Is whey gluten free?
The consumption of whey is an excellent way to get an added dose of protein, especially if you work out a lot. It is not only extremely convenient but is also digested and absorbed quickly by the body.
Whey is great because it is a complete protein and provides all 9 essential amino acids that your body is unable to produce on its own. It is also a good source of branch chained amino acids (BCAA’s).
Whey and gluten are both protein sources so this may bring about some confusion when you are on a gluten free diet. Does whey contain gluten? The answer is yes and no, depending on the type of whey protein you consume. But the simple answer is pure whey does not contain gluten.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a general name given to a number of proteins found naturally in grains like wheat, rye & barley. Gliadin and glutenin are the two most common proteins, with gliadin being responsible for much of the discomfort experience by gluten intolerant individuals.
Gluten acts like glue when combined with water and helps give certain foods such as bread and pizza their texture and chewiness.
Even though a lot of foods don’t naturally contain gluten, manufacturers started to realise that they could produce larger quantities of food for very little cost by adding in gluten. This in turn resulted in an increase in the number of gluten containing foods.
Most people can consume gluten without any problems. However it does cause discomfort for people with celiac diease, gluten sensitivity and wheat allergies.
Celiac disease affects 1% of the global population. For these people, damage is caused to the small intestine when gluten is consumed. Symptoms include bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
Some people test negative for celiac disease but still react negatively to gluten. This is known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity and has similar symptoms to celiac disease.
Anyone who suffers from these two conditions or is allergic to grains such as wheat needs to avoid certain grains and gluten containing products.
How is whey made?
Whey is obtained from milk and is a by product of cheese production. Enzymes are added to milk which makes it separate into solid curds and a liquid. The curds are used to make cheese and the liquid is what contains the whey. The liquid is further processed to obtain dry whey, either by a process known as micro filtration or ion exchange.
There are 3 main types of whey protein:
- Concentrate – the amount of protein in whey protein concentrate varies from 25% – 89%. It also contains lactose and fat.
- Isolate – this is a purer form of whey and contains 90% – 95% protein. It also has much less fat and lactose than whey concentrate. Whey isolate tends to be pricier than whey concentrate.
- Hydrolysate – this is a form of whey protein that has undergone partial hydrolisis, making it easier for the body to digest and absorb. It is the most expensive of the three.
So as you can see, in their natural form, all three types of whey do not contain any grains such as wheat or rye and are therefore gluten free. Whey consumed in this pure form is perfectly fine for gluten intolerant people.
However, the main problem is that this type of whey has a very bland flavour and therefore does not taste great. If you have bought whey protein before, you will notice it comes in a flavour such as chocolate or vanilla.
These flavourings are added to make the whey protein more palatable and it is these flavourings and other additions that can contain gluten.
There are just too many brands out there of whey protein and each uses their own unique recipes and ingredients. Therefore, in order to make sure a product is gluten free, it is important that you read ingredient labels carefully.
No gluten vs gluten free
For a whey protein to be labeled as “gluten free”, it needs to be manufactured in a facility that only manufactures gluten free products; none of its other products can contain gluten in them.
If a whey protein is labeled as “no gluten”, it simply means it does not have any gluten added to it. However, there could be other products that contain gluten which are manufactured in the same facility.
Usually no gluten whey protein will be safe for consumption, however there is always the extremely minute but possible chance of cross contamination. This can happen if another product that contains gluten is manufactured using the same machinery. If the machinery is not properly cleaned for example, it can lead to contamination.
Your level of gluten intolerance will dictate whether you can have a no gluten whey or if you should only stick to a gluten free whey. Some people can tolerate a minuscule amount of gluten, whereas others cannot. If your body cannot handle gluten whatsoever, you should always opt for gluten free. Manufacturers that label their products as gluten free need to have their products and manufacturing facilities thoroughly tested for traces of gluten.
Some gluten free whey protein products
Below are some popular whey protein products, all of which are stated as being gluten free by their respective manufacturers.
As you can see, there are many different varieties of gluten free whey protein powder. Please keep in mind that the products in the table above were listed as gluten free at the time of publishing. Always double check the ingredients used in a product, before making a purchase.
Other types of protein powder
Whey is considered to be one one of the best types of proteins supplements out there. Not only is it extremely rich in protein, it also brings health benefits such as being able to prevent cancer, boosting your immune system, lowering cholesterol and reducing stress.
However you do not need to restrict yourself to whey protein alone. There are other protein powders out there that can be almost equally as good such as pea, hemp seed and rice protein. Gluten free versions of these proteins are available online and in sport supplement stores.
Pure whey protein is gluten free. There are also many flavoured whey proteins that are gluten. Always make sure you read nutrition labels before buying a product to make sure that it is indeed gluten free.