Ice cream is a popular frozen dessert enjoyed by many people around the world. It is typically made with the core ingredients of cream and sugar. However, for people who have gluten sensitivities or celiac disease, it is important to know whether or not ice cream is gluten free. As with many foods, the answer is not a simple yes or no.
This article discusses the key culprits of gluten in ice cream so that you know what to watch out for and what ice cream is safe to consume on a gluten free diet.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, oats, corn, and rice. It is often used as a thickener in many food products, including ice cream. Gluten can also show up in ice cream in the form of cookie pieces, cake bits, or other added ingredients.
Check Your Ingredients
While most ice creams are made with gluten-free ingredients, some may contain gluten due to added ingredients or cross-contamination during production. If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, it is essential to read the label carefully before consuming any ice cream.
Do some research on a company’s website to understand how the ice cream is produced, and in the absence of detailed information, look for ice creams that are labeled certified gluten free.
Beware Of Thickening Agents And Gums
Research has shown that a number of food additives can cause issues for those with celiac disease. The commonly used additives in ice cream include thickeners, gums, and microbial transglutaminase.
Many ice cream brands use added thickeners and gums. Gums are commonly used to increase the “stickiness” that gluten typically gives to foods. They are also used as thickening agents and are common in foods like mayo, salad dressings, yogurt, milks, soups, and yes – ice cream. Unfortunately, these gums, like xanthan gum and carrageenan gum can be inflammatory to the gastrointestinal tract.
In addition, the additive microbial transglutaminase (mTG or “meat glue”) may be added to ice cream, particularly lower fat varieties, to support texture and stability. Unfortunately, for those with a gluten sensitivity, mTG treated dairy can be perceived as gluten to the immune system. Some researchers believe it to be a source of persistent inflammation for those with gluten intolerance.
Ice Cream And Cross Contamination
Another factor to consider when evaluating what ice cream is safe to eat is the possibility of cross-contamination. Ice cream may be produced in a facility that also processes gluten-containing products which can lead to small amounts of gluten ending up in the ice cream.
Check the manufacturer’s website or call the company that produces your ice cream to understand if the ice cream is made on a dedicated gluten free production line, or in a gluten free facility. Some ice cream is also tested so that it can be labeled certified gluten free.
In addition to ice cream purchased at a store, it is important to be aware of the possibility when ordering ice cream at a restaurant or an ice cream shop. Oftentimes scoops are shared between ice cream flavors so that a scoop could be used for gluten-containing cookies and cream ice cream just before it was used for your gluten free scoop. In addition, the scoop may touch the cones of other ice cream scoops and become cross contaminated. Be sure to ask good questions about how your ice cream is handled to minimize the risk of cross contamination.
Be Wary of Ice Cream Cones
Cones are typically made with wheat and therefore are not gluten free. Even cones labeled gluten free are generally not gluten free as they still contain grains known to contain gluten proteins. They also often contain other undesirable ingredients like inflammatory seed oils, gums and fillers, and other additives.
Be Wary of Ice Cream Bars
Many ice cream bars contain gluten based ingredients to help bind them together. They also often contain corn based ingredients that could cause a reaction for celiacs and patients with non celiac gluten sensitivity.
Be Wary of Added Chocolate
A lot of chocolate contains barley or soy. Soy in chocolate can cause reactions for some celiacs and has also been shown to cause villous atrophy.
What About Dairy?
- Lactose intolerance
- Dairy allergy
- Casein protein reaction (casein mimics gluten)
- Leaky gut
- Digestive enzyme insufficiency (Many with gluten induced intestinal damage do not produce the enzyme lactase in high enough quantities to digest dairy effectively)
- Reaction to the beta casomorphin-7 (BCM-7) protein which has been linked to a number of digestive disturbances
- Reaction to the microbial transglutaminase (also known as meat glue) being used to treat the dairy (mimics gluten)
It is important to note that when we refer to dairy, we are referring to A1 dairy. The vast majority of dairy products on the market are made with milk from cows that produce A1 dairy. However, there is another type of dairy that may be a better option. It is called A2 dairy. The terms A1 and A2 refer to different forms of beta-casein, a part of the curds (i.e., milk solids) that make up about 30% of the protein content in milk.
While it may seem like A2 is a newer type of milk, the reality is that when we look back many years ago, all cow’s milk contained A2 beta-casein protein. This is the same primary protein as is in human milk, so we know that our bodies were designed to digest it. So what changed? Over time, there was a genetic mutation in cows in European dairy herds and an A1 beta-casein variation resulted in cows with two types of proteins – A1 and A2. Eventually, A1 beta-casein became the dominant form of dairy in the United States, but unfortunately, A1 dairy can be difficult for humans to digest.
If you cannot digest A1 or A2 dairy, non dairy ice creams may be an option. However, be sure to read labels carefully to avoid other undesirable ingredients often found in non dairy ice creams, like inflammatory seed oils, additives, gums, and other fillers. See the next section for a few of our favorite trusted brands.
Gluten Free Ice Cream Brands
The good news is that there are some healthier gluten free options for dairy and non dairy based ice creams.
Gluten free dairy based ice creams
When searching for a gluten free dairy based ice cream, choose one made with A2 organic milk, ideally from grass fed cows, and with a good quality sugar or natural sweetener, and no additives. Here are some examples:
- Talenti Organic Gelato: Talenti uses high quality, simple, whole ingredients and has a section dedicated to gluten free flavors.
- Alec’s Ice Cream: Alec’s ice cream uses A2 milk as a base. The dairy farm that produces its milk is also a regenerative organic farm. The ice cream does include guar gum but the company acknowledges that it is less than 0.5% of their product.
- Cosmic Bliss: Cosmic Bliss uses grass-fed dairy and is certified gluten free. While it lists guar gum as an ingredient, the company notes that it contains less than 0.35% guar gum.
Gluten free non dairy based ice creams
When searching for a gluten free non dairy based ice cream, choose one made with organic ingredients when possible, and without the use of inflammatory oils or gums, fillers, or additives. As with most things, the fewer ingredients, the better!
- Cado Ice Cream: Cado uses organic avocado puree as a base
- Mud – Mud ice cream has a coconut base and is sweetened with dates
Gluten Free Ice Cream Recipes
You can also ensure a gluten free ice cream by making your own so you know exactly the quality of ingredients that go into it. Here’s a dairy based recipe from Gluten Free Palate:
DAIRY BASED GLUTEN FREE ICE CREAM
- 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (omit if making other flavors)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- Optional add-ins: ½ – 1 cup of add-ins like fruit, chopped nuts, etc.
- Line a 9×5 loaf pan with parchment paper. Place it in the freezer.
- Combine sweetened condensed milk, vanilla paste (or extract), and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- In a separate mixing bowl, beat heavy whipping cream on medium high speed until stiff peaks form, similar to making whipped cream.
- Gently fold the whipped cream into the sweetened condensed milk. If desired, stir in any add-ins you’d like.
- Pour into the prepared pan, cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.
DAIRY FREE GLUTEN FREE ICE CREAM
- 3 cups unsweetened frozen fruit and/or berries
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
- Pure liquid stevia (optional)
- Place berries and chopped fruit in a high power blender, such as a Vitamix. Add the coconut milk. Blend on high until thoroughly mixed. If too thick, add more coconut milk.
- Taste, and if not sweet enough, add a small amount of stevia.
- Serve immediately or place in the freezer.
- VARIATION: For a more sorbet-like texture, add a few ice cubes to the blender.
Ice cream can be gluten free, but it is important to read labels and understand the risks for cross contamination. It is also important to be selective about the ingredients in your ice cream, quality matters, even if it is gluten free. Choosing ice cream with high quality ingredients will help support your other overall health goals.
It is also important to know that many people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity also react to dairy. In these cases, our product Dairy Shield can help to break down and digest dairy.