Whey is a product that is heavily marketed as a health food, particularly to support athletic performance and body composition. It is also promoted as a way to boost protein intake and combat nutritional deficiencies.
But is whey really safe to eat on a gluten free diet? Let’s take a look.
What is whey?
Whey is one of the two proteins found in cow’s milk. Whey makes up about 20% of the protein and is the liquid part of cow’s milk that separates during cheese production. Casein makes up the remaining 80% of protein in cow’s milk and is found in the solid curds that result as a byproduct of cheesemaking.
Whey is generally processed and dried and sold as a powder form known as whey protein that can be mixed into a liquid or soft food.
Whey Can Mimic Gluten
Pure whey does not contain any gluten. However, some research has shown that whey can mimic gluten and cause a similar immune reaction in the body. This means that if you have been following a gluten free diet and still are not feeling well, whey might be the cause.
In addition, whey protein can be problematic for other reasons:
- Cross contamination: Whey protein powders or shakes ordered at smoothie bars or restaurants can be cross contaminated with gluten so it is important to be extremely careful and to read all product labels.
- Gluten in disguise: Many whey protein powders contain various other ingredients. Some of these are derived from gluten. It is important to cross reference your ingredients with our comprehensive list of hidden gluten terms.
- Dairy content: whey is derived from dairy, which can be problematic for some with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity for a number of reasons:
- Lactose intolerance (an intolerance to the natural sugar in milk)
- Dairy allergy (an allergy to all dairy)
- Casein protein reaction (this protein in milk can mimic gluten)
- Reaction to the beta casomorphin-7 (BCM-7) protein which has been linked to a number of digestive disturbances
- Reaction to the microbial transglutaminase being used to treat the dairy (mimics gluten)
Is Whey good for you overall?
Many whey protein supplements contain other ingredients that are not healthy, including the following:
- Processed sugars or sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame
- Artificial flavors or natural flavors from unknown sources
- Other additives that can be a detriment to health like xanthan gum and soluble corn fiber,
- Inflammatory oils like sunflower oil and canola oil
Many people with a gluten intolerance, or any other digestive issues find that whey protein can be difficult to digest and can cause unpleasant side effects like gas, bloating, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Those with a gluten intolerance or other digestive issues may be better off avoiding or limiting intake of whey protein. If you find yourself experiencing discomfort from consuming dairy, whether intentionally or accidentally, try a supplement like Dairy Shield to help your body process it.
If you are looking for ways to boost your protein intake without dairy, there are other sources of protein that are similarly convenient, without toxic ingredients, hidden gluten, or gluten mimickerst:
- Hydrolyzed Beef Protein: Ultra Pure Protein
- Pea Protein: Ultra Protein
- Collagen Peptides: Ultra Collagen
Of course, as with any supplement, quality matters. Be sure to vet the supplier of all supplements to ensure that their sourcing, manufacturing, and testing are safe and free from gluten cross contamination.
The Bottom Line
Even though whey protein is naturally gluten free, it isn’t necessarily a good option for someone who is gluten intolerant. If you do choose to consume whey, be sure that it is from a trusted source.