A gluten-free diet is in vogue. The trend has increased exponentially in the last few years, with now over 3.1 million people in the United States living a gluten-free life. Gluten can be found in many alcoholic beverages, especially those that are made from grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley. So how can people following a gluten-free diet let their hair down, responsibly, of course? Is it safe to drink wine if you’re gluten intolerant?
And is wine really as beneficial to your health as some people claim? To fully answer the question of whether wine is gluten-free, let us first take a look at why some people are following a gluten-free diet, and how this can affect your drinking habits.
Gluten? Run for the hills!
As we mentioned, in the current age, 3.1 million people across the United States follow a gluten-free diet. Although that’s less than one percent of the entire population of the United States, it’s certainly a larger number of people, and a growing trend. By why is it really that people follow a gluten-free diet? Does their health really require it, or is it a passing fad?
The most prominent medical reason for following a gluten-free diet is because a person has celiac disease. Celiac disease really isn’t pretty, so those members of the population who have it really need to be careful of what they eat. The disease is an immune disease, where if you eat gluten, it damages your small intestine. If someone with celiac disease eats foods or beverages containing gluten, their body reacts by damaging their small intestine.
This disease is genetic, meaning it runs in your family, but it’s not always that easy to notice. Because it affects your small intestine, the most obvious way to tell if you have celiac disease is if it affects your digestive system, or gives you stomach aches for example.
However, for some people, it doesn’t appear to exercise such strong reactions. It could show itself in behaviors that are far more difficult to recognize. For example in children, celiac disease usually shows itself through irritability. But some people actually have no symptoms at all, which, quite evidently, could be a pretty dangerous state of affairs if it goes unnoticed.
If you think there’s potential that you might have celiac disease, and could benefit from following a gluten-free diet, go to see your doctor. There are some simple blood tests that will show whether you have it or not. You don’t need to be worried about it if you do have celiac disease though. With so many people following a gluten-free diet in the United States, finding gluten-free solutions for your favorite meals, and even alcoholic beverages is now easier than ever.
But, do all people who follow a gluten-free diet in the United States actually have a medical reason for it, or in other words, do they have celiac disease? The answer is no. 72 percent of them are classified as “PWAGs” – people without celiac disease avoiding gluten. The number of PWAGs has increased and increased in the last few years, due to increasing suspicions in the public of the health problems which can be brought on by gluten. But do they really need to be avoiding the protein, or are they just hypochondriacs? Well, that question is not so simple to answer.
The scientific studies are in
According to many scientific studies, the health benefits of PWAGs following a gluten-free diet are still uncertain. There doesn’t seem to be a huge correlation between following a gluten-free diet and having a better all-round level of health. In fact, some scientists have actually raised concerns about what that 3.1 million of Americans could be missing out on, when they avoid eating gluten.
Some scientists have raised concerns that, by avoiding gluten in your diet, people could actually be opening themselves up to developing deficiencies in calcium, iron and fiber consumption. Perhaps, that humble loaf of bread, that has been so vilified in popular opinion over the last few years, isn’t as dangerous as it was made out to be.
However, people seem to say something different. Many people without Celiac disease, that have some other digestive issues or suspected types of gluten insensitivity, have reported a huge improvement in their health after cutting down on gluten or eliminating gluten from their diet, even with sweets. You could argue that this is just the placebo effect. Because so much of public dialogue has been about the health benefits of living a gluten-free life, people assume that their lives will be healthier if they cut out gluten, and thus they are more positive and feel themselves to be healthier.
One argument could be, on the facts of people feeling healthier after switching to a gluten-free diet, that sometimes, in fact, a gluten-free diet is healthier. But this isn’t about the lack of the protein gluten itself in the diet. The fact is, if you’re eating large amounts of white bread, pasta, and cookies, especially if they’re made from refined flours, you just don’t have a very healthy diet, period. If you’re switching to a gluten-free diet, and instead you’re choosing to grab the nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables on the aisle, instead of your favorite refined snack, of course, you’re going to feel the benefits.
But this could be quite a cynical view. There are some studies that show that gluten sensitivities can exist without a firm celiac diagnosis, however, the details of this haven’t been studied or discovered fully. As often happens with a new trend in public health, more and more studies are coming out in this particular field of research, so we should have some more answers to these questions in the next few years. Soon we will find out whether non-celiac gluten intolerance is as real as people claim, and thus whether the 72 percent of PWAGs are just following a fad, or are actually investing time and energy in a legitimate health remedy.
Where does gluten hide?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Because of this, evidently flour is something that is packed full of gluten, so all of us know that people with celiac disease will be avoiding bread and sandwiches at their favorite cafe. But where else is gluten hiding? What are some non-gluten free foods? Gluten is also in some less obvious foods that we wouldn’t normally associate it with.
For example, did you know that gluten can often be found in condiments such as mayonnaise, ketchup, and salad dressings? It even creeps its way into some of our favorite meats, like hot dogs and sausages. Even things which we normally associate with a healthy diet, such as roasted nuts, energy bars, and veggie burgers often contain gluten.
So, as we can see, choosing the right ingredients, or picking off a menu can be a potential minefield for people with celiac disease. But did you know that gluten is not just contained in foods? You can also, quite surprisingly, find it in everyday household items such as shampoos, cosmetics, lipsticks and lip balm, medications and even some vitamins and supplements.
If you have celiac disease, you’ll probably be well educated about all of these potential sources of gluten. Even such an everyday activity as licking an envelope and closing it, and licking and adding a stamp to your letter, can expose people to gluten: as non-self adhesive stamp and envelopes can contain gluten!
But let’s get to the meat of it: what about gluten in alcohol? Finding gluten in alcohol can be a disheartening fact for many people trying to avoid gluten in their diet. It’s one thing being recommended from your doctor to avoid gluten, cutting it out for your diet by switching from sandwiches to salads, and quite another realizing that you have to avoid your favorite beer!
Because many alcoholic beverages are made from the main things which contain gluten (wheat, barley, rye), it stands to reason that many alcoholic beverages aren’t gluten-free. This is especially true of beer, hard ciders and ales, however, there are some gluten-free beers on the market.
It’s also true when it comes to some distilled spirits, such as whiskey for example. Although whiskeys are derived from wheat, barley, or rye, the distilling process usually removes all of the gluten proteins. So, despite being made from gluten-containing grain, the process of making these spirits removes all of the gluten protein in your glass.
However, sometimes gluten is added back in, with particular flavorings, or potentially with how a spirit is stored or packaged. If you have celiac disease, or you’re following a gluten-free diet, then always read the label. Or you can just opt for some more inherently safe options, like vodka which is made from potatoes, or tequila which is made from agave.
But is wine gluten-free?
We’ve gone over the reasons why people avoid gluten in their diets, whether it be for medical reasons, personal choice, or just following one of the newest health and diet fads. We’ve also taken a look at the different foods, household products, and alcoholic beverages which could potentially contain gluten. But, does wine contain gluten, or is wine gluten-free? The simplest answer to this question is no!
Wine does not usually contain gluten. In fact, wine is one of the best options for those following a gluten-free diet. Not only is it usually gluten-free, but it is also actually recommended as part of a healthy diet, drunk in moderation of course. So, if you’re following a gluten-free diet to try and eat more healthily, wine could be the right choice for you.
As we previously outlined, many alcoholic beverages contain gluten, because they’re made from the beginning of their process with grains which are very high in the gluten protein, like rye, barley, and wheat. However, wine is made from grapes, which is a fruit continuing no gluten at all! This is the simplest and most logical answer to the question: does wine contain gluten? It stands to reason that, like a carton of grape juice, wine should contain no gluten at all.
However, this is not always the case. Although the base ingredient of wine contains no gluten at all, and is thus fully safe for someone with celiac disease to consume, sometimes there are added parts of the process of making wine which could expose people to the potentially dangerous gluten protein. It’s not quite this dramatic though… most wine is totally safe for people with celiac disease to consume, however, some treatments of wine can leave some traces of gluten in wine. If you want to avoid all traces of gluten, then don’t fear. There are still some tasty wine-options out there for you.
But how can traces of gluten come into a wine? One answer is in fining. Fining is a part of the process used in some luxury wines, which involves clarifying and stabilizing the wine, getting rid of any particles which could be floating in the liquid. Very rarely, fining agents can contain gluten. This means that in some wines that have gone through the fining process, there may be traces of gluten in the bottle.
However, most winemakers use fining agents that contain no gluten at all. These include bentonite, which is an inert clay, isinglass, or egg proteins. These are the most commonly used fining agents, so even if your bottle of wine has gone through the fining process, it’s unlikely that there will be any traces of gluten within.
The second way that gluten could potentially wheedle its way into your wine is through sealant. With some wines, stored in oak barrels to prepare them for aging, a sealant is used. This sealant, or wheat paste, is added to help reduce the risk of leaks from the oak barrel. This sealant is usually a type of paste made from flour, and thus it contains gluten and can expose your wine to traces of the gluten protein. However, this practice is actually very uncommon, and now even if your wine is being stored in oak barrels, it’s more likely that it will be sealed with paraffin wax, rather than a flour-based sealant.
Even though these two treatments of wine can expose the wine to small amounts of gluten, the facts remain that the traces of gluten in wine, even after being treated in these ways, are negligible. Even if the wine is exposed to gluten in the fining process, or through the flour-based sealant, the amount of gluten in the wine is so small that even if you have celiac disease it’s probably still perfectly safe for you to drink. This is because in order for a wine to be marked entirely “gluten-free”, it needs to contain less than 20 parts-per-million of gluten. Exposure to a sealant or fining agent produces far fewer than 20 parts-per-million, making wine as safe to drink as a bottle of water!
Gluten-free after all
So there we have it, wine is almost 100 percent gluten-free! Not just because it’s made with grapes, not grain, meaning it’s coming from a resource that is naturally gluten-free. Even treatment which exposes wine to gluten leaves traces of gluten which are close to that found in bottled water. For people opting for a gluten-free life, from choice or necessity, even if you have to get rid of most of your other favorite forms of alcohol, wine is most likely to always be safe for you.
But, if you really want to be sure, there are a couple of extra measures you can take to ensure you’re not even exposed to negligible amounts of gluten. One thing you can do is buy young wines, that haven’t been aged in a barrel, to make sure there’s no way the wine could have absorbed trace amounts of gluten in the sealing process. Another way to make sure that the wine hasn’t been aged in a barrel is to purchase cheaper bottles of wine. If the bottle is under $15, it’s more than likely it hasn’t been aged in a barrel, as this is an expensive process in creating fine, luxury wines. Another option is to go for white wines, wine coolers, or rosés. White and rosé wine are a lot lighter than red wine, and it’s quite rare for them to be stored in an oak barrel where sealant could be used.
If you want to be extra careful, and cannot risk being exposed to tiny amounts of gluten, we’ve given you a couple of options to ensure you’ll never be consuming gluten when you crack open a bottle of wine. However, at the end of the day, you don’t really need to resort to these extreme measures.
Not only is wine naturally a gluten-free alcohol, and vegan, it also has many other benefits to your health, such as your heart health, circulation, and digestion. What more reasons do we need to enjoy our favorite drink?
Bonus tip: While you’re at it, check out this video on how to taste wine like a pro before your next wine tasting session!