Gluten is a component of many grains, including barley, rye and wheat. Nearly 15 percent of people have a gluten allergy or intolerance. This makes finding gluten-free food important. Whey protein, which is derived from milk, is a good source of protein. But can it be a part of a gluten-free diet?
Whey is a protein found in milk and other dairy products. It makes up approximately 20 percent of the protein found in milk, while casein makes up the other 80 percent. Whey is available in powder form, and when added to foods can boost the protein content considerably. It is considered a high-quality protein because it contains amino acids and is easy to digest and absorb. Both whey and casein proteins found in milk can be allergenic.
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as barley, rye and wheat. It has elastic properties that help bread form air bubbles when rising and give it a chewy texture upon baking. Gluten allergies and intolerances are common among people and are responsible for conditions such as celiac disease.
Avoiding gluten can be difficult, as it is often a hidden ingredient in many foods. People with gluten allergies should avoid instant coffee, vitamins, sausages or gravy, as all may contain gluten. Gluten can also be found in items such as lipstick, vitamins and toothpaste. Because of heightened awareness of gluten allergies, the words “contains gluten” or “contains wheat products” is often clearly found on the label.
Wheat and milk allergies and intolerances often occur in the same individual, so including whey in a gluten-free diet can be complicated. People with gluten allergies have cells within the small intestine often do not function properly. In these cases, cells in the small intestine designed to produce lactase (which breaks down the milk sugar lactose) cannot break down lactose. This is why so many people with gluten allergies cannot tolerate milk. This connection does not involve whey protein, but because milk contains whey, a lactose intolerance often necessitates avoiding both.
Pure Whey Protein
Because whey is such a high-quality protein, it is widely available in powder form. Pure whey protein will contain no gluten and is entirely safe on a gluten-free diet. Occasionally, however, industrial processing may involve cross-contamination (the same machines that package whey protein may package wheat flour). If you have a gluten allergy, check the label, which should say “gluten free.”
Benefits of Whey
Not only can whey be consumed on a gluten-free diet, but some individuals on a gluten-free diet have found success using whey as a replacement for gluten. In fact, whey protein isolates can add texture and have a nice consistency when added to recipes.