The Truth About Gluten-Free Oils

Nine Bottles of Olive Oil, Unmarked
Are There Any Safe Oils
for Those Super Sensitive
to Gluten?

I've been gluten free for over nine years now, and I still have problems digesting fats.

That's the cold, hard truth.

After going gluten free in 2008, it took quite some time to wrap my brain around the idea that "gluten free" on a label, or even coming from a company representative's mouth or email, does not mean the product is safe to use. This is because the legal definition of gluten free isn't zero gluten and current company policies stand behind the FDA ruling. Company policy isn't to disclose the truth.

Yes, oils and other fats are on generic gluten-free lists as being safe for all celiacs to use. For the most part, oils and pure fats have inherited the label of being naturally gluten free, but if they are processed in facilities that also process products with gluten or processed on the same line as wheat germ oil, they can be problematic for super sensitive celiacs.

In addition, anything which causes intestinal inflammation blocks the body's ability to absorb fatty acids, so you can get symptoms from ingesting oils and other fats that are similar to being glutened, even if gluten isn't the issue.

For that reason, I'm going to go in-depth about some of the additional issues surrounding gluten-free oils and fats, as well as share what I know about the safety of gluten-free oils for super sensitive celiacs. I'll talk about what I personally use and what other sensitives have shared on the issue.





But First, A Disclaimer


The other day, I received a comment on our Super Sensitive Celiac page:

"For a super sensitive celiac, can you speak more to finding safe brands of things like cooking oils, and natural sweeteners like honey and agave?"

She is getting sick on the brands she has tried so far, including products marked "gluten free," and is also having trouble finding certified gluten-free products.

I'll be discussing my perspective and experience on honey and agave in future posts, but the comment helped me realize just how difficult it is to make product recommendations for those who are super sensitive to gluten.

When searching through some of the more popular forums for brands that other super-sensitive celiacs use, I only succeeded in returning post after post from folks saying:
  • they have no problem with oils
  • all oils are naturally gluten free
  • celiac authorities say that all oils are gluten free
  • the refining process gets rid of any protein molecule that might have accidentally gotten into the oil
There were a few super sensitives there, looking for some real help, and one or two super sensitives willing to speak out against the momentum of the generic gluten-free crowd, but for the most part, finding real information is rough.

In my own experience, these so-called authorities that are often held up as the ultimate word on safety are NOT super-sensitive celiacs, and most of them do not even have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance of any kind. Sometimes, a family member does, and sometimes, like Dr. Fasano, they just want to be a champion of the cause.

But, keep in mind that these authoritative figures are merely appealing to current scientific knowledge, which is sketchy at best, and standing behind the FDA ruling on the "gluten-free" definition that says a product with up to 20 ppm of gluten can be labeled as gluten free.

For this reason, there is absolutely no resources available to the super-sensitive celiac, other than each other.

The Super Sensitive Section at celiac.com is a joke because the moderators there do not believe that super sensitivity exists. Most of the bloggers who are super sensitive write for the general celiac population and don't reveal what they actually do themselves, unless asked. They just pass on the same information that will keep a super sensitive sick if they follow that advice.

I don't want to do that here. However, super sensitivity is a spectrum.

The level at which someone's symptoms start is different for everyone, so I can't give out a list of safe foods because foods safe for everyone do not exist - unless you produce all of the food you eat yourself. Even fresh, whole foods can be contaminated at the farmer or processing level. All I can do is share what I do and my own experience. Plus, what I learn from doing hours and hours of research each week.

This particular reader wasn't looking for that.

She wants advice on how to find safe brands, but I just want to make it clear before I start posting on different foods and products that what I use and do might not work for you.

Please do your own research.

Talk to manufacturers, but with an understanding that gluten free to them isn't the same as gluten free to you. Ask leading questions, and if you don't like what you hear, don't eat the product.

With that said, here we go.

Pinterest Image: What Safe Oils Can a Super Sensitive Celiac Use?


My Personal Experience with Gluten-Free Oils


Most of the oils on the market are highly refined. There is no such thing as a natural product. Some oils go through a process called cold-pressing, but this has to do with oil extraction from the original substance, and not necessarily how an oil is filtered and processed after it's pressed.

Almost all oils make me sick.

Part of the problem is because I no longer have a gall bladder. When I started having bathroom issues and intestinal inflammation in 2008, the first thing the doctor looked at was gall stones, rather than celiac disease. Gall bladder function tests were not normal, so after interviewing me and looking at my symptoms, a surgeon took it out.

The gall bladder had literally calcified inside the body, which means I hadn't been digesting fats very well for a long time prior to that. Only part of the pain went away after the surgery, so a non-functioning gall bladder was only half of the problem.

Up to this point, I was like most people who have celiac disease and didn't suffer with any recognizable symptoms. The media and health-care industry will sometimes mention digestive issues, weight loss, and failure to thrive in kids, but rarely go into the over 300 other symptoms that indicate the possibility of having celiac disease or some form of gluten intolerance.

I knew I had trouble digesting oils and other fats because I wasn't able to lose weight on a high-fat low-carb diet until I eliminated most of the extra dietary fat other dieters were using, but I didn't know that an inability to digest fat, carbohydrate, or proteins was indicative of celiac disease. A famous low-carb blogger suggested I might need dietary enzymes to digest the fat, but that wasn't the core issue.

Once I discovered I had celiac disease, my research and personal observation led me to the realization that anything which causes intestinal inflammation blocks the body's ability to absorb fatty acids. It wasn't only oils that gave me problems. I had trouble digesting coconut oil, shortening, margarine, and even bacon fat if I ate too much.

Since dietary fats are absorbed in the upper small intestine, any degree of inflammation will affect the body's ability to do that appropriately. The problem with fats isn't just about whether or not an oil is gluten free, although its gluten-free status does play a role in how your body reacts to it.


How to Discover if an Oil is Really Gluten Free


When I was chasing after a potential corn intolerance, I learned a valuable lesson.

Many who came into that community as an experiment, or those who were newly diagnosed with a corn allergy, tried to stay with their old ideas about natural and organic foods. It didn't work out very well because it was almost impossible to find corn-safe foods that were also natural or organic.

Putting too many restrictions on what you will or will not eat is going to seriously affect the variety you can eat, and there is no getting around that. Manufacturers do not give a crap about your health. Their major concern is profits. This is why they are currently hiding behind the FDA labeling law. Purifying the foods they offer to 19 ppm, or less, increases profits.

When it comes to finding truly gluten-free oils, the more refined a product is, the less chance there is of it having gluten residue left at the end of the process. Highly refined oils are filtered several times.

Professor Dunford of Oklahoma State University's Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering revealed to a Naturally Curly author that solid protein granules and particles of protein can get into the oil during the extraction process. This means a trace amount of gluten can be in the oil. Refined oils, however, go through multiple steps of purification, but the finished oil will still contain trace amounts of protein.

His comment was about wheat germ oil used in the beauty and cosmetics industry. However, it's relevant for super sensitives because some brands like Spectrum also process wheat germ oil in their facilities. Some super sensitives have suggested that their other oils are processed on the same lines, but when asked directly, Spectrum representatives have avoided the question and simply talked about oil being naturally gluten free.

While they admitted that they process products with gluten in the same facility as their line of oils, they said they have a strict allergen policy, and the finished oils are well within FDA standards.

Well, yeah. But within FDA standards doesn't mean the oil is gluten free, especially their line of cold-pressed oils, which are not as highly refined as other products.

The bottom line from what I could find, so far, is that the ingredient list on a bottle of oil is not helpful. Processing aids do not have to be listed on the label, which is why you may not be aware of all of the chemical solvents, anti-defoamers, and other chemicals that are actually in oil.

For this reason, you have to ask the manufacturer yourself if they produce gluten products in that same facility, and if they produce wheat germ oil on the same line as the type of oil you want to use. Wheat germ oil seems to be the major contaminant here, but one super sensitive has reported that they have not been able to tolerant any oils at all.

NONE.

There might be more. However, keep in mind that this particular comment I found came from someone within the super sensitive collective who reacts to products that have very little gluten. Their diet is extremely limited. Way more so, than mine.

What Gluten-Free Oil Do I Use?


I discovered what I could tolerate by accident.

I knew that in general, canola oil and vegetable oils made me deathly ill after using them, except in very small amounts. I was using:
  • Bertolli extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pompeian grapeseed oil
  • Nutiva organic coconut oil
  • Amish butter
I dislike the taste of olive oil, but was only able to use very small amounts of coconut oil. However, when hubby's brother was home one year for Thanksgiving, back when we were living in the same house together, we deep fried a turkey, and the turkey didn't make me sick.

Since then, I've been mostly using:
  • Lou Ana peanut oil, the extra-refined type made to deep fry turkeys
It is only available during the holidays, at least in our area, so I generally pick up a three-gallon box for the year.

Since we are getting ready to move to Texas in a few weeks, I didn't buy a new box of oil this past Thanksgiving. It will be a two to four day trip for us, and I didn't want to haul that huge plastic jug that far, but I am almost out now. I have a couple of cups of oil left. I don't know how my body will respond to the less processed peanut oil that is available year round, but we'll experiment with that when I run out.

In general, I use very little oil in our cooking. The only other oil I use is a tiny bit of:
  • Lee Kum Kee pure sesame oil
I can't verify if that oil is completely gluten free, though, because I only use it occasionally, and only a teaspoon or two at a time. This brand is 100-percent sesame oil, and isn't cut with vegetable oil like some cheaper brands are.

I'm also currently using:
  • Challenge stick butter
rather than the Amish roll butter I typically use because it was on sale for $2 a pound at Thanksgiving. We picked up six pounds, enough to get us through until we move.

I do get a craving now and then for some frozen french fries. I won't tell you that I don't. But, I seem to do okay with Ore-Ida brand fries on a very occasional basis, if I fry them in fresh peanut oil. Reheated oil gives me problems, once it's darkened, which I'll talk about next.


Smoking Point of Gluten-Free Oils and Fats


Finding a safe gluten-free oil is only part of the problem you may be having with fats in your diet. Many people focus so hard on celiac issues, that it's easy to forget that celiac disease is a symptom of a much larger problem:

Autoimmune Disorder

Celiac disease occurs when the villi in the upper small intestine become flattened or destroyed, due to inflammation, but gluten can cause havoc in other areas of the body as well.

The autoimmune disorder is the bottom block in all of this, and not the celiac disease itself, because when you have one autoimmune disorder, you can easily pick up another one if you ignore healthy precautions in other areas of your life.

For celiac disease, the body mistakenly judges gluten to be an invader, or the genes mistakenly tag gluten to be a virus or bacteria, depending on which research study you're looking at.

Either way, the body overreacts to gluten's presence, but gluten isn't the only thing that can result in digestive issues and neurological symptoms. Anything that causes inflammation anywhere along the entire length of the digestive tract can cause you to become ill.

And while traces of gluten is often the culprit, despite the gluten-free community's insistence that it is not, when it comes to fats, the cause can also be:
  • overheating and/or rancidity
  • baking at too high of a temperature
  • inflammation from dairy or soy
  • eating too many GMO products
  • eating too many trans fats
  • unknown food sensitivities
  • recent accidental glutening
  • new to celiac disease
  • eating too much fat
When gluten-free oils and fats are overheated, the fatty acids begin to break down and take on a new and altered molecular structure. This new structure is called trans fat. If hydrogen is passed through the oil during processing to lengthen its shelf life, a certain amount of trans fat will also be formed. This transformation always occurs when a liquid oil is converted to a fat. There is no such thing as a solid non-trans fat substance.

This overheating really comes into play when you plan on using oils for cooking, frying, or baking.

Pork Chops Battered and Fried Without Temperature Control
Frying Without Temperature
Control Can Overheat Oil
In salad dressings, any oil you can tolerate is fine because you don't heat it.

For cooking, oils with a high smoke point are essential, especially for those super sensitive to gluten because trans fat isn't a fat that the body knows how to deal with. Throughout the centuries, oil was used sparingly, if at all, and what was available was cold pressed and never hydrogenated.

Today, the market is flooded with unsafe, trans-fat ridden oils that may or may not be rancid before it even reaches your kitchen. This is because overheating causes oil to go rancid fairly quickly, especially oils that cannot withstand high temperatures. The shelf life of an overheated oil is quite small, which is why hydrogenation is used in the first place.

The low-carb community often holds coconut oil up as a superior product, due to its high smoking point. Or so, I've been told. However, when I did the research on smoking points for the various oils available today, I found a very different story.

Organic coconut oil, cold-pressed, begins to break down at about 350 degrees. Most people deep fry at higher temperatures than that, and since the smoke point of an oil is only an average for any type of oil, realistically, an oil can begin to break down sooner than the following chart shows, depending on how it was processed and handled before it reached your kitchen:



(The figures in the above table came from What's Cooking America and other sources across the web.)

Refined coconut oil isn't listed because few people actually cook with that type of fat. However, the smoking point is 400 degrees, if you're interested.

Smoking point includes baking, roasting, and broiling, as well as stir-fry dishes and saute techniques. Cooking over the stove is difficult to regulate, and if you wait to add your food until the oil you're heating has begun to smoke, it might already be too late.

Deep frying in a heavy cast iron skillet or other heavy pan as illustrated above is also problematic. While it is more convenient than an electric deep fryer, without electric controls that keep the oil from getting too hot, you'll only know when you've overdone it by the color of the oil.

Oil that has begun to break down loses that clear, light color and turns darker and darker as the rancidity increases to dangerous levels. Rancid oil doesn't have the antioxidants the body needs to handle the excessive free radicals in the oil, due to oxidation of the fat molecules.

Bottle of Wheat-Germ Oil Capsules Spilled Onto the Table
Vitamin E Often Contains
Wheat-Germ Oil
When I first got into healthier cooking, I used to add a capsule or two of Vitamin E to the oil as soon as I took the food out, and before it had time to cool down. According to Adelle Davis, a nutritionist trained in biology that was popular when I was raising my kids, the Vitamin E capsule would prevent the oil from oxidizing. However, Vitamin E capsules are often made with wheat-germ oil, so I no longer do that.

I just toss the oil as soon as it begins to darken.

If You're New to Gluten Free or Over Reacting


If you're new to a gluten-free diet, many gluten-free foods can be problematic. Oils and fats tend to fall into that category. Eat more than just a little fat, and you'll spend a lot of time in the bathroom. Fats that are not absorbed properly eventually end up in the colon, and cause gas, bloating, and even cramping. Diarrhea is common, even if the oil or fatty food is gluten free.

If you're not new to gluten free, but you are still reacting to residual amounts of gluten in your environment, or if you recently got accidentally glutened, you can have trouble digesting fats, including gluten-free oils. This problem may or may not be temporary, depending on how quickly the body heals.

Consistently eating out or accidentally getting glutened even once a month can totally prevent your recovery.

If the villi don't heal, you won't absorb fats properly. As a result, your hair will be dry and brittle, your skin will be rough and crack, or you'll suffer from malnutrition due to an inability to metabolize fat-soluble vitamins. Hormones and even cell structure itself all require a healthy dose of healthy fats.

Cutting back on dietary fats when safe products are not available can help to relieve a lot of celiac symptoms short-term, but what's going on in the environment can often be beyond our control. A perfectly symptom-free life might not be realistic if you live in an area with bad air quality, for example.

Since you breath in those chemicals, you end up swallowing a lot of them, and they can inflame your small intestines once the immune system gets triggered, making it more difficult to metabolize the fat in your food. If you're not aware of what's going on, you might think the culprit is gluten, instead of dirty air.

When it comes to safe oils, reading the ingredient list won't reveal potential areas for cross contamination. That's where personal detective work comes into play. For super-sensitive celiacs, often the only choice we have is to just try a product and observe how the body responds, especially since there are so many who are not willing to speak out.

I realize this individualized testing can be costly, and it will honestly keep you feeling bad much of the time. At least, that was my own experience. Eventually, like most other super sensitives, I came to understand that experimenting with new products and trying to replace old favorites like white-flour tortillas wasn't worth the gamble any more.


Not only does it take several weeks to recover from a single glutening, it affects the gluten-free food I can eat as well. Sugar, fatty foods, and dairy are completely off the table for several weeks after each and every glutening. Once the tips of the villi have been destroyed, my diet gets extremely limited.

Because of that, I tend to stick with what's familiar and works for me, but getting to that point, can be frustrating I know.

Do you have problems finding gluten-free oils and fats?

Please share your experiences in the comments, so others can benefit from what you've learned about yourself.

Related Articles You Might Also Want to Read:

Are Gluten-Free Products Making You Sick?
Can You Get More Sensitive to Gluten After Going Gluten Free?
How to Create Your Own Core Gluten-Free Food List
Are Store Brand Products Save for Super Sensitive Celiacs?

Comments