Proceed with Caution
‘Gluten-Removed Beer’ may be unsafe for those with celiac disease.
By Cynthia Kupper
Gluten-free and gluten-removed beers have entered the marketplace recently, aiming to provide a safe beer option for those with celiac disease (CD) or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). However, the medical and scientific community has not validated or accepted that low-gluten or gluten-removed beers are safe because available gluten testing methods have not been sufficiently accurate with fermented and hydrolyzed products.
To look into this safety question, the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) recently conducted a pilot study at the University of Chicago’s Celiac Research Center to investigate whether these beer options are truly free of detectable gluten, making them a product that consumers can confidently select. GIG has been focusing on empowering the gluten-free community through consumer support, advocacy and education for more than four decades. The group’s outreach is not only to those who gluten-related disorders, but to everyone who has made the decision to live gluten-free.
Here is what the GIG pilot study revealed:
Gluten-Free vs Gluten-Removed Beer
A gluten-free beer uses grains that naturally do not contain gluten (for example, sorghum or brown rice) in the fermentation process. Gluten-free beer has no gluten in it at any time.
A gluten-removed beer uses wheat, barley or rye to ferment and make the beer, which then is subject to a process to remove the gluten. The gluten-removal process involves using enzymes to break down gluten into smaller fragments which, theoretically, should not induce an immune response in the person who drinks it.
Can gluten really be removed?
GIG’s study investigated whether gluten-free and gluten-removed beers induced an immune response in blood samples from persons with celiac disease. It found that no blood samples reacted to the gluten-free beer. However, some blood samples did react to the gluten-removed beer.
What does this mean for someone with CD or NCGS?
Although the gluten-removal process for gluten-removed beer is designed to break gluten down into fragments undetectable by the immune system, GIG’s research suggests that in some gluten-removed beers, protein fragments may remain after processing. These fragments could cause a gluten reaction in a person with CD or NCGS. On the other hand, the gluten-free beer studied was shown not to induce a response in any of the blood samples tested. Based on these findings, a gluten-free beer may be a safer choice for a person with CD or NCGS.
GIG’s research gave important insight into the efficacy of the gluten-removal process for beer and whether the process is sufficient for people who need to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. An important point to note is that this was only a review of one gluten-free beer (sorghum and brown rice) and one gluten-removed beer (barley). Additional research with different beer samples and with a larger sample of patients could provide an even greater understanding of their safety.
Cynthia Kupper is CEO of the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) and is a registered dietitian and expert in celiac disease management. GIG’s food safety certification programs, the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) and Gluten-Free Food Services (GFFS), have been recognized leaders in the gluten-free community for more than 20 years. The GFCO and GFFS certification logos are the symbols of trust for the gluten-free community, with more than 40,000 products certified worldwide. For more information, visit www.gluten.org.