Ten years ago when we first started following a gluten-free diet, if you had asked me were all fruits and vegetables free from gluten, I would have answered emphatically, “Of course!”
But are they really?
Gluten Cross-Contamination Issues on a Farm
Yes, fruits and vegetables in a perfect world are inherently, naturally gluten-free. And I'm suggesting getting your freak on and worrying like a crazy person over every fruit and vegetable you eat now. But, if you’re following a gluten-free diet and still have symptoms, it could be possible that some of your fruits and vegetables have been cross-contaminated with gluten. How does that happen? Well, it depends on the farm and where and how they're grown.
Life on a Farm
I’m a farmer’s wife and so I have a first-hand view of some of the practices that take place on a farm. Now that we’re become even more highly sensitive to gluten, I’m much more aware of things and more careful about what I eat.
Small Organic Farms and Gluten-Free Vegetables
I’ll start by saying I am the biggest proponent of growing organically. Take that one step further - I basically believe in building up your soil so you never have to spray a chemical on any field ever. But . . . and here’s the big but, small organic farms use some farming practices that a larger conventional farm might not.
1) Using Straw (usually produced from wheat or barley) in fields, between crop rows – organically, this is a great practice which helps to cut down on weeds and build up the soil. From a celiac view point – can you hear me screaming over here? How much comes into contact, ever, with your food? Hard to say. Maybe none. Maybe who knows how much? Depends on the harvesting practices.
This photo is a perfect illustration of how wheat straw
could possibly cross-contaminate strawberries.
2) Straw used to cover crops to protect against frost – Some small farms will cover their strawberries with straw if frost is expected. Have you ever considered that when eating one of these sweet berries? How well do you wash your strawberries before you eat them?
3) Workers handling gluten then handling your vegetables – Truthfully, I have no idea how much this would affect your food. Farm workers are constantly on the go. Farm life is busy, busy, busy. They work hard and often need to grab a bite when they can. The other day my daughter was helping on the farm and one of the workers was eating a doughnut while cutting lettuce up for the market. Do you ever even think about things like that?
4) Chemicals - Many people mistakenly believe that organic farms don’t use any chemicals and so their food is safe to eat right out of the fields. Many organic farms do use chemicals - they’re just pesticides and chemicals approved for organic use. It’s possible that residue from this chemicals may still be on these foods. Do you know if any of these chemicals or pesticides contain gluten or corn or soy? My husband couldn't even answer this question. When I asked though, if it was possible they may contain gluten, he thought it was possible.
5) Eggs - This is a new one to consider. But there’s been some talk on some gluten-free boards that eating eggs from chickens who are fed a diet that contains gluten can often cause some celiacs to have a reaction – a reaction which they presume is to the eggs. But it may actually be to the feed the chickens that produce the eggs are eating. Most chicken feed may contain gluten. It is also full of GMOs. They’re fed mostly soy, corn and gluten.
6) Wax Coating on Vegetables and Fruits
- I've always avoided any food that's been waxed because I had heard a while back that the wax was made with corn and we avoid corn. But this is on the FDA site
and it states that the wax may also contain gluten:
Are there examples of food products that are naturally "gluten-free"?
Yes. The following are examples of, but are not limited to, foods that are naturally gluten-free:
milk; nonfat dry milk)
100 percent fruit or vegetable juices
Fresh fruits and vegetables that are not coated with a wax or resin that contains gluten
That statement leads me to believe that the wax coating may also sometimes contain gluten.
What Do We Do?
Now remember, our gang here at the Clevenger house may be a bit more sensitive than most. So what do we do? We rinse very well and sometimes wash our produce with soap and water. And sometimes we wash our fruits and veges, then we peel them, too.
If you have a local farmer, ask questions if you can. Direct your questions to the farm owner or manager to be assured you are being given the information you need. But I have to say in all honesty, I don't think they'll be able to answer a lot of your questions. One, because I've never met a good farmer who wasn't short on time. And two, even my husband who is very aware of the needs of those with celiac, wasn't even sure which chemicals used on the sustainable farm he works for might possibly contain gluten.
My daughter someday wants to have a completely gluten-free farm. No straw. Maybe even have workers who all have celiac. A farm where no pesticides are ever used. Just nature at it's best! I guess we just want food that we know, without doubt, is safe to eat. That really shouldn't be too hard to do. Should it?
This blog from Buffalo to Go - Extreme Gluten Free titled "What to Ask a Farmer
" is a terrific post that further explains some of the issues with gluten cross-contamination and fruits and vegetables. After reading the post and seeing all the possibilities there are for fruits and vegetables to come in contact with gluten, how do you answer the question, "Are Fruits and Vegetables Always Gluten-Free?"
Image Credits: tomatoes and cucumbers ©Barbara Reddoch/123rf; Strawberries by Jeanette ONeil: Eggs On Straw by Petr Kratochvil