Why are Cheerios no longer gluten-free?

For years, Cheerios were marketed as a gluten-free cereal that was safe for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to eat. However, in 2021, General Mills announced that Cheerios would no longer be labeled as gluten-free. This change left many loyal Cheerios fans confused and disappointed.

What are Cheerios?

Cheerios are a classic oat-based breakfast cereal made by General Mills. First introduced in 1941, Cheerios are simple toasted oat rings made from oat flour, sugar, oil and salt. They have been a family favorite for generations.

Why were Cheerios originally gluten-free?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity cannot tolerate gluten and experience symptoms when they eat it.

Oats do not naturally contain gluten. However, they are often processed in facilities that also handle wheat and other gluten-containing grains. This means oats can become cross-contaminated with gluten.

General Mills took steps to avoid cross-contamination when producing their oats and Cheerios. They used dedicated equipment and facilities to keep the oats free from contact with gluten. This allowed them to label Cheerios as a gluten-free food.

When did Cheerios change from being gluten-free?

In August 2021, General Mills announced that Cheerios would no longer be labeled as gluten-free. They updated the packaging to remove the words “gluten-free” and added a statement that the cereal was not recommended for people with celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity.

This change went into effect in late 2021 and early 2022. So boxes of Cheerios produced after that date no longer carry a gluten-free label.

Why Did General Mills Make This Change?

General Mills gave two main reasons for discontinuing the gluten-free label on Cheerios:

1. Difficulty Sourcing Certified Gluten-Free Oats

Oats are inherently gluten-free. However, cross-contamination during growing, harvesting and processing can introduce small amounts of gluten.

To meet the strict standards for gluten-free labeling in the U.S., oat suppliers must take major precautions and undergo specialized certification. General Mills stated that sourcing an adequate supply of certified gluten-free oats had become difficult and cost-prohibitive.

2. Low Levels of Cross-Contamination

While General Mills tried to eliminate cross-contamination, the company admitted it was not possible to achieve a “gluten-free” level of less than 20 parts per million. Testing showed Cheerios could contain trace amounts of gluten from cross-contamination during production.

General Mills determined they could not confidently claim Cheerios were gluten-free to the level required by regulations for labeling.

How Much Gluten Do Cheerios Contain?

General Mills has not released detailed testing results on the exact gluten levels in Cheerios. But the company indicates there are variable and unpredictable trace amounts.

One independent gluten testing company found the following results in a sample of Cheerios:

Test Result in ppm
G12 Antibody 10 ppm
R5 Antibody 17 ppm

This suggests Cheerios may contain around 10-20 ppm gluten due to cross-contamination. However, results can vary from batch to batch.

The FDA defines “gluten-free” to mean less than 20 ppm. So these test results indicate Cheerios may be right at the cutoff for the gluten-free label. Consistently meeting a level under 20 ppm proved too difficult for the company’s supply chain.

Is Cross-Contamination Unavoidable?

Some skeptics argue that with proper precautions, General Mills could continue to offer Cheerios gluten-free. However, avoiding cross-contamination with gluten is extremely difficult when processing oats on a large scale.

Some ways oats can become contaminated include:

– Growing and harvesting oats using shared equipment with wheat
– Transporting oats in vehicles previously used for gluten-containing grains
– Processing oats in facilities that also mill wheat and barley
– Using equipment for multiple grains without thorough cleaning in between

Considering how much wheat is grown and processed compared to specialty gluten-free oats, avoiding any contact with stray wheat kernels is nearly impossible in an industrial production environment.

Are Cheerios Safe for People with Celiac Disease?

The key question former gluten-free Cheerios fans want answered is – can you still eat Cheerios with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

The answer depends who you ask.

General Mills’ Recommendation

General Mills errs strongly on the side of caution and states Cheerios are not recommended for people sensitive to gluten.

On their website they note: “Cheerios are made of oats, which are inherently gluten-free. However, they are not labeled gluten-free in the U.S. because contamination at levels above 20ppm may occur.”

They urge anyone avoiding gluten for medical reasons not to consume Cheerios.

Advice from Celiac Organizations

Most major celiac disease and gluten intolerance groups also advise avoiding Cheerios if you are strictly gluten-free:

– Celiac Disease Foundation: Recommends not eating Cheerios due to risk of cross-contamination

– Beyond Celiac: Advises against consuming Cheerios for people with celiac disease

– Gluten Intolerance Group: Does not recommend Cheerios for anyone with celiac disease or avoiding gluten

– Canadian Celiac Association: Suggests opting for certified gluten-free oats instead of Cheerios

Individual Tolerances Vary

A small proportion of celiacs may be able to tolerate the low levels of gluten in Cheerios. However, the majority are believed to be sensitive enough to react.

It’s impossible to know how your own individual body will respond without testing it. Eating Cheerios when you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance risks causing symptoms and intestinal damage.

Are Other Flavors of Cheerios Gluten-Free?

Along with original Cheerios, General Mills also makes other flavored varieties like Honey Nut Cheerios, Frosted Cheerios, and Multi Grain Cheerios.

None of these flavored Cheerios varieties are labeled gluten-free. According to General Mills:

“No Cheerios products in the U.S. make a gluten-free claim. This includes Original, Honey Nut, Frosted, Multi Grain, Apple Cinnamon and all other flavors.”

All varieties of Cheerios are produced in the same manufacturing facilities and carry a risk of gluten cross-contamination. General Mills recommends avoiding all Cheerios for gluten-free diets in the U.S.

Exceptions Outside the U.S.

In a few select countries like Canada, General Mills does certify some Cheerios products as gluten-free to meet regulatory standards. But in the United States, no Cheerios boxes contain a gluten-free label.

Which Cheerios Are Still Gluten-Free?

Since General Mills stopped labeling them gluten-free, are there any safe Cheerios options left for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance?

A few alternatives remain:

Look for Certified Gluten-Free Oats

Opt for another brand of oat cereal that specifically states it’s tested gluten-free. Some smaller brands manage to consistently source uncontaminated gluten-free oats.

You can also find certified gluten-free oats sold on their own to make homemade oatmeal. Choose oats labeled “gluten-free” and look for certification from GFCO, GFSI, or other auditing bodies.

Try Heritage or Purity Protocol Oats

Certain companies follow strict protocols to avoid cross-contamination of oats with wheat, barley and rye. This includes rigorous testing of crops, facilities and final products.

For example, “heritage oats” come from seeds that haven’t been crossbred with wheat. Purity protocol oats follow sanitation procedures to prevent introducing gluten. These high-purity oats can be tolerable for some gluten-free eaters when certified.

Look for Oats Grown in Gluten-Free Regions

Some farms grow oats in remote areas where no wheat is grown nearby. This geographic isolation limits risks of cross-contamination in the field. Oats from gluten-free regions like Scotland or Idaho may be less likely to contain traces of gluten.

Consider Purity Oats

Grown by PepsiCo, Purity Oats are specially produced to avoid gluten cross-contact. They test at under 5 ppm gluten. While not labeled gluten-free, Purity Oats may be a safer bet for gluten-free diets.

What About Cheerios in Other Countries?

The gluten-free status of Cheerios varies depending on location:


Some Cheerios sold in Canada remain certified gluten-free to meet Canadian standards. Look for boxes labeled as “gluten-free” to choose these safe options.

United Kingdom

General Mills reformulated UK Cheerios to make them gluten-free to below 20 ppm. Any box labeled “gluten-free” in the UK contains gluten-free oats.


Cheerios containing the label “gluten-free” in Australia have been tested to ensure they meet gluten-free regulations.

New Zealand

Boxes of original Cheerios in New Zealand state they are “suitable for a gluten free diet.” However, the oats are not certified gluten-free.

What Cereals Can You Eat If You’re Gluten-Free?

If you need to avoid gluten, look for these breakfast cereal options:

Certified Gluten-Free Oat Cereals

Choose a certified gluten-free oat cereal like:

– Glutino Gluten-Free Oatmeal
– Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oats
– GFCO Certified Gluten-Free Oats

Corn and Rice Cereals

Corn and rice-based cereals are naturally gluten-free grains. Try:

– Corn Flakes
– Rice Krispies
– Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal

Sorghum and Millet Cereals

Lesser-known gluten-free whole grains like sorghum and millet are also made into cereals. For example:

– Better Oats Oat-Free Instant Oatmeal
– Nature’s Path Mesa Sunrise cereal with millet and corn
– Iron Will Gluten-Free Sorghum Puffs

Buckwheat and Quinoa Cereals

For more variety, buckwheat and quinoa flakes make tasty hot cereals. Or look for granolas with these naturally gluten-free pseudo-grains.

Other Gluten-Free Hot Cereals

Many store brands offer gluten-free instant oatmeal, cream of rice, cream of buckwheat or cream of millet hot cereals.

The Bottom Line on Cheerios

Here’s the key takeaways on the gluten-free status of Cheerios:

– Cheerios originally labeled gluten-free now contain variable trace gluten

– General Mills advises against eating Cheerios for gluten-free diets

– No current flavors of U.S. Cheerios are considered gluten-free

– Look for certified gluten-free oats or other grains if you need to avoid gluten

– In some countries like Canada and the U.K., some Cheerios remain gluten-free

While disappointing to long-time gluten-free fans, General Mills’ move aims to honestly represent the uncertain gluten content of Cheerios. For celiacs and anyone else avoiding gluten, many safer cereal options are available. But if you have no problem with gluten, you can continue enjoying Cheerios as usual.

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