I see you sitting there, just waiting for a conversation. With me.
There are many things I cannot eat.
Doughnuts. Pizza. Sandwiches. Scones. Crumpets. Eclaires.
My journey into Celiac territory has always been interesting. Not only do I get to enjoy foods that are naturally gluten free, such as steak, sushi, ice cream and wine, but I also get to explore new ways of cooking in order to still enjoy recipes that traditionally use flour.
I’m lookin’ at you, gravy.
However, I have always enjoyed beer.
Whaaattt….beer?? But…beer is made from wheat, rye and barley?! You can’t drink beer.
What if I told you I have never had even the smallest reaction to beer. Ever. Because beer is gluten free.
Here’s the deal: there is science to back this up. I am going to be quoting many places which have the results of what the question is, what it means, how it compares to other products…and then we can all continue to enjoy Irish Death in peaceful harmony.
1) What is gluten, and why do beer companies claim their products are gluten free, if they are using rye, wheat and barley?
Gluten is an umbrella term used to describe a mixture of individual proteins found in many grains. Celiac disease (celiac sprue or gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity) is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by the ingestion of some of these glutens. People with classic celiac disease are intolerant to the gluten proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and a couple other lesser known grains. All these grains have a relative of the gluten protein. Interestingly, corn, rice and sorghum also have gluten proteins but are not toxic to celiacs. Herein lies one of the fundamental problems; the use of the term gluten intolerance to cover only certain gluten containing grains is confusing for consumers and food manufacturers alike. Unfortunately, it seems that the inertia for using celiac disease and gluten intolerance as synonyms is unstoppable. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of both consumers and manufacturers to make sure the terms being discussed are defined and understood.
As this relates to beer, there is a gluten protein found in barley. This protein is known as hordein. Wheat gluten is known as gliadin. Rye gluten is known as secalin. Presently, assay tests (or lab tests) are only commercially available for the testing of gliadin. We are unaware of any tests for hordein or any manufacturer that presently tests for hordein (Note: If you know of anyone that does in fact test specifically for hordein, please let us know). Therefore the idea that a barley based beer can be considered gluten free based upon the lack of testing is very difficult to fathom. It should be understood that a company using an assay test for gliadin to test for hordein will not return accurate results.
There has been widespread speculation that the brewing process eliminates these hordein proteins making all beers gluten-free. Although commercial assay tests for hordein are not available there is conclusive evidence that the brewing process does not degrade hordein to non-toxic levels. A research study in Australia on improving beer haze shows that hordein is still present in beer after the brewing process (http://www.regional.org.au/au/abts/1999/sheehan.htm). Therefore, claims that hordein or gluten is destroyed in the brewing process is unsubstantiated and clearly, based upon the Australian research, is highly questionable.
Based upon the continuous claims by beer companies that beers are gluten free, it is clear that the issue is misunderstood and, as always, it is up to the consumer to educate them on the facts. Hopefully, the information provided here will give consumers and manufacturers alike the ability to discuss these gluten issues intelligently and effectively.”
2) So, why can people with Celiac have 20ppm of gluten, if gluten is technically a toxic entity in their bodies?
Gluten Free Dietician: “In 2007 Catassi and colleagues assessed the effects of consuming capsules containing 0, 10, and 50 milligrams of gluten on the intestinal morphology of persons with celiac disease who reportedly were compliant with a gluten-free diet (Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:160-166). During the study participants maintained a strict gluten-free diet and were only allowed to consume specially marked gluten-free cereal foods containing less than 20 parts per million gluten. Gluten intake from the diet was estimated to be less than 5 milligrams. Researchers found a significant decrease in the villous height to crypt depth ratio in the group taking the 50 milligram capsule. No significant change was found in the vh/cd ratio in the group taking the 10 milligram capsule.”
So, we can have up to 20ppm of gluten in one serving of food before there are any adverse affects to our bodies.
3) How much is 20ppm, for those of us who are not science-inclined?
Gluten Free Dietician: “To break it down, 20 parts per million is the equivalent to 20ppm per kilogram of food. An average slice of gluten-free bread containing 20ppm of gluten (which is all of them- link to results) would contain 0.57 milligrams of gluten. Even if you ate ten ounces of foods containing 20ppm gluten, that would be just 5.70 mg of gluten. This level is just over half of the 10mg found by Catassi’s study to be a safe level so you would need to eat a whole lot of 20ppm food each day to surpass the “safe” level.
We must also consider that 20ppm is the highest level of gluten that foods can contain to be considered gluten free so most of the products you are eating will contain less than this amount.”
The Chameleon’s Tongue: “Fasano’s study tells us that 50mg of gluten per day damages the bowel of coeliacs, even though it doesn’t cause symptoms or show up in blood tests. That’s about as much gluten as 1/100th of a slice of standard wheat bread contains. A normal western diet contains 10–20g of gluten each day, which is 200–400 times the minimum amount of gluten that damages the small intestine of a coeliac patient. Fasano’s work also showed that there is a lot of variation between coeliac patients, and some experienced symptoms with as little as 10mg of gluten daily.”
My tolerance to gluten is definitely going down, the older I get and the longer I have been on a gluten free diet. My tolerance level, at this point, is at about 40ppm until I start feeling anything, so it is roughly the equivalent of 32 slices of Udi’s bread. But I figure I’ll be having a lot more problems than gluten reactions, if I go that route.
4) So, how much gluten is in beer?
“My impression is that many beers (including craft, of course) have pretty darn low levels of gluten, say around 10-15 ppm. Many obviously have a lot more (stronger, fuller-bodied, wheat beer etc.).”
- 10-15ppm of gluten is 0.01mg of gluten.
- A 1oz slice of white bread contains about 3.5g of gluten.
- 10-15ppm of gluten is equal to half of 1/100th of a piece of bread.
“You also have issues with how much a person can tolerate, under 20ppm is typically considered safe for someone with celiacs, however there are people who still react even at those low levels.”
5) Finally, just be careful. No matter what science says.
Food Republic: “If you have a food allergy that isn’t life-threatening, try carefully fiddling with it like one lactard friend of mine does with aged cheese — cream cheese would bring her right down, but a little grated parmesan on her pasta is fine. Another friend who’s allergic to most fish discovered that salmon doesn’t affect him the way shrimp would, due to its lower iodine content. Now his hair is super shiny from all the salmon he’s been eating. You’re stuck this way for life, friends, and allergies have their quirks, so find a silver lining. Or in my case, a silver bullet or six.”
So there you have it folks.
Beer has the same amount of gluten, if not less, as the average gluten free product.
Which is why beer is gluten free, in the same manner that Udi’s Gluten Free Bread is gluten free.
I don’t always spend all Friday looking up scientific research,
but when I do,
it is so I can drink beer.