Gluten Free For Good


 

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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), 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

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16 Responses to “Oats: the good, the bad and the ugly”

  1. Brenda says:

    I love you, Melissa! For your integrity, research, digging deeper, asking critical questions, and friendship! Many thanks for putting the good food word out there. Peace, Love, Gratitude!

    • Melissa says:

      Thanks, Brenda. I appreciate your comment and kind words. It’s hard to know what to eat and what not to eat these days. We’ve tampered with the food system so much over the past several decades that we’ve been hit with some unintended consequences. Here we are at the top of the food chain and we’re still confused about food and nutrition. =) I think “digging deeper” and asking “critical questions” is worth the effort if you have the time. xo

  2. Cathy says:

    Melissa, glad you’re back, so to speak. And thanks for addressing that question in the back of every celiac’s mind: How can GM make truly gluten-free Cheerios without cross-contamination?

    • Melissa says:

      Hi Cathy! This is what I miss about blogging — the opportunity to connect with friends. I’ve avoided those types of products (General Mills Cheerios) for that very reason. I’m not convinced I can trust them. Cross contamination and production errors can be a common occurrence if they don’t do things right. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Stacey says:

    Thank you for your commitment to honesty. I just got done reading about an event in my neighborhood this weekend to support a local organic sustainable farm. I will be there with my kids. It’s not only the human impacts that bother me but all the other animals whose space we’ve intruded upon. I live in an area where people have lawns that are filled with plant killers and fertilizers. There’s so much beautiful wildlife around here too. I can only imagine what it’s doing to them. Sigh. I’m trying to find my place in this mess. So I will start with an introduction to the local farm.
    Namaste
    Stacey

    • Melissa says:

      Hi Stacey, So nice that you’re bringing your kids to the farm event. It’s important for them to have a sense of where and how food is grown. I agree with your “sigh” regarding land use, etc. It’s hard to be responsible stewards of the land and find your “place” in the mix. An introduction to the local farm is a great start. Plus, you care, so you’re ahead of the game!

  4. Melissa! Oh how you’ve been missed. Your posts are always so in-depth, I really do wish you had time for more of them, but life is understandably busy.

    • Melissa says:

      Alisa! I think of you so often. Would love to see you. Thanks so much for your comment. You “get” the in-depth stuff because that’s the kind of thing you write. Analytical minds think alike. =) Hope all is well in your world. Miss you!

  5. Melissa, thanks so much for this post. I’m so happy to see you back blogging again, especially for such an important topic! As usual, you’ve covered all the concerns so succinctly. Thank you for that!

    I both appreciated and was newly saddened by your intro paragraph. Those “old days” were wonderful for gf bloggers and their readers. It’s a real shame that things have changed so dramatically.

    Last, thanks so much for linking to my post on GM’s Cheerios. I really wish they would ensure that every box is safe for those who eat gf for medical reasons, but every week I see new reports of those with celiac/NCGS being sickened by them. And now we have the glyphosate concern as well. Time to stick to the oats from folks like Gary Iverson for sure!

    xo,
    Shirley

    • Melissa says:

      Thanks so much, Shirley! I guess I sounded like a “golden girl” in that first paragraph talking about “the good old days.” =) But it really was a time when everyone pulled together supporting each other and sharing information. It was interesting, fun, and “nourishing” and we made lots of good friends along the way. I’m grateful for that! Also, thank you for your in-depth research and for continuing to stay on top of the GM Cheerio situation. It’s a lot of work to keep up with this stuff and you do a great job of it. I know you also have some favorite local farmers, small markets, oat sources, etc. We really do have to support these folks or they’ll get shoved out of the mix and we won’t have choices. Thanks for doing it on your end. Much appreciated!! Big hug!

  6. Diana Allen says:

    Great post, Melissa, and so timely! Why just last week, a client was insisting that oats were a gluten-containing grain, long conversation ensued… (not that I minded, but I could’ve just pointed her here!) xx

  7. Jo Panyko says:

    It is great to hear your “voice” again, Melissa. It is especially nice to hear your perspective on this issue of oats, and to know that there are others out there who are concerned about the truth behind gluten free wordspeak really not being safe or good for us.

  8. Martha Russell says:

    Melissa,

    What a treat to see a post from you again!! I have missed you!!! Thanks for your info about the oats and pesticides.

    I was excited when GM made their cheerios GF as that was a breakfast cereal for our family growing up. Shortly after eating these Cheerios I started having skin issues with my DH even having to see the doctor. At first I couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem as everything I was buying was GF. It wasn’t until after the recall I put things together. Even though my box wasn’t part of the recall, I stopped eating them & my skin cleared up right away!!!

    • Melissa says:

      Martha, Thank you for the kind words! You’re not alone in your issues with the Cheerios. I have DH as well and that’s always my first indication that I got glutened (first the blisters appear on my elbows). Sorry you had to deal with all that and what a shame that GM messed up so bad. Lots of people got sick from eating the Cheerios. Hope you’re doing well now! Melissa

      • Martha Russell says:

        Melissa,

        Thank you and I am doing well now. Hope you will have a chance to post more often as I learn a lot from you!!!

      • Melissa says:

        Martha,
        Glad to hear you’re doing well. Life is a series of ups and downs, that’s for sure. Hopefully a lot more “up” time than down. Thanks again!
        Melissa

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