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How Bird Seed May Help If You Have Celiac Disease

Bird seed and celiac disease

If you have celiac disease, then you already know how much of a challenge it can be to find foods you can eat safely. In the near future, however, you may be sharing your food selections with your canary and his bird seed.

Would you eat bird seed?

Approximately 3 million people in the United States have celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which the body cannot tolerate a protein called gluten. Since gluten is ubiquitous in the food supply, as it is found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains as well as thousands of processed foods, individuals with celiac have a limited number of foods they can eat that are gluten-free or that contain gluten-free ingredients.

That limited number may soon increase by at least one if scientists and food producers work together to bring a new variety of canary seed to the human dinner plate. Don’t worry: you won’t be vying with your canary for the seed!

Researchers have developed a new type of canary seed that is hairless; that is, the seeds do not have the minute hairs found on the variety of seed for your winged friends. In fact, those hairs are what make canary seed inedible for people, but once the seeds are hairless and dehulled (Phalaris canariensis), they are edible and gluten-free.

If you envision sitting down to a plate full of tiny seeds, that’s not the case at all. According to Joyce Irene Boye, of Food Research and Development Centre in Quebec, Canada, who headed the study, canary seeds can be made into flour that can then be used to make bread and other products.

As an added bonus, canary seed has more protein than other common cereal grains, noted Boye, and is an excellent source of other nutrients as well. The Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada website notes that canary seed is high in protein, has an 84 percent unsaturated edible oil content, and a high starch content as well.

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In fact, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada also points out that Canada recently developed the new hairless canary seed, registered under the name Canario™. However, no mention is made of the use of the hairless canary seed for celiac patients.

Other alternatives for people with celiac
Other grains and seeds suitable for people with celiac include buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, rice, sorghum, and teff. Sorghum was the subject of recent research in which investigators provided genetic and biochemical proof that the grain, which is commonly fed to food animals, is safe for people with celiac disease.

Growing awareness of celiac disease is also driving food producers to create more foods that are safe for individuals with this protein intolerance. In addition, organizations like the Children’s Digestive Health and Nutrition Foundation offer help in the form of publications, such as the Gluten Free Diet Guide for Families.

If you have celiac disease, you can also get help from beneficial bacteria known as probiotics and substances that promote them, called prebiotics. Supplements and foods (e.g., yogurt, kefir, miso) that contain probiotics as well as those that supply prebiotics (e.g., root vegetables, bananas, onions) can be helpful for digestion.

People with celiac disease are often looking for new foods to add to their limited menu. Bird seed and foods made with bird seed may be among those food items for celiac disease in the near future.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Boye JI et al. Analysis of glabrous canary seeds by ELISA, mass spectrometry, and western blotting for the absence of cross-reactivity with major plant food allergens. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 2013 May 27. DOI:10.1021/jf305500t

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