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Quinoa a Safe Grain for Patients with Celiac Disease

Quinoa and Celiac Disease

Those with celiac disease must avoid certain types of grains, including wheat, barley and rye. But thankfully, researchers have found another grain that celiacs and those with gluten sensitivity can eat – quinoa.

Because of its high nutritive value, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations declared last year the International Year of Quinoa. Despite being consumed the same way as other cereal grasses, such as wheat or oats, quinoa is actually not a cereal at all. It belongs to the group of foods that include spinach, Swiss chard and beets – and it is gluten free.

People with celiac disease, sometimes called celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, must avoid eating any grain containing gluten. Consuming this protein leads to adverse changes in the intestinal walls that leads to serious malabsorption of nutrients.

Researchers from the Department of Gastroenterology at the King’s College London evaluated the in-vivo effects of consuming quinoa in adult celiac patients. The study was conducted because although quinoa is gluten free, some in-vitro studies have suggested that quinoa protein may act similarly to gluten, stimulating negative effects.

The study was small – involving only 19 patients as they consumed 50 grams of quinoa every day for six weeks as part of an overall gluten-free diet. Dr. Victor F. Zevallos, study leader, and team evaluated serology and gastrointestinal parameters. Full blood counts, liver and renal profiles were assessed to check levels of iron, vitamin B12, serum folate and lipids to determine the safety of the consumption of quinoa.

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“The clinical data suggests that daily consumption of quinoa (50 grams) can be safely tolerated by celiac patients,” said Dr. Zevallos. “Median values for all the patients’ blood tests remained within normal ranges, and triglycerides and both low and high density lipoproteins decreased. We also found a positive trend towards improved small intestine morphology, particular a mild hypocholesterolemic (very low cholesterol) effect. It’s important to note that further studies are needed to determine the long-term effects of quinoa consumptions in people with celiac disease.”

Quinoa is generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins, primarily in health-food stores and in high-end grocery stores in many colors – off-white, black or red. When buying in bulk, make sure bins are covered and that the store has a good product turnover to ensure maximum freshness. Ensure that there is no evidence of moisture. At home, store quinoa in an airtight container in the refrigerator where it will stay fresh for three to six months.

Prior to cooking quinoa, you may want to rinse and rub the seeds to remove any bitter taste that may be left behind after commercial milling. To cook, add one part of the grain to two parts liquid in a saucepan. After the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes until the grains become translucent. If you desire a nuttier flavor, you can also dry roast the grain before cooking in a skillet over medium-low heat and stir constantly for five minutes.

How to enjoy quinoa:
• Combine cooked chilled quinoa with pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, scallions and coriander. Season to taste and enjoy this south-of-the-border inspired salad.
• Add nuts and fruits to cooked quinoa and serve as breakfast porridge.
• For a twist on your favorite pasta recipe, use noodles made from quinoa.
• Sprouted quinoa can be used in salads and sandwiches just like alfalfa sprouts.
• Add quinoa to your favorite vegetable soups.
• Ground quinoa flour can be added to cookie or muffin recipes.
• Quinoa is great to use in tabouli, serving as a delicious (and wheat-free) substitute for the bulgar wheat with which this Middle Eastern dish is usually made.

Journal Reference:
Victor F Zevallos et al. Gastrointestinal Effects of Eating Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) in Celiac Patients. The American Journal of Gastroenterology , (21 January 2014) | doi:10.1038/ajg.2013.431

Additional Resources:
American College of Gastroenterology: Celiac Disease
United States Department of Agriculture: Celiac Disease and Safe Grains