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Gluten-Free Grains in Relation to Celiac Disease - by Donald D. Kasarda, Former Research Chemist for the United States Department of Agriculture

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Grains in Relation to Celiac Disease - by Donald D.
Kasarda, Former Research Chemist for the United States
Department of Agriculture

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Gluten-Free Grains in Relation to

Celiac Disease - by Donald D.
Kasarda, Former Research
Chemist for the United States
Department of Agriculture
By Scott Adams Published 07/26/1996 Gluten-Free Grains and Flours

Preface: The following

information was supplied
originally in 1991 in the
form of a letter to
Phyllis Brogden,
Chairperson of the
Greater Philadelphia Celiac
Sprue Support Group, by
Donald D. Kasarda, who
was a Research Chemist
with the US Department
of Agriculture at that
time. Copies were sent
to four other major celiac
patient groups in the US.
Dr. Kasarda retired from
the USDA in 1999, but
updated the information
in February of 2000. Dr.
Kasarda wishes to add
the following disclaimer
to the information: These
are my opinions based on
quite a few years of
research in the area of
proteins as they relate to
celiac disease. They do
not necessarily represent
those of the Agricultural
Research Service, U. S.
Department of
Agriculture. If you have
any questions or
comments regarding the
piece, you can address

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The only plants demonstrated to have proteins

that damage the small intestines of people with
celiac disease are those from wheat, rye, and
barley (and the man-made wheat-rye cross called
triticale). Although oats had generally been
considered harmful until 1996, several high
quality studies published since then indicate that
oats are not harmful either in celiac disease or
dermatitis herpetiformis. Some physicians choose
not to accept these findings or else point out
that there is some potential problem of
contamination of oats by wheat. The
contamination question has not yet been
adequately researched, but may be
overemphasized. The three harmful species are
members of the grass family and are quite
closely related to one another according to
various schemes of plant classification (taxonomy).
However, not all members of the grass family
damage the intestines of celiac patients. Rice and
corn, for example, are apparently harmless.

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Many other grains have not been subjected to

controlled testing or to the same scrutiny as
wheat, rye, barley, oats, rice, and corn in
relation to celiac disease. In fact, only wheat and
oats have been extensively studied in controlled
experiments with the most up-to-date methods. If
we accept corn and rice as safe, however, and
this seems reasonable to me, then members of
the grass family that are more closely related to
these species (on the basis of taxonomy) than to
wheat are likely to be safe. Such grasses include
sorghum, millet, teff, ragi, and Jobs tears, which
appear to be reasonably closely related to corn.
In some cases, there are protein studies in
support of this conclusion, although the studies
are not sufficiently complete to provide more
than guidance. Scientifically controlled feeding
studies with celiac patients would provide a
better answer. However, such studies are not
likely to be carried out in the next few years
because of high costs and the difficulty of
obtaining patient participation (such studies would
likely involve intestinal biopsy). In lieu of feeding
studies, further studies of protein (and DNA)
would provide the next best way to evaluate my
suggestion that millet, sorghum, teff, ragi, and
Jobs tears are not likely to be toxic in celiac
disease, although even such studies are hampered
at present by a lack of knowledge of which
sequences in the wheat gluten proteins are
harmful. There is evidence that a few sequences
are harmful, but not all possibilities have yet
been tested.



Gluten-Free Grains in Relation to Celiac Disease - by Donald D. Kasarda, Former Research Chemist for the United States Department of Agriculture

The scientific name for bread wheat is Triticum

aestivum var. aestivum--the first part of the name
defines the genus (Triticum) and the second part,
the species (aestivum). Species falling in the
genus Triticum are almost certain to be harmful
to celiac patients. Grain proteins of these species
include the various types characteristic of the
gluten proteins found in bread wheats (including
the alpha-gliadins) that cause damage to the
small intestine in celiac disease. Durum wheats
(Triticum turgidum var. durum) used for pasta are
also harmful to celiac patients. Some Triticum
species of current concern include Triticum
aestivum var. spelta (common names include
spelt or spelta), Triticum turgidum var. polonicum
(common names include Polish wheat, and,
recently, Kamut), and Triticum monococcum var.
monococcum (common names include einkorn
and small spelt). I recommend that celiac
patients avoid grain from these species. Also,
given their very close relationship to bread and
durum wheats, I think it is unlikely that these
grains would be safe for those with classical
allergic responses to wheat.
Rye (Secale cereale) and barley (Hordeum vulgare)
are toxic in celiac disease even though these two
species are less closely related to bread wheat
than spelta and Kamut. They belong to different
genera, Secale and Hordeum, respectively, and
lack alpha-gliadins, which may be an especially
toxic fraction.
There have been anecdotal reports suggesting a
lack of toxicity in celiac disease for spelta and
Kamut, along with anecdotal reports of the
opposite, at least in the case of spelt-celiac
patients who have been harmed by eating it.
Controlled tests would be necessary to draw a
firm conclusion, although they hardly seem
necessary insofar as spelt and Kamut should be
considered forms of wheat.
The diagnosis, sometimes self-diagnosis, of celiac
disease is occasionally made without benefit of
reasonably rigorous medical or clinical tests,
especially intestinal biopsy. Individuals who are
diagnosed in this way without rigorous testing
may not actually have celiac disease. Claims that
particular foods cause this latter group no
problems in relation to their celiac disease could
cause confusion.
Furthermore, celiac patients who report no
problems in the short run with spelt or Kamut
might experience relapse later. There is now
adequate evidence that when celiac patients on a



Gluten-Free Grains in Relation to Celiac Disease - by Donald D. Kasarda, Former Research Chemist for the United States Department of Agriculture

gluten-free diet (that is, a diet free of any

proteins or peptides from wheat, rye, and barley)
have wheat reintroduced to their diets, times-torelapse vary enormously among individuals,
ranging from hours to months, or even years.
And this is for wheat, presumably the most toxic
of all cereal grains to celiac patients.
Additionally, the relapse may not be accompanied
by obvious symptoms, but be recognized only by
physicians through observation of characteristic
changes in the small intestinal tissues obtained
by biopsy. The reasons for the enormous
variability of response times are not known. It
may be speculated that the variability has
something to do with the degree of recovery of
the lining of the small intestine on a gluten-free
diet, the degree of stress that the patient had
been experiencing (including infections), and
individual genetic differences.
As I have indicated, all known grain species that
cause problems for celiac patients are members
of the grass family. In plant taxonomy, the grass
family belongs to the Plant Kingdom Subclass
known as monocotyledonous plants (monocots).
The only other grouping at the Subclass level is
that of dicotyledonous plants (dicots). Some other
species about which celiac patients have
questions actually are dicots, which places them
in very distant relationship to the grass family.
Such species include buckwheat, amaranth,
quinoa, and rape. The seed of the last plant
listed, rape, is not eaten, but an oil is pressed
from the seeds that is commonly used in
cooking. This oil is being marketed as canola oil.
Because of their very distant relationship to the
grass family and to wheat, it is highly unlikely
that these dicots will contain the same type of
protein sequence found in wheat proteins that
causes problems for celiac patients. Of course,
some quirk of evolution could have given rise in
these dicots to proteins with the toxic amino
acid sequence found in wheat proteins. But if
such concerns were carried to a logical
conclusion, celiac patients would have to exclude
all plant foods from their diets. For example,
buckwheat and rhubarb belong to the same plant
family (Polygonaceae). If buckwheat were suspect
for celiac patients, should not rhubarb, its close
relation, be suspect as well?
It may be in order to caution celiac patients
that they may have undesirable reactions to any
of these foods--reactions that are not related to
celiac disease. Allergic reactions may occur to



Gluten-Free Grains in Relation to Celiac Disease - by Donald D. Kasarda, Former Research Chemist for the United States Department of Agriculture

almost any protein, including proteins found in

rice, but there is a great deal of individual
variation in allergic reactions. Also, buckwheat, for
example, has been claimed to contain a
photosensitizing agent that will cause some
people who have just eaten it to develop a skin
rash when they are exposed to sunlight. Quinoa
and amaranth may have high oxalate contentsapproaching those of spinach and these oxalate
levels may cause problems for some people. Such
reactions should be looked for, but for most
people, buckwheat, quinoa, or amaranth eaten in
moderation apparently do not cause problems.
(Buckwheat is sometimes found in mixture with
wheat, which of course would cause a problem
for celiac patients.) It seems no more necessary
for all people with celiac disease to exclude
buckwheat from their diets because some celiac
patients react to it than it would be for all
celiac patients to exclude milk from their diets
because some celiac patients have a problem
with milk.
In conclusion, scientific knowledge of celiac
disease, including knowledge of the proteins that
cause the problem, and the grains that contain
these proteins, is in a continuing state of
development. There is much that remains to be
done. Nevertheless, steady progress has been
made over the years. As far as I know, the
following statements are a valid description of
the state of our knowledge:
Spelt or spelta and Kamut are wheats. They have
proteins toxic to celiac patients and should be
avoided just as bread wheat, durum wheat, rye,
barley, and triticale should be avoided.
Rice and corn (maize) are not toxic to celiac
Certain cereal grains, such as various millets,
sorghum, teff, ragi, and Jobs tears are close enough
in their genetic relationship to corn to make it likely
that these grains are safe for celiac patients to eat.
However, significant scientific studies have not been
carried out for these latter grains.
There is no reason for celiac patients to avoid plant
foods that are very distantly related to wheat. These
include buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, and rapeseed
oil (canola). Some celiac patients might suffer
allergies or other adverse reactions to these grains
or foodstuffs made from them, but there is currently
no scientific basis for saying that these allergies or
adverse reactions have anything to do with celiac
disease. A celiac patient may have an allergy to
milk, but that does not mean that all celiac patients
will have an adverse reaction to milk. Again,
however, scientific studies are absent or minimal for
these dicots.

A list of my publications with pertinence to

celiac disease follows. Cross-references to the
literature for most of the points discussed above
can be found in these publications.



Gluten-Free Grains in Relation to Celiac Disease - by Donald D. Kasarda, Former Research Chemist for the United States Department of Agriculture

Kasarda, D. D., and DOvidio, R. 1999. Amino acid

sequence of an alpha-gliadin gene from spelt wheat
(Spelta) includes sequences active in celiac disease.
Cereal Chem. 76:548-551.
Kasarda, D. D. 1997. Celiac Disease. In Syllabus of
the North American Society for Pediatric
Gastroenterology & Nutrition, 4th Annual
Postgraduate Course, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, pp.
Kasarda, D. D. 1997. Gluten and gliadin: precipitating
factors in coeliac disease. In Coeliac Disease:
Proceedings of the 7th International Symposium on
Coeliac Disease (September 5-7, 1996), edited by M.
Mkki, P. Collin, and J. K. Visakorpi, Coeliac Disease
Study Group, Institute of Medical Technology,
University of Tampere,Tampere, Finland, pp. 195-212.
Srinivasan, U., Leonard, N., Jones, E., Kasarda, D. D.,
Weir, D. G., OFarrelly, C., and Feighery, C. 1996.
Absence of oats toxicity in coeliac disease. British
Medical Journal 313:1300-1301.
Tatham, A. S., Fido, R. J., Moore, C. M., Kasarda, D.
D., Kuzmicky, D. D., Keen, J. N., and Shewry, P. R.
Characterization of the major prolamins of tef
(Eragrostis tef) and finger millet (Eleusine coracana).
J. Cereal Sci. 24:65-71. 1996.
Kasarda, D. D. 1994. Defining cereals toxicity in
coeliac disease. In Gastrointestinal Immunology and
Gluten-Sensitive Disease, edited by C. Feighery, and F.
OFarrelly, Oak Tree Press, Dublin, pp. 203-220.
Shewry, P. R., Tatham, A. S., and Kasarda, D. D.
1992. Cereal proteins and coeliac disease. In Coeliac
Disease, edited by M. N. Marsh, Blackwell Scientific
Publications, Oxford, U. K., pp. 305-348.
De Ritis, G., Auricchio, S., Jones, H. W., Lew, E. J.-L.,
Bernardin, J. E. and Kasarda, D. D. 1988. In vitro
(organ culture) studies of the toxicity of specific Agliadin peptides in celiac disease. Gastroenterology
Kagnoff, M. F., Patterson, Y. J., Kumar, P. J.,
Kasarda, D. D., Carbone, F. R., Unsworth, D. J. and
Austin, R. K. 1987. Evidence for the role of a human
intestinal adenovirus in the pathogenesis of celiac
disease. Gut 28:995-1001.
Levenson, S. D., Austin, R. K., Dietler, M. D., Kasarda,
D. D. and Kagnoff, M. F. 1985. Specificity of
antigliadin antibody in celiac disease.
Gastroenterology 89: 1-5.
Kagnoff, M. F., Austin, R. K., Hubert, J. J., Bernardin,
J. E. and Kasarda, D. D. 1984. Possible role for a
human adenovirus in the pathogenesis of celiac
disease. J. Exp. Med. 160: 1544-1557.

Grains in Relation to Celiac (Coeliac) Disease by

Donald D. Kasarda.
An annotated copy:
As always, welcomes your comments
(see below).

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20 Responses:
said this on
15 Jan 2008 1:42:59 AM PST

I wanted information about amaranth - this article was

the first I found to put the scientific knowledge in a clear,
concise way, so I could make up my own mind - thank
(Reply to this comment)

said this on
14 Jun 2014 10:33:57 PM PST

AMARANTH ALLERGY! I do not have celiac but an

intolerance to wheat. My stomach bloats and I have
IBS symptoms. Maybe I have IBS as I have many of
those symptoms. However a shocking surprise was an
allergy to amaranth. I try different foods to substitute
wheat and after having vomiting reactions to prepared
food I eventually narrowed it down to the amaranth I
was adding. The re-action comes about 2-3 hours after
eating amaranth - numb dry mouth followed by upper
stomach discomfort and eventually vomiting. Very
uncomfortable for quite a few hours. I do not have this
re-action to buckwheat or quinoa so if anyone can
explain I would be grateful. Thanks.
(Reply to this comment)

said this on
20 Jan 2008 8:31:06 AM PST

Very informative, especially in relation to ragi &

rice. Thank you.
(Reply to this comment)

said this on



Gluten-Free Grains in Relation to Celiac Disease - by Donald D. Kasarda, Former Research Chemist for the United States Department of Agriculture

27 Feb 2008 7:00:20 AM PST

I was looking for information on Quinoa, because I had

assumed there was no way I could eat it. Now, I'm willing
to give it a try! I printed a copy of this so I can take it to
the grocery store. You feel so restricted when you have
Celiac and I feel like a wide window was just opened to
me - exciting!
(Reply to this comment)

Marcela Rose
said this on
15 Nov 2011 8:24:33 PM PST

Quinoa is a fantastic grain and we love it. There is so

much you can do with it!! Its fast replacing my love of
(Reply to this comment)

Amanda CCC
said this on
21 May 2008 3:09:00 AM PST

This article was clear. I enjoyed reading it and

understood the material. However, this information
appears to be only hope for those who don't have a
known allergy to corn. Most of the distant grains are
closely related to corn. I think that corn allergies should
be mentioned as a caution.
(Reply to this comment)

Bernice Dalby
said this on
18 Dec 2008 7:20:38 PM PST

You have covered many grains that have had me

wondereing what they are and if they are safe. I thank
(Reply to this comment)

said this on
24 Jan 2009 7:42:55 AM PST

Thank you for this information. I had made the same

conclusions about the grass family. However, I did not
know that canola oil was actually rapeseed oil and had
been concerned about canola's origins.
(Reply to this comment)

said this on
20 Jun 2009 9:29:28 PM PST

It should be noted that canola is a cultivar of rapeseed,

and is said to be much less toxic than traditional
rapeseed. So, there is a difference, apparently. Also, 80%
of the canola acres are said to be genetically modified.
So in essence, canola may be considered rapeseed (by
some), but rapeseed is not necessarily canola.
(Reply to this comment)

said this on



Gluten-Free Grains in Relation to Celiac Disease - by Donald D. Kasarda, Former Research Chemist for the United States Department of Agriculture

22 Nov 2009 3:07:04 PM PST

My infant son was diagnosed with celiac and I am still

nursing him, so by default my diet became gluten free. I
had been trying to find good information on all things
related to gluten and gluten free diets, this article and
entire site has been a God send!! Thank you so much!!
(Reply to this comment)

Hugh Gross
said this on
03 Apr 2010 1:13:27 AM PST

Best Information.
(Reply to this comment)

said this on
18 Oct 2010 10:12:52 PM PST

Enjoyed reading about all the grains... I had just read the
ingredient Buckwheat on a product and wondered if I
should eat it. Decided not too, Can't wait until tomorrow
to eat it! Thanks for one more product to eat. Also didn't
know about Canola oil. Again interesting.
(Reply to this comment)

Stuart Sherring
said this on
20 Feb 2011 8:41:38 AM PST

This article is extremely helpful as I am looking to

broaden the scope slightly of my excellent Bircher
recipes. Many thanks.
(Reply to this comment)

B Bond
said this on
18 Jun 2011 4:44:30 AM PST

Clear excellent advice. Someone who has 2 daughters

who may both have this disease thanks you.
(Reply to this comment)

said this on
14 Jul 2011 8:59:53 AM PST

I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I was born with it

and doctors did not discover the problem until I was 2
years. I was born in 1987 and one of the first out of 100
to be diagnosed with this rare disease that is now
becoming more common.
(Reply to this comment)

said this on
17 Jul 2011 2:33:18 PM PST

I have been experiencing intestinal problems for years

and will be tested for celiac disease in August. I have
been researching and reading to alter my diet which will
most likely remain altered regardless of the diagnosis
because my stomach has felt better on the altered diet.
This information has been more helpful than most that I



Gluten-Free Grains in Relation to Celiac Disease - by Donald D. Kasarda, Former Research Chemist for the United States Department of Agriculture

have read. Thank you.

(Reply to this comment)

Resentful in Cali
said this on
30 Sep 2013 5:21:52 PM PST

I have been suffering for the past 2 weeks with a bad

rash on my arms and legs every time I eat. I remember
when I was little I had many allergies and had an allergy
test done on my back when I was younger and I was
allergic to practically everything. I was talking to
someone and all the symptoms have been pointing to me
being gluten intolerant. All my symptoms such as dry,
itchy scalp in which for years I was told by my doctor that
I was utilizing the wrong type of shampoo, but my
research on this disease indicate otherwise. I have
seriously started altering my diet, but I am not too
thrilled since I am a true foodie! This sucks...resentful in
(Reply to this comment)

Sugarland Girl
said this on
21 Nov 2013 8:19:01 AM PST

It's my understanding that quinoa has a molecule that

mimics gluten so eat at your own risk. I react to quinoa
by feeling tired, the same as when I eat corn. I have to be
grain free. Bummer.
(Reply to this comment)

( Author)
said this on
26 Nov 2013 3:40:41 PM PST

Quinoa is gluten-free, and it is a myth that there is

anything in it that mimics gluten.
(Reply to this comment)

P Miller
said this on
31 Mar 2014 9:42:30 AM PST

This article is written using old, outdated reference

sources. Corn and oats BOTH can and do illicit a response
in some celiacs. I can cite several newer reference
sources (pubmed) that debunk the theory that corn and
oats are safe for all celiacs. I tried to provide proof links
but they weren't allowed.
(Reply to this comment)

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