Are GMOs related to celiac disease?

Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN
Q: Are GMOs related to celiac disease? I have read that GMO-free flour from European countries may be safer for people with celiac disease.  Do you have any thoughts on this?

Answer


The issue of GMOs is a controversial topic. Currently there is no recommendation that people with celiac disease should stay away from GMOs or evidence that they would make celiac disease worse. It is up to each individual to decide what they feel comfortable with and some may decide to stay away from GMOs for one reason or another.

What are GMOs?

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. The Non-GMO Project defines it as: “a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.” (1)

Contrary to some myths, GMOs of gluten-free grains are not modified to contain gluten and can be included in a gluten-free diet. An important thing to point out is that even though many European countries do not allow GMOs, they still have high prevalence of celiac disease at similar levels to that of the United States. So, I think there must be another connection. 

What about GMO wheat?

I frequently get asked if GMO wheat is the cause of increased celiac disease and gluten-related conditions. However, GMO wheat is not available commercially in the United States, so it would be highly unlikely that it would be a cause of increased celiac disease and gluten-related conditions as it is just not available in our food system.

What GMOs are grown in the US?

Alfalfa

Apple

Canola

Corn

Cotton/cottonseed

Potato

Soy/soybean

Sugar beet

Yellow summer squash/zucchini

According the FDA, soybeans, corn, sugar beets, canola, and cotton have a very high percentage of GMOs being grown. Of soybeans, 94% are GMO, corn 92%, cotton 94%, canola 95% and sugar beet 99.9%. (2)

Ingredients in processed foods that are often from GMOs:

Amino acids, alcohol, aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, citric acid, sodium citrate, ethanol, flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), high-fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, maltodextrins, molasses, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sucrose, textured vegetable protein (TVP), xanthan gum, vitamins, vinegar, yeast products (1).

Are GMO foods required to be labeled in the US?

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) is a federal rule published on December 21, 2018 that requires mandatory disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients in certain foods. It went into full effect January 1, 2022. (3)

If you want to reduce GMOs and pesticides in your diet choose USDA organic certified foods, they are not allowed to contain GMOs or use pesticides. You can read more about USDA organic labeling and check out what it looks like here.

Hopefully there will be more research available and recommendations surrounding this topic in the future, until then each person will have to decide what feels right for them in regard to consuming GMOs or not.

For more information on GMOs:

The Food and Drug Administration:

https://www.fda.gov/food/agricultural-biotechnology/gmo-crops-animal-food-and-beyond

The Non-GMO Project:

https://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/what-is-gmo/

The Non-GMO Project verified product search:

https://www.nongmoproject.org/find-non-gmo/verified-products/

References:

  1. The Non-GMO Project. What is a GMO? Non-GMO Project Website. https://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/what-is-gmo/
  2. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). GMO Crops, Animal Food, and Beyond. FDA Website. https://www.fda.gov/food/agricultural-biotechnology/gmo-crops-animal-food-and-beyond
  3. Federal Register. National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. Federal Register Website: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/12/21/2018-27283/national-bioengineered-food-disclosure-standard

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN, NCA's Director of Education. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Katarina Mollo, MEd, RDN, LDN by providing this information.

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