is one of these companies. General Mills promised that they would be diligent with their testing to make sure that their products would still be safe for us to eat. (Clearly with the recall and the amount of people who have gotten sick, they dropped the ball here and have not done all they could do to make sure their products were safe for celiacs to eat).
- General Mills in an effort to create a tremendous amount of support for their new gluten free line of products became major sponsors for many leaders in the gluten free industry including many foundations, communities, groups, publications, bloggers, etc in exchange for them to endorse their new products. They did endorse their products and you can find articles just about everywhere saying it is SAFE for you to eat Cheerios.
- This causes lots of confusion because none (okay maybe one person that I know) has changed their stance on Cheerios Gluten Free products. Most are still saying I haven't had any reactions, try another box maybe you got one from a bad batch. Which in my opinion is only making matters worse and adding to the confusion.
- In 2014 the gluten free labeling law compliance date made it official that there would be a standard for all gluten-free labeled foods that they must contain less than 20 ppm (parts per million of gluten). According to the FDA, "manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that foods bearing a gluten-free claim meet the requirements of the final rule. " The FDA will only investigate when there are enough complaints about a certain product. Therefore, the responsibility and safety of gluten free products clearly comes down to companies taking the safety measures to ensure our health, the testing of their products and their manufacturing practices.
- The Canadian Celiac Association has issued a statement that "they recommend that people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity Do NOT consume the gluten-free labeled Cheerios products at this time because of the concerns about the potential levels of gluten in boxes of these cereals."
All that being said, many celiacs have eaten Cheerios and have said that they have not had any reactions so it must have been a bad batch and I'll be fine. The question is will you? Are you sure your not having a reaction? Just because you don't have a tummy ache and some bathroom issues does NOT mean that you are NOT having a reaction. Did you know for every one person who has stomach issues, 8 more have brain issues (that may not manifest themselves immediately).
How many celiacs or people who are gluten sensitive do you know who have additional inflammation elsewhere in their body? How many celiacs do you know who are completely healed their bodies and have zero issues with their health? When was the last time you checked your numbers?
For me this issue isn't just about eating some Cheerios, it's about learning the in's and out's about your disease. It's about understanding how important processing is and how important manufacturing becomes when you have this disease. It's about understanding that certain shortcuts won't serve your healing long term. It's about understanding what's in your food beyond just the gluten free label.
Sure, we all get tired of cooking everything from scratch and turn to processed food once in a while but it is critical to make sure that these companies are following the best practices for a celiacs health. It's about learning to listen to your body and understanding that even though it's not supposed to have more than 20 ppms of gluten that does not guarantee that you will NOT still have a reaction to any food. I have certainly found that the more healthy I become the less tolerant that my body has become of foods that are on the higher end of the 20 ppms. That means that a food that didn't bother me a few months ago, may bother me today that is why real, whole foods will always be the best diet for a celiac.
Yes, I know eating gluten free costs more when you do it correctly; but, ultimately it comes down to your priorities. Would you rather buy clean, good, healthy, organic, non-gmo, safe gluten free foods or would you rather continuing to pay multiple doctor bills? The choice is yours.
Sure we could argue back and forth about why Cheerios and General Mills haven't been made better choices or why here in the US that our Celiac Foundation hasn't stood up and given a similar statement to that of the Canadian one; but, at the end of the day that fighting won't help your healing. We can only truly hope that the very foundations that have vowed to keep us safe as celiac will fulfill those promises and obligations to us.
My point here is that we all have to become responsible for the choices that we make even in the grocery store. And, it's about time we understand that companies are out to serve their bottom line, not your health. It's up to you to become more of a detective and understand what is in your food. I was just reading an article on eatlocalgrown.com that there are ten American foods that are banned even in less industrialized countries yet they can be found in many foods on our grocery store shelves. Here are the 10 banned foods (and be sure to read the article yourself): 1) milk and dairy products laced with rBGH, 2) genetically engineered papaya, 3) ractopamine-tainted meat, 4) flame retardant drinks, 5) processed foods containing artificial food colors and dyes, 6) arsenic-laced chicken, 7) bread with potassium bromate, 8) olestra/olean, 9) preservation BHA and BHT and 10) farm-raised salmon Why would that be? Why would harmful chemicals, additives, dyes etc be allowed in one nations food supply and not in another? At the end of the day, it comes down to money and what companies can get away with ..... It has nothing to with "in the best interest of our health" that's our job, to educate ourselves and make better choices for ourselves, for our families and ultimately your health as well as your families health.
So am I surprised with the whole Cheerios debate... No.
Did I ever eat it? No
Did I ever recommend it? No.
Would I ever eat it? No probably not because at the end of the day I wouldn't trust my health to any company that isn't taking the proper precautions to ensure the safety of my food as a celiac.
Could General Mills do a 180 and change their practices? Absolutely, but for me they would have to change not only their manufacturing practices, their mechanically sorting of their oats, they would also have to remove several additives and chemicals that they use in their products but that's me, that's my choice.
You get to make your own choice. Hope now that i have outlined some of the facts for you, that you understand the Cheerios debate a little better and you can feel more comfortable making the best food choices for your health. I wish you good luck because truly every forkful is a new opportunity to try to be better and feel better.
* Here’s my little disclaimer, I’m not a doctor, researcher, immunologist, just someone deeply concerned and trying to help as many peeps as I can make conscious, good, healthy choices for their health and their bodies when living life with gluten challenges. I have not been compensated or obligated to write this article, and as always, all thoughts and opinions are honest and my own!