Written by Carina Fabia
Last updated on: Oct 03, 2022
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Whey protein is a popular supplement for athletes and bodybuilders, but some people are concerned about whether it contains gluten. There have been numerous health concerns regarding whey protein powder.
This is despite its effectiveness for strength training, improving athletic performance and building lean muscle mass (1). While some argue that whey proteins are good for your health, some people with allergens may still find it difficult to consume them. Having said that, it is important to note that not all whey proteins are gluten-free. People who have digestion problems afterward, however, may not always be because of gluten.
In this article, we'll set the record straight on whey protein and gluten so that you can make an informed decision about whether this supplement is right for you.
Whey protein is a type of protein found in milk. It’s considered a “complete protein” because it contains all the essential amino acids your body needs to build and maintain muscle. Whey protein is popular among athletes and bodybuilders because it’s an efficient way to add protein to the diet. It’s also low in lactose, making it easier to digest than other types of protein.
Whey protein is sometimes added to gluten-free foods as a source of nutrition. However, whey protein is not inherently gluten-free. If you have celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten, you should avoid products that contain whey protein unless they are certified gluten-free.
Whey protein is made from whey, which is a by-product of the cheese-making process. Cheese is made from milk, and whey is the liquid that remains after the milk has been curdled and strained. Whey protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to build muscle (2).
To make whey protein powder, the whey is first dried to remove water. This can be done using a spray drying process or a drum drying process. After the whey has been dried, it is then milled into a fine powder. The next step is to extract the proteins from the powder using one of several methods, such as ultrafiltration or ion exchange chromatography. Once the proteins have been extracted, they are then filtered and concentrated before being packaged into a finished product.
The notorious gluten is most commonly found in wheat, as well as rye and barley. It is the reason why bread, pitas, and other associated products have a chewy texture. Furthermore, when cooked, it can give off a crispy crust with soft insides – like a pizza’s crust. For people suffering from celiac disease, gluten can cause serious health problems.
Gluten is known to have adverse effects on some consumers. While the concept is relatively complex, it is commonly said that these people are "allergic" to gluten consumption. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging the villi, which are small finger-like projections that line the small intestine (3).
Damaging the villi prevents them from doing their job, which is to absorb nutrients from food. This can lead to malnutrition, as well as other health problems (4).
Gluten can also cause an autoimmune reaction in people who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (5). This means that their bodies see gluten as a foreign invader and attack it. This can cause inflammation and damage to various organs, including the brain and nervous system.
People with either celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity may experience a variety of symptoms, including; bloating, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, headaches, brain fog, anxiety, depression and skin rashes (6).
If you suspect that you may have either of these conditions, it's important to see a doctor for testing so that you can begin taking steps to protect your health.
So, is whey protein gluten-free? The answer is, in most cases, yes (unless the packaging specifically says otherwise. Normally, whey protein is derived from milk and therefore does not contain gluten. However, this may not always be the case as some whey proteins also feature other ingredients that may contain whey.
The protein itself usually does not contain gluten, but other additions may cause similar reactions in the human body. Generally, it is a good idea to see the packaging clearly for gluten markers before consumption.
As mentioned before, not all whey proteins contain gluten. There are many options available on the market that contain gluten for people looking for better weight management and a better focus on their figures. When choosing a whey protein powder, be sure to check the label to see if it's certified gluten-free. If it isn't, that doesn't necessarily mean that it contains gluten, but it's always best to err on the side of caution.
A study by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that long-term gluten consumption actually improved participants' heart health and, along with a controlled diet, actually helped them decrease their weight considerably (7).
There are a few benefits to taking whey protein.
• One is that it can help you build muscle mass. Whey protein is full of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle. So, if you're looking to bulk up, whey protein can be a helpful tool.
• Whey protein can help you lose weight. Since it's high in protein, it can help you feel fuller longer and prevent you from overeating. Furthermore, it doesn’t contain any essential nutrients and can pass right through your intestines.
• It can also act as a fiber or act as a catalyst for other fibrous materials.
• Whey protein has been shown to boost immunity and help with recovery from exercise (8).
Yes, there are a few alternatives to whey protein – be it gluten-free or otherwise. One popular alternative is the casein protein, which is derived from milk. Casein is a slower-digesting protein, making it ideal for taking before bedtime. Other alternatives include egg protein and plant-based proteins such as pea protein and hemp protein.
Studies have shown casein protein supplementation men and women in the morning and evening had less of an impact on their health than gluten consumption, though (9).
Whey protein is gluten-free in most instances, but there are several options that contain gluten as well. This is why it is important to remain cautious when making a purchase. Remember, some people actually prefer having gluten in their diet because of its ability to help lose weight and give off a "fuller" feeling.