'Cheerio!' to gluten: General Mills says famous cereal brand will go gluten-free

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Fans of a popular hooped cereal can say "Cheerio" to gluten.

Minnesota-based General Mills confirmed that five of its Cheerios varieties will be labeled as gluten-free as of July, the Wall Street Journal reports.

It may seem odd that such a change needs to be made given the cereals are made from oats, but the company says these oats tend to get contaminated by wheat, rye and barley either at the farm or as they are taken to mills, the newspaper notes.

The varieties that will be gluten-free later this year are: Original, Honey Nut, Multi-Grain, Apple Cinnamon, and Frosted.

According to the Star Tribune, the Golden Valley company has found a way to sort grains containing gluten from the oats, a process it says was "years in the making."

The newspaper notes that gluten-free labeling is becoming a more and more valuable marketing tool, given the greater awareness of digestive diseases like celiacs, as well as being popular among those who believe avoiding gluten can help them lose weight and stay healthy.

Food Dive reports the trend towards gluten-free has caused cereal sales to slump in recent years.

However, the website General Mills scored a winner when it began labeling its Chex brand as gluten-free – without needing a recipe change – and will be hoping for similar success with Cheerios.

Who needs to go gluten-free?

Celiac is an auto-immune disease affecting the absorption of nutrients through the digestive system. It affects 1 percent of Americans and the only treatment is a 100 percent gluten-free diet according to the National Association for Celiac Awareness.

More people – around 16 million – exhibit signs of "gluten sensitivity" without having celiac, but there is no test for it and it can only be diagnosed if symptoms improve after going on a gluten-free diet, the Celiac Disease Foundation notes.

But despite gluten-free becoming a fad for dieting and healthy living, the Mayo Clinic says that going on a diet free from the gluten protein can deprive people of vital nutrients such as iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate.

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