Diet and Nutrition

Cheerios: A Not-So-Safe Option for Celiac Patients

Cheerios: A Not-So-Safe Option for Celiac Patients

Cereal is one of the options preferred by many people especially for breakfast because it is just serve and eat, an excellent way to solve morning hunger when people do not want to wait for something more elaborated.

Furthermore, there are cereals of all types and flavors. Having where to decide from adds a plus, so it cannot be considered a boring breakfast decision. Bringing back 2 or 3 cereal boxes when going to the supermarket guarantees a week of varied breakfasts in case no one wants to cook pancakes, omelettes or sandwiches.

With people increasing their level of awareness about celiac disease affecting others all over the world, big brands are producing gluten-free options. Ultra-popular franchises such as McDonald’s have included gluten-free dishes for people with celiac disease in their menus. The cereal “Cheerios” is one of the most popular options in the current market for celiac patients, they could not fall behind in gluten-free options and launched a couple of gluten-free presentations. A decision that seemed to be excellent, in the beginning.

Food and Drug Administration receives a complaint

Last year, a complaint was received by the Food and Drug Administration. Apparently, a 35-year old man started to feel weird about a half an hour after eating a bowl of Cheerios, which are apparently especially made for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities. Among the symptoms the man assured to be feeling, some were very similar to the ones felt after consuming gluten accidentally. The man reported experiencing:

After some hours suffering from the aforementioned symptoms, the man reported to feel intestinal pain as well as strong fatigue. He said he had been through these symptoms whenever he consumed gluten accidentally in the past. He finally stated that he could assure the reaction was caused by the bowl of Cheerios he ate, suspecting they were not made according to the standards used when manufacturing food for people with celiac disease and should not have the “gluten-free” label.

Other complaints in the past

Only one year before this man’s complaint, there was a big incident with a batch of almost 2 million Cheerios boxes which said they “may contain wheat” due to a fatal error during their manufacturing. The Food and Drug Administration received more than 130 complaints of different adverse reactions produced by the cereals General Mills manufactured during the months of August, September and October.

Although 2 years have passed since that unfortunate event reports are still being received. During 2016 the Food and Drugs Administration received more than 40 reports.

Honey Nut Cheerios is the best-selling cereal in the U.S and its high level of consumption can also lead to a larger number of complaints being received. However, their producers, “General Mills” have stated that both cereals labelled as gluten-free produced by them were done up the standards set by the Food and Drugs Administration.

General Mills have also stated that all their cereals are tested throughout their entire production process to make sure they meet and exceed the standards required by the Food and Drugs administration. Using oat flour and having all their facilities tested.

Regarding the common nature of these complaints received by the Food and Drugs Administration, most cases have stated to feel a full blown celiac episode, including symptoms as hives, diarrhea and strong pain in the small intestine. It is important to point out that these reactions can result in the development of more serious conditions. 

Other incidents and suspicions by consumers

Consumers facing problems regarding “gluten-free” products are concerned about manufacturing processes that manipulate mechanically both types of ingredients: grains such as rye and wheat that contain gluten and oats which are considered gluten-free.

Many physicians have spoken their mind regarding complaints they have received from people with celiac disease consuming Cheerios. However, this is not the only product massively distributed that can be harmful for people with celiac disease. It is well-known that gluten-free products have helped General Mills remain at the top of the U.S market, affecting people who do not suffer from celiac disease spotting gluten-free products as healthier.

General Mills is currently part of supporting programs for the production and promotion of gluten-free products. It also sponsors a celiac disease foundation dedicated to researches on the disease and the development of new ways to treat it.

Opinions and suggestions from the celiac community

Although gluten-free products are reaching more and more people since they are marketed as healthier options for all people, even if they do not suffer from celiac disease. However, celiac community (the ones that should be truly benefited by the array of gluten-free food that has crowded shelves in supermarkets) recommend not to consume produces that are done using a mechanical-optical mechanism to separate gluten ingredients (such as wheat) from oats (which is the most popular ingredient to produce gluten-free products. This mechanical-optical separation is used in most mass-production processes and it can lead to gluten being mixed with gluten-free food.

Mechanically-optically separated ingredients are not considered safe enough for people with celiac disease, those who can suffer important damage to their organism if consumed accidentally. Problems such as:

These problems are just some of the consequences that can be triggered by accidental consumption of products containing gluten.

This suggestion of avoiding consumption of products done using mechanically-optically separated ingredients has extended to big associations advising celiac people not to rely on everything that says “gluten-free.” Such is the case of the Canadian Celiac Association which advised people suffering from celiac disease or presenting symptoms of gluten sensitivity (not totally intolerant to gluten but displaying some annoying symptoms when consuming it) not to consume Cheerios even when labelled as “gluten-free” since they are potentially harmful.

This advice leaves a place for a question: how does this cross contamination happen? Truth is that cross contamination takes place usually when broken kernels are in contact with oats, leaving traces of gluten. However, sometimes said cross contamination is even more radical since some ingredients such as wheat and barley are similar in appearance to oats.

Gluten-free food production methods need deeper testing processes

All this hassle around Cheerios and their potential to harm people with celiac disease have led to celiac community debating whether more specialized methods of selection are required or not. Celiac experts have stated that manufacturers of gluten-free food should be required to use more consistent and reliable testing methods for the separation of wheat and oats, trying to avoid any kind of interaction between manufacturing food with gluten and gluten-free food.

To sum up, celiac people can be considered at risk if they consume Cheerios or Lucky Charms labelled as gluten-free. Many people believe these products have been mistakenly categorized or do not fulfill the manufacturing requirements to produce these types of products. It has been requested to toughen the standards of gluten-free food production.