Celiac Disease / Reviews

The Real Deal With Gluten-Free Cheerios


gluten-free cheeriosHello peeps! I’m freshly back from Minneapolis where General Mills is cooking up some gluten-free business. If you took part in the lively Facebook thread, you know that GM is changing the way Cheerios are made and as of this fall, 5 varieties of Cheerios will be gluten-free: Original, Honey Nut (woot!), Multigrain, Apple Cinnamon and Frosted.

Naturally, those of us who have celiac disease and other intolerances, allergies, and darn good reasons to stay away from gluten, are wondering two things: Is it safe? How does it taste?

Well, I can answer one of those questions.

First of all, let me tell you how involved in General Mills business I am, which is not at all. GM is not paying me, I’m writing this post 100% for you guys (and me)—those of us who are excited by new products going gluten-free, but also worried about how safe it will be, and if it will be snatched away from us the second we get used to enjoying Honey Nut handfuls once again. General Mills DID fly me to Minneapolis, put me up in a hotel, and provide me with gluten-free meals during the summit with other leaders in the gluten-free and celiac worlds. I had to pay for this adorable souvenir all on my own –

gluten-free cheeriosI do love Minnesota, it’s true.

For two days we toured the offices, and most interestingly, the mill, and talked to all of the people who were behind the gluten-free initiative that now includes Cheerios. We did some brainstorming, some whining, and a lot of explaining to the GM staff about challenges we face as celiacs and why we may be worried about Cheerios being a safe option. Also, there were a lot of thank yous going around for not only Cheerios but also the Chex situation and future projects GM is considering. You should know that a room full of people who advocate for celiacs were not going to be satisfied until we truly felt we had enough information to return to our communities and encourage everyone to pour themselves a bowl. There were some tough questions, some “are you just in it for the trend/money?” and a lot of “what about when it goes into the package? into the shipping containers?” and so on.

I have to say I walked away not only satisfied, but incredibly excited about what General Mills may have in store for us in the future. (I know the Gluten Dude will also be writing on this topic, so head over there for a different take, or maybe he’ll have the same. Either way, check him out!)

The best way for me to explain what’s going to happen when Cheerios rolls out these 5 varieties this fall is to explain oat processing. I’m not an expert, so I’ll talk in “I went to a state school” language. Cheerios/General Mills have always sought high quality oats for their products, and they have certain standards they require. In sourcing the oats, GM also needs a huge quantity given the demand for Cheerios and other oat flour products in their cereal line. This explains why GM can’t purchase certified gluten-free oats for production—there are simply not enough. So they had to make their own gluten-free oats.

In layman terms, the deal with oats (that are not certified gluten-free) is this: Oat farmers often rotate crops for the best yields. Often times the crops that are rotating include wheat, rye and barley. Additionally, oat fields can live close enough to any other grain fields where the wind will sweep wheat right into that oat harvest. This is the reason why Cheerios, and a lot of oat products, are not gluten-free. Even though the amount of wheat, barley and/or rye that flies into that oat supply may seem to be negligible, it’s still too much for those of us who get sick from gluten. Here’s a visual of how many random grains invade a typical oat supply –

gluten-free cheerios

The jar contains oats, and the two baggies contain wheat and barley that were removed from that jar. The only way you could get to below 20ppm of gluten in this scenario is if you had one of those grains, not the huge chunk that you see here.

While Cheerios ingredients have never been “gluten-containing” oat flour is always (again, unless certified GF) contaminated on some level, with gluten-containing grains. The challenge for General Mills was to remove the other grains and process clean oat flour. Five years, and probably a zillion dollars later (GM would not let us know how much they spent but since an entirely new building was involved, let’s just assume it was a lot), GM created a thorough process within their designated mill to clean the oats through mechanical means, not chemical. There are three different filters, vacuums, shakings and sortings going on that mill and they’re all designed to sort the gluten grains out of the oat supply. That was step one. And it’s a big one. The most important testing happens at that point, as that’s when they would know if something went awry. It took 5 years of testing, engineering, and a lot of passion to get to the point where this process works better than even what the FDA would consider safe.

Let’s talk about testing. This is also a huge deal, as we need to know there are no goof-ups along the processing line. The oats are tested as they enter the mill, they are tested again after they are cleaned, and they are tested again after the cereal is produced. While the scientific community has agreed that 20ppm of gluten is the safe number for celiacs, General Mills always aims for a much lower number. And thus far, they have succeeded. This probably has a lot to do with the initial process, and the dedicated, and covered, lines for their gluten-free products, as well as the rigorous cleaning and dedicated shipping containers and trucks.

Why gluten-free, and why now? As you may know General Mills has been producing gluten-free Chex for several years now. So this isn’t their first rodeo. But Cheerios is their most iconic product, and the King of the Cereal Aisle. So it’s a risk, even though the recipe isn’t changing, to mess with a good thing. This is where Phil comes in.

Phil has been working with General Mills for over 50 years. You can thank him for Honey Nut Cheerios, as he began bee keeping and was inspired to create a new flavor. So already, Phil is aces in my book. Five years ago Phil’s daughter-in-law was getting very sick from gluten. As he and his wife tried to prepare gluten-free safe foods for her, he learned that she (Joyce) could not eat Cheerios. This did not sit well with Phil. And thus his campaign to create a safe, delicious, product for Joyce began.

You’ll hear a lot more about Phil as this initiative continues. But the personal story, and Phil’s commitment to keeping his daughter-in-law safe, went a long way in convincing us this was a labor of love, as well as a smart move on the part of General Mills.

All right, so let’s address the other questions and concerns you’ve expressed.

What about GMOs?

Oats are not genetically modified, and the original Cheerios contain no GMOs. There are some ingredients in some of the other flavors that could contain GMOs, but the oat flour (the main component) never does.

Who is overseeing the testing? 

Medallion Labs is the preeminent food testing facility and will be conducting the testing. And yes, it is owned by General Mills, but it is also used across the industry by many other food companies and is universally trusted.

What if I can’t eat oats?

Then you can’t eat Cheerios, gluten-free or not. And that is a huge bummer.

How expensive will it be?

General Mills knows that that spiking up the price of a box of Cheerios is not good business. And even though the research, facilities, and other expenses have increased on their end, they will continue to keep the price the same. Boo-ya.

What about the wheat starch on the ingredient list?

This was super interesting to me. The recipe for Cheerios does not include wheat starch. This was used to warn people who had issues with wheat, that there could be wheat in the oat flour mix. So the recipe will not change at all.

When can I buy them?

The gluten-free versions will start rolling out this fall. While the transition is happening, you have to look at the label. Look for the simply gluten-free label, otherwise you could be eating some old school Cheerios.

And in Canada?

We have an official quote from General Mills, as you guys may need to wait a little longer. Here goes: The oats in our Canadian Cheerios (original Cheerios in the yellow box, Honey Nut, Multi-Grain, and Apple Cinnamon) are identical to the U.S. products. Health Canada is in the final stages of reviewing new labeling regulations that would allow oats to be labelled “as gluten free oats” when properly handled. If the new regulation is approved, General Mills will update Canadian Cheerios packaging to include Gluten Free messaging.

How does it taste?

Well, the gluten-free Cheerios were not yet ready, so we were not lucky enough to give it a taste. However, since the recipe is not changing at all—it will just be using clean oats—it will taste exactly the same as the gluten’y version.

So there you have it. Any more questions, please do let me know. I just spent a heck of a lot of time with the GM people and I do feel confident that I’ll be chowing down come fall. And I do hope it comes in this size –

gluten-free cheerios

45 thoughts on “The Real Deal With Gluten-Free Cheerios

  1. You are a doll for checking this out and sharing all the details with us. I feel better about the brand now; even excited. Thank you!

  2. This is really exciting! I have missed Cheerios SO MUCH in the last 5 years. I’m going to eat an entire box when they come out in the fall LOL

  3. Omg! I had no idea. I’m seriously out of the loop these days. Thank you for such a thorough explanation. I can’t wait for honey nut gf Cheerios! My daughter was so young when se was diagnosed she never had a Cheerio chance, until now…

  4. Thanks for the thorough update. I am one of the people that cannot tolerate oats at all but I have been reading about this anywhere. The Cheerios will not share a line with Chex in any way, will they? I would hate for Cheerios to cross contaminate the one cereal I can eat. Thanks!

  5. I am curious about Oats being GF and safe to consume by all Coeliacs. As oats contain Avenin, there can still be reactions by some (I’ve read as many as 1 in 5) coeliacs from eating pure uncontaminated oats. The only way to know if oats are going to pose an issue is to take part in an oat challenge with your gastro (biopsy, oat challenge, biopsy). If this is the case, I wouldn’t think it is advisable to have coeliacs running out to stores to consume something which may in fact cause them health issues.

    I am by no means an expert in this field and am happy to be corrected by someone who knows more than I do.

    • I was also curious, Chris as my dietician told me to limit the amount of oats I consumed, even though I have no reaction to oats. I spoke with two dieticians at this event—one of whom works for Dr. Alessio Fassano— who said that is not accurate for all celiacs. There are many celiacs who cannot consume oats (and you would know who you are by your reaction), but the rest of us should be fine.

    • I can’t seem to tolerate oats myself. Even when they say 100% rolled oats. I cannot tolerate any multi-grain products that are marked gluten-free either. I have only been on celiac diet for going on three months. My gastroenterologist left the area before making me use a gluten-free diet and cannot get into see a new one until April 2016! Any help appreciated. Shiela

      • If you can’t tolerate oats, avoid them completely. And since you’ve only been gluten-free for a few months, it’s the time to be extra careful because your body is trying to heal. Don’t take any chances!!

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  8. I understand that Health Canada won’t allow boxes here to be labeled as gluten free, but since all the Cheerios are being made in the same place they will all be equally gf. Do you have any idea if there’s a manufacture date I can look for on the box to know they were made with the new process?

      • I wish I had a way to smuggle them! I live on an island, which makes it extremely expensive to get to the states. And shipping them here would be absolutely ridiculous! I think if I manage to get them while I’m still pregnant I will weep tears of joy because I love them so much and I’m so crazy hormonal :p

  9. Have you tried them yet? I have two boxes in my pantry but haven’t gotten brave enough to try them.

    RubberChickenGirl

  10. I bought some recently-Honey Nut Cheerios…I haven’t had them since I was a kid-they are AMAZING! It’s nice to have another choice…and I’m thinking of using the regular Chex like I currently do(for breadcrumbs)

  11. I have figured it out! The boxes that were made using the old process will have a disclaimer under the ingredients that says it contains wheat, while the ones made with the new process just say they contain oats. Of course the ones that were on sale all had gluten :/
    I was feeling crappy before I ate two bowls of them so I’m not able to say if they affect me in any way.

  12. I’ve been eating large quantities of the new cheerios without any symptoms. I’m so happy to finally be able to enjoy these!!!

  13. What about people that don’t have the gluten problem, are we being forced to put up with this? I liked things the way they were, why not make both kinds? and let us chose what we want or like instead of changing all the cereal into your choice, I eat whatever I want with no problems, don’t force me to eat like you! Sorry you get sick, but there’s room for both kinds of product……… And if they make you sick then eat the other kind that doesn’t!

  14. I tried them. And was very excited about it! They taste very good however they are a no go for me. I was very frustrated to find myself in the bathroom 2 hours later. Great job GM, but please be careful consumers. If you are an extreme celiac, this product should be avoided unfortunately 😦

  15. please be careful with the honey nut cheerios, i just tried them for the third time, first time a slight reaction, thought it was something else i ate, second time a little worse reaction, then the recall came out and i found out i had one of the boxes….so decided to try a third time, foolish me, i had a very bad reaction, and am still feeling the effects two days later….love my cereal, but guess i will stick with chex….very sad

  16. I live in a small town in WV and cannot seem to find oats that agree with me. I have tried the ones that say 100% rolled oats. I cannot tolerate multi-grain gluten free products either. Why would that be?

  17. There is defiantly a difference in the taste our family do not like the gluten free and wish we could purchase the original , original Cherrios …..

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