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Archive for May, 2016



Oats: the good, the bad and the ugly

oats, gluten-free oats

First off, a few of you might have noticed, I haven’t posted anything for weeks. Months? Okay, it’s been well over 2 years. You know how it goes; life happens and priorities change. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say that life is short and I’d rather spend time doing fun things with the people I care about, rather than sitting at my computer writing blog posts. No offense, I loved the old-school blogging world. Back in the olden days (I started this blog in 2006), the food/nutrition blogosphere was a tightly knit, supportive community. The gluten-free sub-set of that community was very small and consisted of people helping people. Friendly people sharing information, nourishing spirits, and promoting good health. It lessened the feeling of isolation a restrictive diet (for medical reasons) can foster. There was a genuine sense of belonging, but somewhere along the way, we hit a tipping point. I’m not sure I like the direction we’ve tipped.

Having said that, every so often something comes up that motivates me to dust off my blog, catch up with WordPress, and get back into writing about food and exercise. This is one of those times — the ongoing oat saga. Oats (gluten-free) are, and always have been, a mainstay of my diet, even though I have celiac disease. They’re versatile, they’re nutritious (or can be), they taste good, they cook up quickly, and are a perfect addition to an athlete’s and/or backpacker’s pantry. I use oatmeal loaded with dried fruit, nuts, and seeds as breakfast fuel for early morning mountain bike rides. I grind them up and use them in homemade energy bars. I bake bread from oat flour. They’re a backpacking and camping staple. I even use oats as a protein booster in veggie burgers.

The GOOD
Many years ago I discovered Montana Gluten-Free Processors. The “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” theme is more difficult than it sounds, but I do know these people. I know the brilliant (and quirky) plant scientist who selected this oat variety based on nutritional value. I know the CEO of Montana Gluten-Free (AKA: head farmer, Gary Iverson) who lives a gluten-free lifestyle, grows these oats, and insures that they’re truly gluten-free. They harvest, mill, and package their products with dedicated equipment. The oats are processed in a certified gluten-free facility. They’re organic, non-GMO, hull-less (easier to digest), low glycemic, and are 25% higher in protein than other oat varieties. They also test out at under 3 ppm with ELISA testing protocols. What more could you ask for? Other than excellent customer service from pleasant, reliable, salt-of-the-earth folks. They’re the best. For more information, check out their website.

The BAD
Talk about “knowing your farmer.” Who’s behind the oats at General Mills? Who is General Mills? Who’s responsible for the cereal products labeled gluten-free at General Mills that weren’t actually gluten-free? Who knows? I understand the need for easy, convenient breakfast foods. Who hasn’t dumped a handful of Cheerios on their toddler’s high chair tray at one time or another? I’ll admit to that — back when I was juggling four kiddos at once, although I’d like to think our food quality was a little better back then (30-some years ago). That was also pre-celiac disease days, before the word “gluten” was part of our family’s vocabulary. If you’re unfamiliar with the gluten contamination and quality control problems at General Mills (and Quaker), I’ll direct you to a couple of the food bloggers who were on top of it from the beginning.

Check out prolific and friendly blogger Shirley Braden’s (at Gluten-Free Easily) take on the General Mills fiasco. You can find her detailed explanation here. For more information on the manufacturing, sorting, and gluten-free purity protocol for oats, check out Trisha Thompson’s (at Gluten-Free Watchdog) gluten-free testing data. You can find that information here.

The UGLY
Would you like a side of weed-killer with your oatmeal?

Glyphosate is a broad spectrum, systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially perennial weeds and grasses that compete with crops. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, glyphosate is the most widely used, non-selective (meaning it will kill most plants) herbicide used in the United States. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, the brand-name of the herbicide produced by Monsanto. Because glyphosate is non-selective, some crops have been genetically modified (GM) to be resistant to the herbicide. They’re called Roundup Ready crops. Farmers can plant these GM plants and spray them with Roundup (glyphosate) to eliminate unwanted weeds without killing the crop.

In March of 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, assessed the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate and several other pesticides. Glyphosate was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans. It was also determined that glyphosate caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells.

What does this have to do with oatmeal, you ask? According to Forbes Magazine, Quaker Oats is facing a potential class-action lawsuit because they claim their oats are “100% Natural” and are grown using “eco-friendly” farming practices, and yet they spray the oats with glyphosate before harvest. Glyphosate can also be used as a drying agent. Although it’s not against the law to use glyphosate on cereal crops, calling the product “Natural” and suggesting the farming practices are “eco friendly” is a stretch — and deceptive, hence the lawsuit.

I have a science degree, but I’m not a plant scientist, so I don’t understand how organophosphate pesticides like glyphosate work, how much of this stuff is in our food system, how dangerous these substances are to human health, or how detrimental they may be to the soil and water. And other than the basic definition of manually inserting new DNA into an organism to add new traits to that organism, I have a foggy understanding of genetic engineering. What I do know is that my intuition tells me spraying poison on food and then eating it is probably a bad thing. Especially if it causes DNA and chromosomal damage and probably causes cancer. As for manipulating genetic material and engineering food crops, I don’t know, but I’d like to choose not to eat those foods if I knew which ones they were. At this point, they aren’t universally labeled.

Bottom line? If at all possible, get involved in your community — support small farmers who are trying to grow nutritious and safe food, frequent farmer’s markets, ask questions, do what you can to increase agricultural awareness, help grow an appreciation and understanding of where our food comes from, and make choices that support local food production. Know your farmer, know your food. It’s not easy or always practical, I know that, but it’s important for overall health. The more we know, the better (and healthier) choices we can make.

Peace, love and good food.
Melissa

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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