Are apples OK for celiac?

Quick Answer

Yes, apples are generally considered safe for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Apples do not naturally contain gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye that causes issues for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. As long as care is taken to avoid cross-contamination, most fresh, whole apples can be enjoyed as part of a gluten-free diet.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. For those with celiac disease, any amount of gluten can trigger an immune response that attacks the small intestine and inhibits the absorption of important nutrients. This can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, fatigue, nutrient deficiencies and more.

Celiac disease affects around 1% of the population in the U.S. It can develop at any age and is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The only current treatment for celiac disease is strictly and completely avoiding gluten for life. Even tiny amounts of cross-contamination can cause issues.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and related grains like spelt, kamut and triticale. Two specific proteins, gliadin and glutenin, are responsible for the elastic texture of dough that contains these grains.

For most people, gluten poses no issues. But for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an abnormal immune response that leads to damage and inflammation in the body. About 3 million Americans are estimated to have celiac disease, and many more are thought to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

This is why following a strict lifelong gluten-free diet is critical for managing celiac disease. It helps heal existing intestinal damage and prevent further damage from occurring.

Are Apples Naturally Gluten-Free?

Yes, apples are naturally gluten-free. Apples are considered a fruit, not a grain. They grow on trees, not grasses like wheat and other gluten-containing cereal grains.

Apples contain no gluten proteins inherently. So plain, whole apples not processed with other ingredients do not pose a risk of gluten exposure for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Many fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and other whole, unprocessed foods are naturally gluten-free. For someone following a gluten-free diet, these types of foods make up the foundation of safe, nutritious choices.

Risk of Cross-Contamination

While apples themselves do not contain gluten, there is a risk of cross-contamination during growing, harvesting, processing, manufacturing or preparation. This is why care must be taken to choose apples handled in ways that minimize gluten cross-contact.

Here are some potential sources of cross-contamination to be aware of:


If apples are grown in fields rotated with gluten-containing grains like wheat, the soil could contain traces of gluten that transfer onto the apples. So it’s best to choose organically grown apples, which are required to be grown in soil that has not had prohibited substances applied for 3 or more years.

Harvesting and Washing

Apples may come into contact with equipment or surfaces contaminated with gluten during picking, washing, sorting and storage operations. Using dedicated orchards, equipment and facilities for gluten-free crops can reduce this risk.

Coating Ingredients

Many apples are coated with a thin wax-like layer to seal in moisture and improve shelf life. Potential sources of gluten include:

  • Wheat starch
  • Maltodextrin
  • Dextrin
  • Caramel color

Choosing organic apples minimizes the risk of gluten-based coatings. Or look for apples specifically labeled gluten-free.

Flavored Apples

Flavored or infused apples may contain glutenous additives, such as:

  • Caramel made with wheat-derived ingredients
  • Cinnamon that contains wheat flour as an anti-caking agent
  • Chocolate or drizzle icing made with barley malt, wheat starch or other gluten sources

It’s best to check labels and ingredient lists carefully or stick to plain fresh apples.

Sliced Apples

Precut, prepackaged sliced apples and apple slices sold at grocery stores, convenience stores, schools, restaurants and other vendors may come into contact with gluten via:

  • Equipment used to core, slice, dice or chop the apples that has residue from gluten-containing foods
  • Conveyor belts and shared preparation areas where wheat-based foods are handled
  • Shared utensils, slicers or containers

Your safest option is to purchase whole apples and slice them yourself at home with cleaned hands and equipment. If consuming commercially prepped apples, check ingredient statements and labels for gluten-free certifications.

Dried Apples

Some potential sources of gluten cross-contact in dried apples include:

  • Flour dusting to prevent pieces from sticking during processing
  • Shared drying equipment that processes wheat-based ingredients
  • Shared conveyors, utensils and storage containers

Again, dried apple chips and slices labeled gluten-free are the best option for avoiding cross-contamination.

How to Buy Apples Gluten-Free

Here are some tips for safely purchasing fresh apples with minimal risk of gluten cross-contamination:

  • Buy plain, whole apples and wash thoroughly at home before eating
  • Choose organic whenever possible
  • Check for a gluten-free certification logo from a third party agency
  • Call the grower or manufacturer to ask about gluten-free practices if uncertain
  • Shop at farmers markets, farm stands or orchards that specialize in gluten-free fruits
  • Avoid flavored or processed apples with additional ingredients
  • Don’t purchase sliced apples or apple slices unless labeled gluten-free

The Environmental Working Group publishes a guide called the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 that ranks the pesticide contamination levels of conventionally grown produce. Apples rank high on the Dirty Dozen list, meaning they have repeatedly been shown to have higher pesticide residue levels when conventionally grown.

Opting for organic apples as often as possible is a smart way to minimize potential exposure to gluten from contaminated soil as well as reduce pesticide intake.

You can also look for apples certified gluten-free by organizations like the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO). This label indicates that the food has been tested to verify less than 10 parts per million of gluten.

Are Apple Cider and Apple Juice OK?

In their pure, unadulterated form, apple cider and apple juice that are simply made by pressing apples do not contain gluten. However, some commercial apple juices and ciders may have questionable ingredients added, such as:

  • Maltodextrin
  • Starch
  • Dextrin
  • Natural Flavors
  • Caramel Color

To be safe, look for juices labeled 100% apple juice or apple cider. As always, checking for a certified gluten-free label is recommended whenever possible.

Also keep in mind that juice made from apples may be processed on equipment shared with other gluten-containing grains. Some facilities take measures to reduce cross-contact by scheduling gluten-free fruits during special dedicated runs.

If you have doubts or extreme sensitivity, consider making your own apple cider or juice at home using a juicer or press. This way you can control the whole process and ingredients.

Are Applesauce and Dried Apples Gluten-Free?

Plain, unsweetened applesauce and dried apple slices or chips can also be part of a gluten-free diet if care is taken to avoid cross-contamination.

When choosing pre-made applesauce, confirm the product:

  • Does NOT list any questionable ingredients like maltodextrin, starch, wheat flour, etc.
  • Is NOT made on shared equipment with gluten-containing foods
  • Has ideally been certified gluten-free by a third party

Again, your safest bet may be to make your own homemade applesauce in a dedicated blender or food processor.

For dried apples, verify:

  • No flour coatings are used in processing
  • No shared drying equipment with gluten-containing ingredients
  • The facility has a gluten-free certification or processes gluten-free foods separately

You can also easily make baked apple chips at home. Simply slice apples thinly, toss with cinnamon and a touch of sugar or oil, and bake at 225°F for 1-2 hours until dried and chewy.

Apple Pie and Baked Goods

Plain apples may be gluten-free, but popular apple foods like pie, muffins, bread and pancakes require additional scrutiny.

These baked apple dishes typically include ingredients like:

  • Wheat flour
  • Oats
  • Barley or malt
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Maltodextrin
  • Starch
  • Thickeners

Many traditional apple pie recipes call for wheat flour in the crust and crisp topping. Other common allergens beyond gluten include dairy, eggs, nuts and soy.

Thankfully, there are many gluten-free all-purpose flour blends that can be substituted in a 1:1 ratio for wheat flour. Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur and Cup4Cup are some mainstream brands. You can also find premade gluten-free pie crusts and muffin mixes.

When baking apple dishes at home, be very careful to avoid cross-contamination with utensils, pans, peelers and other tools that contact wheat flour. Use parchment paper to keep doughs and batters from touching work surfaces.

If purchasing baked apple foods, check labels closely for gluten-free status. Many mainstream brands like Pillsbury, Kellogg’s and Duncan Hines indicate “gluten-free” on products that comply.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar starts with apple juice or cider made by pressing apples. But it then goes through an additional fermentation process.

The fermentation process theoretically should break down residual gluten protein strands into smaller pieces. But there is no way to guarantee the gluten is fully broken down.

Testing has detected small amounts of residual gluten in some apple cider vinegar samples. One study found levels ranging from less than 5 ppm to 37 ppm.

This suggests most apple cider vinegar would be considered gluten-free by FDA standards (less than 20 ppm). However, for those with celiac disease or extreme sensitivity, these trace amounts could still cause issues.

So apple cider vinegar is somewhat controversial in the celiac community. It’s likely fine for most, but you’ll need to determine your own individual tolerance.

As always, look for brands that are certified gluten-free by a reputable third-party organization. This provides added assurance and accuracy.

Apple Cider Vinegar Health Benefits

Apple cider vinegar has many purported benefits, including:

  • Aiding weight loss
  • Lowering blood sugar
  • Improving insulin sensitivity
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Detoxifying the liver
  • Boosting energy
  • Regulating pH balance
  • Clearing sinuses
  • Soothing sore throats
  • Improving skin health

However, human research is still emerging. Some studies show promising results, while others demonstrate little benefit. Overall, more rigorous clinical trials are needed.

That said, apple cider vinegar is very low in calories and carbs. Replacing sugary dressings with an apple cider vinaigrette can help cut calories. The acidity may also mildly slow digestion and stabilize blood sugar when paired with carbs.

Apple cider vinegar is highly acidic and can erode tooth enamel. It may also irritate the esophagus. So dilute before drinking and rinse your mouth with plain water afterward.

Start with 1 tsp mixed with water and work up to 1-2 tbsp per day. Limit intake to 2 tbsp or less. Use common sense and stop if you experience any ill side effects.

Those with gastroparesis, reflux, ulcers or other GI issues may need to use caution or avoid apple cider vinegar. As always, check with your doctor first in cases of ongoing medical conditions or concerns.

The Bottom Line

Plain fresh apples are naturally gluten-free and generally safe for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. However, care must be taken to select apples handled in ways that prevent cross-contamination with gluten. Your best bets are choosing organic whole apples or those marked gluten-free. Enjoy apples as a tasty, healthy addition your gluten-free diet. But be extra diligent reading labels and identifying potential hidden sources of gluten in processed apple products. With sound judgment, apples can be an enjoyable part of your symptom-free gluten-free lifestyle.

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