Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chex Cereals: Gluten Controversy

Are Gluten-Free Chex Cereals truly Gluten-Free?

I posted a brief article back in March of 2009 here on the Gluten-Free Blog about the impending release of the General Mills reformulated Chex cereals that were publicized and labeled (quite clearly) as Gluten-Free, with same great taste as before GF. Since then, those products (which include Gluten-Free Corn Chex and Rice Chex, Gluten-Free Cinnamon Chex, Gluten-Free Strawberry Chex [update: this one seems to have gone away], and Gluten-Free Honey Nut Chex and even Chocolate Chex and Vanilla Chex) have been released and are available in store.

But, there has been quite a controversy about whether these Chex products are truly "gluten-free" as advertised — at least, there sure has been a lot of discussion alleging the presence of gluten in these new "gluten-free Chex" per the comments people have posted on my original blog entry over the past year; and, I have even received Emails detailing similar concerns and allegations that people have felt compelled to send out in wide-dispersal to myself and anyone else in the gluten-free community (in hopes we would post their GF disbelief on our sites apparently).

So, what to make of all this?

The Gluten-Free Chex Cereals Lineup (as of early 2017)

IS THERE Gluten still in Chex Cereals?

It is quite apparent that more than a few people think Chex cereals, regardless of their "gluten-free" emblazoned box-covers, are somehow "poisoned" with gluten — perhaps there is something gluten-related going on here, or perhaps it is something else.

Why do I say this?

Well, my wife can eat all the gluten she wants (i.e., she does NOT have Celiac disease or anything), but yet she can not eat the Chex products because they have repeatedly caused her to experience all sorts of stomach / GI discomfort. I also found that, although I can tolerate some of the Chex cereals, if I eat them for any length of time, they cause me GI issues too.

Well, MY issues can be explained by potential gluten, but my WIFE's issues cannot. We started experimenting... and, given how simplistic the Rice Chex ingredients are (rice, sugar, salt, molasses, and Vitamin-E and BHT for preservatives, there was only one potential culprit besides (alleged) gluten contamination to investigate: BHT (the artificial preservative).

A Simple Experiment:

We tried a few other food items that are otherwise gluten-free but contain the preservative BHT, and have had the same issues with those other products as well.

So, this is ONLY a wild guess, but is it possible that what people, or at lease *some* people, are taking to be a "gluten reaction" is perhaps a reaction to the darn BHT companies use "to preserve freshness" in their products? I have found that MY body despises the stuff, and that my wife's body definitely disagrees with BHT as well (and she is NOT sensitive to gluten - she can eat as much normal wheat-based pasta and bread as she desires without any issue). This may or may not be what is to blame for what some are assuming to be a "gluten reaction", but no matter what, the chemical causes issues for my wife and I.

UPDATE, 2017: I noticed that on the Chex cereal product page, perhaps in response to what BHT did to some people and the controversy pointed out here, they have adjusted their recipes and now clearly state that: 
"Chex is real, good food made with simple ingredients. Simple because we don’t have artificial colors, flavors or preservatives (BHT). Six of our seven flavors are gluten free."  
I hope this remains the case, as it sure sounds like a welcome improvement. Here's hoping this makes Gluten-Free Chex a cereal option everyone can trust.

Bottom line:

I tend to try to deal with things in, as best as possible, a more scientific approach and not just draw conclusions, regardless of the fact that the obvious conclusion we Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free types would draw if we present with a reaction to a particular food: that there is potential gluten-contamination in that food (be it Chex or any other products that lead to a "reaction"). But, when a product is supposed to be gluten-free, I can not help wondering what exactly is going on. Without the rigor of scientifically valid double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, it really is hard to pinpoint, with exactitude, the true cause of some things.

Note: given the comments left on my prior blog about Gluten-Free Chex products, before arguing how you just "know" there is gluten in a product based on your body's reactions, I am not saying that you are wrong... I am just saying that true "proof" must be demonstrable in a more rigorous setting if that proof is to be taken as fact by everyone else. I have, on many occasions, suspected a particular item I consumed contained gluten, just based on symptoms I had following ingestion — but, I have also, on multiple occasions, done my best to perform a "double-blind", or even triple-blind, on the same item (ESPECIALLY if it should be completely gluten-free), separating such experimentation by substantial periods of time, and even with the exact same box/can/jar/etc, with outcomes that have proven some things to be completely safe that I previously suspected as "contaminated". Sure, my sensitivity to gluten may vary over time, or vary when consumed items are combined differently with other dietary intake, or be explained by a multitude of other things, but my approach has worked rather well for me. I also will not put myself at risk of substantial harm doing such experiments either: if I have a really bad reaction to something and I know with reasonable certainty what the culprit is, it is gone for good.

In the end, the only thing that truly matters is making sure that what you choose to eat does not cause you harm. I personally want to know exactly what is to blame for any such harm, whenever it is possible.

Just my thoughts.

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available.


LKP said...

whoa, could it be possible? really and truly i've made it into the first 5 comments? this is a place of high regard. thank you. =) this alone has made my day, bu i digress...
ok, on the cereal thing, i can buy that the cereal company has made the best efforts they can to not use gluten ingredients in the GF cereals. i believe that whole-heartedly. however, i've experienced this time & time again, when i've been to restaurants and place my special GF/Allergen Free order, they roll their eyes at me. they say "yeah yeah, i'll be sure there's no bun or that we don't use that soy based cheese." the thing is, not just a matter of being sure those items aren't on my plate when i get it, but that my food has not been prepped in the same area or one the same grill as the guy one table over from me's whole-wheat bun and cooked in his old soy grease. cause probs, big time. so, has the cereal guys COMPLETELY built new cereal plants where there is not the chance of cross contamination from the equipment? my aunt is hyper-celiac (much more sensitive than I), and she has her own kitchenaide, her own separate pans, separate utencils (all in diff color so the family doesn't cross-contaminate her stuff). i can't imagine a cereal company would take those kind of measures in their plant. so is there a possibility of contamination? well there's always a chance for anything now isn't there? now, on to the BHT thing. i can't hack it. BHT gets me seriously ill every time. i really can't do packaged foods for that reason. doubles me over. other people are not affected by it the same. i respect that. but i'm with you, is there a chance their possibly, might be GF misrepresentation? slightly yeah. there's a chance, but its a matter of opinion & perspective. could the BHT be doing a little D&D to your innards? you betcha! more & more of those "preservative" chemicals are proving themselves to be a not so nice idea afterall. granted, the fact a twinkie can endure 40 yrs on the shelf & still be hosttess fresh after the apocolypse, that is respectable. but consider that and think about what those chemicals are designed to do? change the natural chemical make-up to a mannequin of desserts. fake, hollow, not right. no wonder we're all so ill!
thanks for letting me speak up. gets lonely on the sidelines. =)

Maeve said...

When I first spied the GF Rice Chex, months ago, I was thrilled.

Then I had a small bowl and my body wasn't so thrilled.

I'm sensitive to a number of things, so I don't know if it was gluten/not gluten, or BHT, or what, but my body sure didn't care for it. I seem to think my husband had some, as he likes Rice Chex too, and he didn't mention any tummy upset, but then, he's generally not the sort who would anyhow.

Jenn/CinnamonQuill said...

Yep, my enthusiasm over Chex was curbed by the fact that they use BHT. I've got to stay away from it. I seem to have this issue with many other preservatives as well. While I totally support gluten-free awareness and efforts made by food companies, I am not in a hurry to rally around products that may still be harmful to my health/health in general, even if they don't contain gluten.

You've raised a good point.

Traci said...

I have been GF for 4 yrs now. When I found out about Chex going GF I was SOO excited! I have had no problems with them. I have a bowl several times a week. hmmm

Lynn said...

I have been eating GF Chex cereals with no problem. We must remember that our stomachs are now very sensitive. Dairy, soy and sugar bother me. I can tolerate them in limited quantities. As we eat more natural foods our bodies will react to processed foods. I can tell the difference when I unintentionally consume gluten or just eat poorly. Paying attention to your body and what you ingest is imperative.

Kathy said...

I've been eating the rice chex with no problem, and the honey nut chex
occasionally as well. I usually
react strongly to even slight
cross contamination.

As far as the building being gluten free, the Betty Crocker Cake mixes are in a dedicated gluten free building, but from what I can tell the cereals are made using methods to prevent cross contamination, so
most likely not a dedicated facility.

Maybe it's a matter of when in the
run a particular box went through?

Or as you theorized, the BHT might
be the cause for many.

Tom said...

You bring up great points about other causes of 'gluten like' reactions.

Being one that is *highly* sensitive to gluten, I make a determined effort to avoid products that are labeled 'gluten free' yet are produced in non-gluten free environments. Chex falls into this category. For the benefit of other readers, here is the exact response I received from Chex customer service:

"We apologize that are our first response did not fully answer your question. Our Gluten Free Chex cereals are not produced in a gluten free facility. We do, however, ensure against cross-contamination with gluten-containing ingredients and products through thorough cleaning and sanitation processes, including testing between gluten and gluten free product runs based on FDA proposed regulations. Our Gluten Free Betty Crocker mixes, however, are produced in a gluten free processing facility."

So I agree completely that one can't necessarily blame gluten contamination for adverse reactions to Chex, but I for one will not place any credibility in such a weak gluten free claim as that made by General Mills with respect to Chex. Having owned a food business for 6 years, I am all too familiar with the virtual impossibility of ensuring no possible chance of cross contamination through "good cleaning and sanitation practices!"

Be careful out there folks!

terry said...

I've been eating the gf Chex with no problem at all...

I do notice that some of the Whole Foods gf baked goods don't agree with me, and I'm pretty sure they understand how to do gf properly.

However, I'd say the simple answer is this: if you react to any food, regardless of its labeling, don't eat it. Just because it's gf doesn't mean it's right for you, particularly where processed foods are concerned.

kd said...

ive been alergic to wheat and gluten for about 3 years and i eat rice,corn,and chocolate chex without being sick. i am VERY sensitive to gluten and if i have a very small amount of gluten i get sick for days. and i eat chex for breakfast alot!sooo there is no gluten in chex

Hungry said...

You make a very good point. I have heard someone eviscerate a restaurant for gluten contamination when what she ordered was an incredibly rich alfredo sauce that would probably give anyone digestive upset. It's not always gluten that's the culprit.

I eat the chex cereals. I occasionally have a little bit of trouble with them, as I do with any pre-packaged product like that, but for me anyway it's not my usual gluten reaction. You're probably right about the BHT.

MCarpenter said...

Interesting. I'll have to watch for BHT.
I'm like you though. It seems like I can get away with eating some processed GF foods for a little while, but after a few days, my stomach can't handle it anymore and my body feels all out of wack. I assumed that I was just sensative to all grains in varying amounts--corn definately does interesting and distinct things to me--with the primary perpetrator being wheat gluten.

Erika said...

I have to agree with Lauren. There is so much out there that our bodies can react too including BHT. I definitely have a reaction to it and other preservatives. I found out I have many food sensitivities which often goes along with Celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders. I encourage people to try an elimination diet and to read the book "Was It Something You Ate." I was astounded to find I had food sensitivities that were not caused by wheat but have the same reaction. By refining my diet by what I learned from reading that book and the elimination diet, I feel better than I have in years.

Erika said...

Mike, could you edit my post before publishing it. I accidentally referred to you as Lauren. I thought I was posting a comment on a different blog. Sorry for the mix-up. Love your blog.

searise said...

well, as i was snacking on a box of the honey nut chex cereal the other day i cam across a broken piece that looked darker than the others. i though it was just more toasted so i ate it anyway because i'm weird and i like extra toasted pieces in any packaged food, i feel like they are treasures. HOWEVER, the texture was that of wheat chex. CRAP! i think, that was an impostor piece of wheat chex cereal. yes it was, and i was proven right with the regular gi sympotoms associated with an accidental gluttoning. NO MORE CHEX FOR ME. i don't trust the brand anymore.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I just want to add to the comments that my 5 year old son has severe food allergies to wheat, barley, and rye to the point that even trace amounts will cause a reaction.
He doesn't experience any GI issues with a reaction, an allergic reaction for him will make his face swell up and he will stop breathing, his blood pressure will drop, and after only a few short minutes will go into anaphylactic shock. He even reacts to the skin prick testing for wheat which is rare.
He eats Chex GF cereal sometimes, but he prefers a different brand (Enjoy Life Crunchy Rice), but the handful of times he has had it he hasn't had a reaction at all, no question.
I now that's not all of the gluten grains that he is allergic to, but I can confidently say that in the dozen or som boxes that we have had that there wasn't any, even trace amounts or barley, rye, or wheat in Check GF.

DB said...

Ever since allegedly "gluten free" Chex triggered a severe, many-months-to clear bout of DH with me, two years ago, I've steered clear. DH [Dermatitis Herpetiformis] is a distinct Celiac reaction that has nothing to do with BHT. I called in the FDA to examine, but they were unable to detect any gluten; they did admit, however, that their tests are not sensitive enough to measure quantities below 20 ppm [parts per million] -- hence the use of that number as the regulated standard. So let it be known that, at least here in the US, "gluten free" does not really mean "free" of gluten . . . as far as the government is concerned there is an acceptable trace amount {what they simply cannot measure) which may be present. And, in the case of Chex, which definitely is present! SO buyer please beware; caveat emptor. If you have Celiac Disease, and are sensitive to gluten, then it is unmistakble that Chex contains gluten; this comes from someone who has DH. If you, too, have Celiac Disease, I'd stay away, BHT or not! Just another canary in the coal mine . . .

Anonymous said...

My experience is identical do Doug's. My DH flared immediately after eating a small bowl of HNC.

airdawg54 said...

Just discovered I had celiac 2 months ago. In retrospect I think
I've had it all my life. so many symptoms fit. Went totally gluten free 2 months ago and many of my symptoms have already abated! Just today I had a small skin rash in all the familiar places and I immediately went thru what I've eaten in the past few days. No obvious gluten, but BHT in the corn flakes! Just found ur blog and have not read thru all of it but have already found much useful info. Keep up the good work. (Joe Satriani rocks. One one my all time favs)

Anonymous said...

I've been reading all the comments on here about chex and gluten. I seemed to be ok for a while eating the cinnamon chex, but lately I'm not so sure. In my case I have other food sensitivities. I also have problems with dairy and corn. You can imagine how difficult it is to eat anywhere, even at home. Just today, while reviewing the long list of corn derivative's list, I learned that msg is derived from corn, and BHT has msg in it!

For the last 12 years, I have "gotten by" with eating small increments of corn, if it was far enough down on the listing, but since having to go gluten free, it has been harder and harder to avoid it. I am now resorted to finding recipes for "flour" that are not only gluten free but corn free. Many "gluten free" products contain cornstarch. I was also told at my local health food store that corn contains small amounts of gluten, perhaps it's a cross contamination thing? Not sure on the accuracy of that claim, but thought I would through it out there for you all. Good luck to you all!

Erika said...

Corn does not have gluten in it, however cross contamination can occur if it is processed on the same equipment as wheat, barley or rye. Wheat, barley and rye are the grains that contain gluten. Oats are not considered gluten free either, because they are processed on shared equipment. You can buy gluten free oats that has been processed separately, however. I have been making my own corn meal from popcorn kernels, but have recently really started to limit my corn intake too. I am gluten free and have many other food allergy/intolerances too, so I know how difficult it is finding food. I cook almost purely from scratch these days.

Coffee said...

I like eating it.

*Baby Remethy Wishlist* said...

I'm sitting here eating an entire box of the gluten free Chex cereal [cinnamon to be exact] as I type. I appreciate the research you've done on the whole "Is Chex cereal really gluten-free?" issue. I, myself, can't afford the Whole Foods brand gluten-free cereals, and this Chex variety does just fine for me. My psoriasis is always aggravated by gluten so I'm glad I found something quick & simple to binge on when it's that time of the month for me & I'm losing all control. :D I think what many Celiac sufferers don't realize is that sugar affects them badly too. In knowing this, people must remember that cereals like Chex that may be gluten-free but also contain loads of sugar/fructose---so take precaution in eating ANYTHING with added sugars. "General Mills" has been around for a LONG time and wouldn't risk their name being ruined because of not properly and/or truthfully making gluten-free products. They're constantly inspected & checked by corporate workers; it isn't like they're carelessly throwing together foods on some secluded island... I trust them and am glad that SOME mainstream brand has thought to make something tasty gluten-free at a decent price.

DB said...

Caveat Emptor. This past week I daringly bought 4 boxes {2 Rice Chex, 2 Corn Chex} from my local supermarket, where there is a manager's sale going on -- "4 boxes for $6 (must buy 4)." Indeed, the "ingredients" list is gluten-free, and -- given my past experience -- I started in slowly. There was a slightly uncomfortable, almost ignorable burn in my intestines the first day; after the third the skin on my upper arm began to get itchy (I've got DH) . . . and one liquid-filled pustule from pressure began forming on my upper thigh. I've stopped eating Chex since this delicate warning, to forestall a full-blown recurrence, as two years ago, which took over 6 months to clear from my system. "Heed the whispers, before they become screams." I was hoping that after two years GM might have gotten this product right, but, unfortunately, though the "ingredients" are gluten-free (and the box loudly and proudly proclaims this) the product as a whole is apparently not 100% gluten-free, given evidence-based real-world feedback (not just mine). Though Chex may be under the FDA ("detectable") threshold of 20 ppm of gluten, this product is NOT produced in a gluten-free environment, and is apparently cross-contaminated. Caveat Emptor. Where do I send my unopened boxes?

Hilaire said...

I bet the BHT IS the culprit! I don't usually eat the Chex, but I did this morning and my intestines are pissed off. I had a similar, but less severe reaction to Hormel's pepperoni which also contains BHT. I was befuddled trying to figure out what was making my intestines mad with the pepperoni, as it was the turkey version so I couldn't blame it on excess fat intake. Now I know. Thanks!

Adrienne said...

I have been eating the gluten free cinnamon checks for 2 days and have serious pain and diarrhea. It is the only new thing added to my diet. I am positive of cross contamination. I have been gluten free three years, so I can tell. I never ever have problems with Betty Crocker mixes. I have major problems with Bobs Red mill. I am sure the gluten is in the duct work of facilities that may use a separate room for gluten free. I think a totally disconnected deprecate facility is crucial and Betty Cricker did it right.

DB said...

Save the boxes, Adrienne, and call the FDA. Maybe you'll have better luck than I; their tests a few years ago picked up nothing from the "Gluten Free" samples I gave them. And keep spreading the word!

Anonymous said...

I had been eating Cinnamon Chex for several months earlier this year with no problems. I had switched to eating Rice Chex for a while in order to try to watch my weight. I bought a box last night and had a bowl before going to bed and I find myself having intense abdominal pains and gas about 12 hours after the fact. I'm wondering if perhaps a bad batch got out since I've been eating Chex of one kind or another for about 6 months previous with no problems.

Anonymous said...

This is an American site isnt it ? I have no idea what BHT is but going to google it. I lived in US for 3 months and was amazed at the amount of chemicals in your food, the list in chocolate was 4 times that of ours. On the plus side you seem to have a lot more support on the GF front there. I bet your Drs are supportive too

Mike Eberhart said...

yes, it is an American site.
I SO agree with you: TOO MANY CHEMICALS IN OUR "FOOD". It is sick. I personally *try* to go organic, but supply is limited and cost is prohibitive.

As for supportive Doctors (and Celiac) here, my personal experience has been on of many doctors with little understanding, let alone recognition of, Celiac Disease and what damage it can do. Doctors nearly killed me. Had I not figured this condition out on my own and then had it confirmed, I would probably not be here now. That is how bad it got thanks to inexperience among the medical community here (circa mid-2000s; and, from what I have seen since, experienced docs are still a small minority).

Thanks for commenting.

Ludicrous Mama said...

My daughter has bahavioral reactions to BHT, BHA, an TBHQ (all petrol-derived artificial preservatives.)
Many artificial flavors are petrol-derived as well, although they don't have to tell you, and you'd have to call company by company, product by product to find out. So we just avoid them all.
And all artificial food colorings are petrol-derived as well. Red 40, Blue 5, etc. So if you and your wife are reacting to the petrol-based ingredient in Chex, you might notice a correlation when eating other products with petrol-derived artificial ingredients.
Just a thought. Many kids with ADD, ASD, and SPD react to petrol-ingredients, with severe behavioral reactions. I've even heard that maybe the reason people INSIST that sugar causes hyperactivity is that sugary treats almost always have these artificial ingredients, so it's THAT causing the hyperactivity, rather than the sugar. My girl used to run wild and crazy at parties. Now I bring her a "safe" all-natural substitute, and she can have all the sugar she wants, and stays calm and happy, and gets to sleep easily.
It's possible these effects wear off as adults, or maybe the reactions just lessen. I no longer feel jittery and hyper when I eat M&Ms. But I get migraines, and feel crankier - like PMS, but whenever I eat fake colors, rather than just once a month.

Jean said...

Just want to add my 2 cents in hopes of helping someone else. I have celiac in the form of most all the major symptoms, including anxious and later depressed feelings, sudden and extreme fatigue, (many digestive symptoms), and then D.H. (very nasty, deep blisters that itch like crazy and take forever to heal!)
I was happy to find a "regular" cereal that wasn't too expensive and that claimed to be gluten-free. I eat the g-f Chex varieties nearly every day. After many months of experimenting with single flavors -- because I loved to combine their flavors at first -- I am here to say that the Vanilla Chex gives me a definite gluten/D.H. reaction every time I eat it. I am guessing there is some hidden malt flavor (which IS a natural flavor, but not so good for celiacs!) So far, I don't seem to have any, or at least any consistent, gluten/D.H. reaction from the other flavors (obviously excluding Wheat Chex, which I wish they would drop from the line-up just to be safer).
I am reading the other comments here and will be careful to monitor my reactions to the other flavors over time, but so far, so good, or at least so subtle that even I cannot tell, and I am VERY sensitive to these reactions. They follow a very consistent pattern with me.
Kudos to General Mills / Chex makers who are trying, though!

Unknown said...

I usually buy gluten free rice chex and gluten free cinnamon chex....My son eats both with no problem. I switched to gluten free honey nut chex and he had severe celiac symptoms. Rash, extreme fatigue, vomiting, migraine headaches and dizziness. There is definitely a contamination issue with this cereal. I will never buy Chex cereal again.