Is Whey Protein Gluten Free?
An intolerance to gluten is one of the most common dietary complaints these days and effects far more people that you might ever have imagined. In part, due to increased nutritional awareness, more people are familiar with the link between their digestive issues and an intolerance to gluten. While gluten is found just about everywhere and in everything, more and more food manufacturers are getting wise to the demand for a “free from” range and you can easily find substitutes.
What about when it comes to choosing a whey protein though? Is whey protein gluten-free or not? Well, we’re glad you asked as that’s the topic of today’s review and we will be considering the question in more detail to get to the bottom of this important issue.
If you do have an intolerance to gluten, and you are about to embark on a more rigorous training program that would certainly benefit from increasing your daily intake of protein, it’s important to understand whether your whey protein is gluten-free. Before you go and invest your hard earned cash into a super-sized tub of 100% whey isolate premium protein, it’s essential that you check that your digestive system can tolerate the formula.
The great news is that whey protein powder, being a natural byproduct of the cheese-making process in its purest and original form, is entirely gluten-free. Great news then for all bodybuilders out there with a gluten sensitivity!
The method of making whey, in case you aren’t familiar with the children’s nursery rhyme, Little Miss Muffet, is of separating the curds from the liquid whey. The whey then goes through a process of being filtered and dehydrated to create its protein powder form. So far, so good as nothing has yet been added.
The issue comes in when manufacturers then start to bulk out their protein powders with other additives and fillers which themselves may well contain some traces of gluten. So in short, you really need to read the labels and check if any extra ingredients are lurking inside your chosen protein powder that might trigger that gluten sensitivity.
Different Types of Whey
You will see whey protein referred to by three different names: concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate. All three are natural, but again, any one of those might contain gluten if additives or flavorings have been included in the final product. That’s why it’s always recommended to go for a 100% pure whey product that is guaranteed free from artificial colorings and flavors if digesting gluten is problematic for your system.
Generally speaking, concentrate will have gone through fewer processes, but that means it will naturally have a higher level of fat and carbohydrate content than isolate or hydrolysate do. Depending upon what your weight and nutritional goals are, if you are limiting your carbohydrate intake or you have an intolerance to lactose rather than gluten, then you might not want to go for concentrate.
Whey isolate goes through more of a filtration process to remove some of that fat and carbohydrate content, but it is still usually 90% protein by weight. Hydrolysate whey has been broken down and processed even further, separating out the amino acid bonds which means that this type of whey is by far the easiest to digest. So they all have their relative merits, and one might suit you and your own unique digestive and dietary requirements more so than the other.
Additional Ingredients That Might Trigger a Gluten Reaction
All whey powder, no matter what subsequent filtration process it then goes through, at the end of the day contains one crucial gluten-free ingredient, and that is the whey itself. However, some brands go on to bind and add other ingredients, common ones being wheat, barley, and rye which of course are not gluten-free.
Be careful to avoid ingredients such as glutamine which is derived from wheat protein along with ingredients such as starch, malt sugar, and caramel, color all of which are often added to protein powder and do also contain gluten.
You Also Need to Consider Cross Contamination
It’s also important to consider what other products the manufacturer is making in the same facility. Their whey protein product may well be gluten-free but are they producing and distributing other products alongside their protein that might cause some cross-contamination?
If you have a very severe reaction to gluten or you are a celiac for example, it’s advisable to stay entirely away from any products that have been manufactured in any facility that handles gluten-based products. This should be clearly identified on the label, so it’s always best to do your research thoroughly.
Read the Label Information in Detail
Following on from the point above, please be sure to carefully read the nutritional information on any whey protein powder before you purchase. Labeling has improved leaps and bounds, and all the pertinent information has to be displayed relating to potential allergies. Check to make sure that no hidden ingredients are lurking inside that might trigger your gluten sensitivity.
If you are at all in doubt as to whether cross contamination might be an issue and your reaction to gluten is a particularly severe one, then it’s best to contact the manufacturer first to be 100% sure that their particular brand of whey protein isn’t just gluten-free but has been produced in a gluten-free facility.
Final Recommendations and Thoughts
Powders that are marketed as having some additional function, for example to build more mass or to assist you with losing weight, will certainly have a host of additional ingredients other than being just pure 100% whey protein.
So check and double check the label, even if you regularly purchase the same brand of powder and are just switching to a different flavor, as it may well be that the flavoring added to deliver that cookies-and-cream taste sensation isn’t all that it seems. In particular, be vigilant of the common additive “glutamine” and stay away from this if you do have a known sensitivity.