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Quinoa has been touted as a wonderful miracle “grain” for anyone on a gluten-free diet for years. And with good reason! It’s high in protein and amino acids and is a much more complete food than white rice or potatoes or even soy. In fact, my personal favorite gluten-free pastas have always been those that are made with quinoa flour.

However, a study recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that some strains of quinoa may in fact trigger reactions in people with celiac disease. This would put quinoa in the same category as oat: many strains are gluten-free, but recent research shows that some varieties of oats are toxic to people with celiac disease / contain gluten even when kept completely uncontaminated (study overview).

Anyway. Back to quinoa. Let’s look at the study a bit more in-depth.

The study examined 15 different strains of quinoa all grown in the Andes and provided by Peru’s National Institute of Agricultural Research. The quinoa was studied first by ELISA (the abstract does not indicate which antibody was used), and was then introduced to cells taken from people with diagnosed celiac disease. Four of the 15 cultivars had at least some level of toxicity but two of them–Ayacuchana and Pasankalla–had a level that could potentially trigger a reaction in some people with celiac disease.

What does this mean for the average gluten-free quinoa eater? Given that most commercially available quinoa isn’t named by species (I, for one, have never noticed anything more specific than a color name given to quinoa), it can be a bit tricky. And the study’s abstract does not indicate what the levels of toxicity actually are–it’s possible that the average celiac would only have a reaction if they went on a crazy quinoa binge.

A search for the two types of quinoa mentioned as potential trouble adds a bit of information. There’s almost nothing on Ayacuchana, however Pasankalla is cited in a few places as being a type of red quinoa (or the only type of red quinoa, it’s unclear).

I’m far from a medical professional and so I don’t want to necessarily recommend any change their diet (or avoid changing their diet). If you’ve always had a secret suspicion that quinoa left you feeling icky, this could help explain it. And the good news is you might be able to tolerate a different brand much better.

Will this study change your quinoa consumption? If so, how?