With the rising popularity of plant-based meats, many consumers are wondering if these products are suitable for gluten-free diets. Plant-based meats, also known as vegan meats, are designed to mimic the taste, texture, and nutritional profile of traditional animal-based meats. These meat alternatives are made from various plant proteins, such as soy, peas, grains, nuts, and more. While plant-based meats offer an array of benefits, from sustainability to potential health perks, an important consideration for those avoiding gluten is whether these products contain this problematic protein.
What is gluten and why is it an issue?
Gluten is a type of protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten can trigger an autoimmune response and cause digestive symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea. Approximately 1% of the population has celiac disease, while 6-7% is estimated to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. For those with gluten-related disorders, adhering to a strict lifelong gluten-free diet is critical to manage symptoms. This means shunning foods containing wheat, barley, rye, and any derivatives of these grains.
With the rising diagnoses of gluten-related disorders and the general popularity of gluten-free diets, demand for gluten-free products has skyrocketed. The global gluten-free market was valued at $5.6 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $8.3 billion by 2027. As more consumers seek gluten-free options, food manufacturers have responded by producing a wide array of products labeled gluten-free, including alternative meat options.
Gluten content in plant-based meat products
When considering whether plant-based meats are gluten-free, it is important to note that these products vary widely in their ingredients and thus gluten content. Some popular veggie burgers, sausages, grounds, and other meat alternatives contain gluten-heavy ingredients like wheat protein, vital wheat gluten, and seitan (made from wheat gluten). Examples of plant-based meat brands that contain gluten include MorningStar Farms, Lightlife, Field Roast sausages, Gardein beefless tips, and Upton’s Naturals’ Chorizo Seitan.
However, there are also many gluten-free options available. As a general rule, products made from legumes (beans, lentils, peas), soy, nuts, and seeds tend to be gluten-free. Brands like Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger, Tofurky, Quorn, and Sunfed use gluten-free ingredients like pea protein, mung bean protein, and fava bean protein as their base. Meatless “chicken” products based on soy or pea protein tend to be gluten-free as well. When in doubt, it’s always wise to double check the label and ingredients list for these products.
Certified gluten-free plant-based meats
For consumers trying to maintain a strict gluten-free diet, looking for products that are certified gluten-free can provide added assurance. In the United States, food products must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten to be labeled as gluten-free. Some brands producing certified gluten-free plant-based meats include:
Beyond Meat offers a range of plant-based beef, pork, and poultry products made from pea and rice protein. Their burgers, sausages, crumbles, and meatballs are certified gluten-free to less than 20 ppm.
The Impossible Burger and other Impossible products are gluten-free certified. They are made from gluten-free ingredients like soy protein, sunflower oil, and potato protein.
While some Gardein products contain wheat gluten, they offer a wide range of gluten-free items. Their Ultimate Plant-Based Burger and breakfast patties are certified gluten-free.
MorningStar Farms have gluten-free veggie burgers, chik’n nuggets, corn dogs, and breakfast items made with gluten-free grains like sorghum. They are third-party tested for gluten.
In addition to seitan products containing wheat gluten, Upton’s offers gluten-free Italian sausage, chorizo, bacon, and burgers made from jackfruit and textured pea protein.
Sweet Earth Foods
Sweet Earth offers a range of vegetarian and vegan products, including gluten-free veggie burgers and grounds made from pea protein. Their products contain less than 20 ppm of gluten.
Tofurky plant-based deli slices, sausages, grounds, and burgers are gluten-free to less than 20 ppm. Their ingredients include vital wheat gluten-free soy protein and chickpea flour.
Are gluten-free plant-based meats healthier?
When it comes to nutrition, going gluten-free does not necessarily make a food healthier overall. Gluten-free junk foods are still junk foods. However, for those who must avoid gluten for medical reasons, having tasty and nutritious gluten-free options is extremely beneficial. Plant-based meats, both with and without gluten, can provide healthy nutritional advantages compared to animal meat.
Research shows that substituting plant proteins for red and processed meat has been associated with lower risks of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and certain cancers. Both gluten-containing and gluten-free plant-based meats tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and higher in fiber compared to animal meats. However, as with any food, it is important to consider the whole nutritional profile. Some gluten-free veggie burgers, for example, may be relatively high in sodium or fat. Reading labels and ingredients is important.
Many popular brands of gluten-free plant-based meats, like Beyond and Impossible, aim to provide products similar in protein, vitamins, and minerals to animal meat. Those seeking both gluten-free and nutrient-dense options can look for items made from legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy. With the surge in plant-based eating, nutrition and variety in gluten-free vegan protein keeps improving.
Precautions when purchasing gluten-free plant-based meat
When selecting certified gluten-free plant-based meat products, there are some precautions consumers should keep in mind:
– Check labels carefully every time you purchase as formulations can change. Ensure the product is still labeled gluten-free.
– Beware of cross-contamination. Gluten-free items processed in facilities that also handle gluten-containing foods have potential for cross-contact. Choose brands that are dedicated gluten-free facilities when possible.
– Watch out for add-ins like soy sauce, salad dressings, and condiments added to plant-based meats which may contain gluten. Stick to plain options or use gluten-free condiments.
– With some brands, only certain flavors and varieties may be gluten-free. Double check each specific package rather than assuming all items from a brand are gluten-free.
– When dining out, inform your server of your gluten-free needs. Ensure plant-based meat is kept separate from gluten-containing items in prep and cooking.
Gluten-free whole food options
Beyond packaged plant-based meat alternatives, there are many whole food, naturally gluten-free options for getting protein on a vegetarian or vegan diet:
– Legumes: Lentils, beans, chickpeas, peanuts
– Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds
– Soy: Tofu, edamame, tempeh
– Ancient grains: Quinoa, teff, millet, amaranth
– Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes
– Greens: Spinach, kale, broccoli, peas
– Dairy and eggs: Milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs (if not vegan)
These whole foods provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and protein without gluten additives. Explore gluten-free plant proteins by incorporating lentils into chili or tacos, baking with almond or chickpea flour, adding edamame to stir fries, making dairy-free mashed potatoes with nut milk, and more. A balanced plate can be naturally gluten-free and meatless.
Gluten-free plant-based meat recipes
It’s easy to whip up delicious gluten-free plant-based meat recipes at home. Here are some tasty ideas:
Gluten-Free Veggie Burger
– 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
– 1 cup walnuts
– 1⁄4 cup gluten-free oats
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 teaspoon dried thyme
– Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a food processor, pulse chickpeas and walnuts until coarsely chopped. Add oats and pulse to combine.
2. Add olive oil, garlic, thyme and process until well-incorporated and thick. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Shape mixture into patties and cook on skillet over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes per side.
4. Serve gluten-free burger on a gluten-free bun with favorite toppings.
Baked Gluten-Free Chicken-less Nuggets
– 2 cups chopped cauliflower
– 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
– 1⁄4 cup cornstarch or tapioca starch
– 2 tablespoons gluten-free tamari
– 1 teaspoon garlic powder
– 1⁄2 teaspoon onion powder
– 1⁄2 teaspoon paprika
– Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 425°F and line baking sheet with parchment. Pulse cauliflower in food processor until rice-like consistency.
2. Add chickpeas and process until incorporated but still chunky. Transfer mixture to bowl.
3. Stir in cornstarch, tamari, and seasonings until combined.
4. Use a small scoop to form mixture into nugget shapes. Place on prepared baking sheet.
5. Bake 20-25 minutes until crispy and browned. Serve with desired gluten-free dipping sauce.
Lentil Bolognese Sauce
– 1 cup dry lentils, rinsed
– 1⁄2 onion, diced
– 3 garlic cloves, minced
– 2 carrots, peeled and diced
– 2 celery stalks, diced
– 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
– 2 cups vegetable broth
– 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
– 1⁄4 cup nutritional yeast (optional)
– Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a pot over medium high, sauté onions and garlic until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
2. Add carrots and celery and sauté 5 minutes more.
3. Add lentils, crushed tomatoes, vegetable broth, and seasonings. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
4. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 25-30 minutes until lentils are tender and sauce thickens.
5. Adjust seasonings as desired. Serve over gluten-free pasta or zucchini noodles.
Are plant-based meat companies doing enough to offer gluten-free options?
The plant-based meat industry has grown tremendously over the past decade. As these products move from niche to mainstream, companies face increasing pressure to improve nutrition profiles and accommodate special diets like gluten-free. Here is a look at how the major brands are responding:
As a pioneering plant-based meat company, Beyond Meat has set the standard by obtaining gluten-free certification across their product line of beef, pork, and poultry alternatives. They have demonstrated a commitment to making the benefits of plant protein accessible to gluten-free consumers.
Impossible Foods has also received certification to label their plant-based burger and other products as gluten-free. Given the popularity of their burger at restaurant chains, this provides more dining options for gluten-free followers.
Tofurky offers a range of gluten-free plant proteins for mealtimes from their breakfast sausages to deli slices. However, some of their side dishes like gravy mixes and stuffing contain gluten, so consumers need to read labels carefully.
While MorningStar Farms has some gluten-free options, a number of their products still contain wheat-based ingredients. There is room for expansion of gluten-free items within their brand as consumer demand rises.
Most Quorn products currently contain gluten, with the exception of their gluten-free turkey-free roast. Quorn uses mycoprotein as its core ingredient but often adds gluten-containing binders. Moving toward gluten-free would open up their market.
Gardein offers both gluten-containing and gluten-free products. Separating preparation and cooking of these items in their facilities could help reduce risk of cross-contamination.
Overall, many major brands have made strides but there is still room for growth when it comes to gluten-free plant proteins. Dedicated production lines, clearer labeling, expanded options, and improved recipes will help those adhering to gluten-free diets.
Outlook for the future
The plant-based meat industry appears positioned for robust growth in the coming years. As these products become more widely consumed, look for companies to respond to consumer feedback and offer greater variety for all dietary needs. Here are some predictions:
– Wider range of gluten-free options from major brands as they increase product lines
– More certified gluten-free labels as awareness and demand for this labeling grows
– Improved taste and texture in gluten-free formulations using ingredients like chickpea flour, lupin protein, and aquafaba
– Dedicated gluten-free preparation and production facilities to reduce cross-contamination risks
– Greater transparency from restaurants on gluten-free menu items as plant-based meats appear in more food service locations
– Expansion of plant-based seafood with gluten-free options
– Growth in gluten-free plant-based meat products across international markets
The future looks bright for more high quality, innovative gluten-free vegan meat alternatives. With expanded choices, those avoiding gluten should find it easier than ever to enjoy the taste and nutritional benefits of plant-based eating.
While not all plant-based meats are gluten-free due to the wide variability of ingredients used, there are ample options to accommodate a gluten-free diet. Many major brands offer certified gluten-free products, typically based on legumes, soy, nuts or seeds rather than grains. Carefully reading labels, watching for cross-contamination, and choosing certified brands can help ensure a product’s gluten-free suitability. As the plant-based market grows, look for even greater variety in gluten-free vegan proteins. With some care in product selection, plant-based meat alternatives can be an enjoyable part of a gluten-free lifestyle.