Cereals containing gluten

Celiac disease and allergy to cereals e.g. wheat allergy are two different diagnoses. Individuals suffering from celiac disease must avoid gluten which is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten causes damage to the small intestine of individuals with celiac disease. Individuals suffering from wheat allergy can react with symptoms like vomiting, eczema, asthma and anaphylactic shock.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease or gluten intolerance is an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten, i.e. proteins present in wheat, rye and barley. The gluten proteins cause an inflammation of the mucosa in the small intestine leading to flattening of the mucosa and, when the illness is untreated, to malnutrition.

Celiac disease is a life-long, permanent intolerance to gluten. Cereals like wheat, rye and barley must be excluded from the diet. As alternatives, products labelled “gluten-free” or “very low gluten” can be used instead. The “gluten-free” products are often based on i.e. maize, rice, oat, millet or buckwheat. The products labelled  “gluten-free” or “very low gluten” can also be based on cereals, which have been rendered gluten-free, like wheat starch.

Rules for labelling foods with "gluten-free" and "very low gluten" are given in Commission regulation (EU) No 828/2014.

Pure oat, which is not contaminated with gluten-containing cereals, can be included in the gluten-free diet. A number of clinical studies indicate that most people (adults and children) with celiac disease tolerate oat.

Allergy to cereals

Wheat and other cereals can also cause IgE-mediated allergic reactions. Such reactions are immediate or delayed after ingestion and their severity varies from mild to very severe like anaphylaxis. Gluten-free products i.e. those with a gluten level below 20 mg/kg are considered to be well tolerated by most people with IgE-mediated allergy to cereals.

Labeling

The presence of cereals containing gluten (i.e. wheat, spelt, khorasan wheat, rye, barley, oat or their hybridized strains) and products thereof must always be declared, see further in the Food Information Regulation (EC) no 1169/2011.

Examples of methods of analysis

In commission regulation (EU) No 828/2014, whereas clause 11, is said that for the purpose of the regulation the Codex standard 118-1979, revised in 2008, should be taken appropriately into consideration. As method for determination of gluten in the Codex standard, the enzyme-linked immuno assay (ELISA) R5 method is given. The limit of quantification is 5 mg gluten/kg (ppm).

Gluten can also be quantified with other ELISA methods.

Accredited methods should be used in official control. The Swedish Food Agency is accredited for analysis of gluten in food.

Celiac reactions on cereals / Doses

The concentrations of gluten proteins that have been detected in food products causing reactions among individuals with celiac disease are listed below. The food and the descriptions of the reactions have been sent to the Swedish Food Agency by the health care or by control authorities.

FoodAmount consumedGluten conc. mg/kgEstimated doseAge
Pasta* 50 g 10 000 500 mg 9 years
Biscuit 50 g 140 7 mg Adult
Snacks 10-50 g 10 000 100-500 mg 6 years
Chocolate 100-200 g 70 7-14 mg Adult
Wafer 100-150 g 70 7-10 mg Child
Ice coon 10 g 860 8,6 mg 7 years**

 * The same product causing the allergic reaction below ** Child who consumes only products without wheat starch

Allergic reaction to cereals / Doses

The lowest dose of gluten protein that elicitates an allergic reaction is not known. The concentrations of gluten proteins that have been detected in food products causing allergic reactions are listed below. 

FoodAmount consumedGluten conc. mg/kgEstimated dose Age
Pasta* 50 g 10 000 500 mg 8 years
Oatbased vanilla sauce 70 g 33 2.3 mg 11 years

  * The same product causing the allergic reaction above

Reviewed 2020-04-08