Is Whey Protein Powder Gluten-Free? How to Be Sure?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Wheat flour contains gluten, which makes it difficult for some people with celiac disease (CD) or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Some people are sensitive to wheat but not other grains like rice, corn or oats. Others have no reaction at all to any grain.
Wheat proteins contain gliadin, a peptide that causes gastrointestinal distress in those with CD. Gluten can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea. Those with NCGS do not react to wheat proteins but may experience digestive problems when eating foods containing gluten such as breads, pastas and cereals.
The problem is many commercial products made from wheat are now being produced without the use of gluten ingredients. These include:
Bread doughs made without the addition of wheat flour. Bread doughs are usually made with white flour and then baked in a pan. They don’t need to be kneaded before baking because they already have the structure of a loaf.
Pasta and pizza crusts made without the addition of wheat flour. Pasta and pizza crusts are typically made with wholemeal flour, so they don’t need to be kneaded either.
Foods like cakes, biscuits and ice cream are made from a wide range of ingredients and sometimes gluten-free substitutes cannot be found. Usually manufacturers add a small amount of wheat flour to thicken and stabilize the product but this could be a problem for those with CD.
Another concern is the fact that manufacturers aren’t required to clearly label products containing gluten as being unsafe for people with CD or NCGS. In some countries, the use of the term “wheat” to describe food products that contain small amounts of wheat is discouraged to prevent people with CD from accidentally eating them.
Is Your Whey Protein Powder Safe?
Whey protein powder can be made from cow’s milk but it can also be made from plant proteins such as pea and rice. If you have a milk allergy, you should get the plant-based product rather than the one made using milk. Gluten can also be an issue in whey protein powder so you need to make sure you get one that is gluten-free.
Always read the package label or contact the manufacturer before buying whey-based protein powder. If you have any questions at all, it is best to buy a different brand or different product as even small amounts of gluten can make you sick.
Is Your Isolate Protein Gluten Free?
Whey protein isolate is a highly refined form of whey and many manufacturers coat the resulting powder with flavors and sweeteners to make it more palatable. Isolates are easy to use in drinks and baked goods but if you cannot afford one of the more expensive varieties, find out exactly what is in your favorite shake or bar.
Are There Other Gluten Ingredients In The Protein Powder?
Whey-based protein powders are processed products, which means they may contain wheat germ oil, barley malt, or even some wheat flour to make the final product thicker and easier to use. Other types of protein powder do not always use gluten as an ingredient but it is best to check with the manufacturer before you buy.
Gluten-free products will not always be labeled as such so you need to read all the ingredients. Even a small amount of gluten can cripple your efforts to manage your CD self-diagnosed or not.
Are You Sure You’re Gluten Intolerant?
Some people who think they are gluten intolerant or sensitive may actually be reacting to something else in their diet. If you notice a reaction after eating, stop eating the food in question for two weeks to see if symptoms persist.
If your symptoms disappear, you may have been reacting to something else in your food like dairy, pork, or even eggs. If this is the case you can slowly add the food you suspect back into your diet to see if symptoms return. If they do, you know what to avoid and if they don’t, you can keep eating that food without worry.
Should You Go Gluten-Free?
Going gluten-free is easier nowadays but it is definitely more expensive. There is a thriving industry for gluten-free substitutes for almost every food imaginable but these tend to be more costly than the “regular” versions of the same food.
People with CD tend to find that a gluten-free diet helps relieve their symptoms but this may not be the case for you. Always check with your doctor before going on a special diet especially if it means taking expensive supplements or eating foods that are harder to find or more expensive.
Gluten can be hidden in some unlikely places, from seasonings to medicine, so you need to check everything.
Gluten-Free Foods List
There are some foods that almost everyone agrees are gluten free: vegetables, fruit, meat (including fish and chicken), eggs, and dairy. These foods are all high in protein but if you are used to a vegetarian diet or tend toward the vegan side of things you will need to take a supplement like protein powder to ensure you get enough to eat every day.
Sources & references used in this article:
Gluten-free breads by EK Arendt, A Morrissey, MM Moore… – Gluten-free cereal products …, 2008 – Elsevier
Crust and crumb characteristics of gluten free breads by E Gallagher, TR Gormley, EK Arendt – Journal of food engineering, 2003 – Elsevier
State of the art in gluten‐free research by N O’Shea, E Arendt, E Gallagher – Journal of food science, 2014 – Wiley Online Library
Starch characteristics linked to gluten-free products by SW Horstmann, KM Lynch, EK Arendt – Foods, 2017 – mdpi.com
Effects of ingredients and certain additives on rheological and sensory characteristics of gluten‐free eggless pancake by B Akshata, D Indrani… – Journal of Food …, 2019 – Wiley Online Library