How much gluten is in McDonald’s fries?

McDonald’s fries are one of the most popular menu items at the fast food chain. However, for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, determining the gluten content of McDonald’s fries is an important consideration.

Do McDonald’s fries contain gluten?

Yes, McDonald’s fries do contain some gluten. Here’s a quick overview:

  • McDonald’s fries are coated in a blend of oils and flavorings after being fried. One of these flavorings contains wheat and barley – both gluten-containing grains.
  • The fries themselves are made from potatoes, which are naturally gluten-free. However, cross-contact with wheat-based products during processing and cooking can introduce trace amounts of gluten.
  • McDonald’s states that the fries contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. Fries with less than 20 ppm of gluten are considered “gluten-free” according to FDA standards.
  • Despite being under 20 ppm and classified as gluten-free, individuals with celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity may still react to the trace gluten in McDonald’s fries.

What ingredients in McDonald’s fries contain gluten?

There are two primary sources of gluten in McDonald’s french fries:

  1. Natural Beef Flavor – This flavoring contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed barley protein. Both wheat and barley contain gluten.
  2. Wheat Dextrin – Wheat dextrin is a food additive derived from wheat starch. Since it originates from wheat, wheat dextrin contains gluten.

In addition to these two direct gluten sources, cross-contact with other wheat-containing ingredients during processing and cooking can introduce trace amounts of gluten into the fries.

How much gluten is in an order of McDonald’s fries?

Determining the exact amount of gluten in McDonald’s fries is challenging because the recipes and ingredient sources can vary between restaurants and suppliers. However, we can estimate based on available nutrition information:

  • A medium order of McDonald’s fries weighs approximately 71 grams.
  • McDonald’s states their fries contain less than 20 ppm of gluten.
  • At 20 ppm of gluten, a 71 gram serving would contain approximately 0.00142 grams of gluten.
  • For comparison, a single slice of bread can contain anywhere from 0.5-1 gram of gluten or more.

So while an order of fries may contain trace amounts of gluten, it is still well below the FDA threshold of 20 ppm for a “gluten-free” food item.

Can people with celiac disease eat McDonald’s fries?

Whether or not people with celiac disease can safely eat McDonald’s fries is debatable in the celiac community.

On one hand, McDonald’s fries technically meet the FDA definition of “gluten-free” with less than 20ppm of gluten. However, some considerations include:

  • The fries contain wheat and barley-derived ingredients, even if in small quantities.
  • Studies show celiac patients react to gluten quantities under 20 ppm.
  • The cooking process may concentrate gluten at the surface of the fries.
  • Risk of cross-contact with gluten-containing foods during processing and cooking.

For these reasons, some celiac organizations still recommend avoiding McDonald’s fries even though they meet the technical definition of gluten-free. Individuals with celiac disease should consider their own sensitivity levels and risk tolerance when deciding whether or not to eat McDonald’s fries.

Celiac groups that warn against McDonald’s fries

  • Celiac Disease Foundation
  • National Celiac Association
  • Beyond Celiac
  • Gluten Intolerance Group of North America

Celiac groups that approve McDonald’s fries

  • Celiac Support Association
  • American Celiac Disease Alliance

Do McDonald’s fries contain wheat?

Yes, McDonald’s fries do contain wheat. As mentioned previously, the Natural Beef Flavor added to the fries contains hydrolyzed wheat protein. Wheat protein comes from the wheat grain, which contains gluten.

In addition, wheat dextrin derived from processed wheat starch is also an ingredient in McDonald’s fries. So wheat is clearly present in two forms within the fries.

However, because these wheat-based ingredients make up such a small proportion of the total recipe, the fries still meet FDA standards for gluten-free foods.

Can people with wheat allergy eat McDonald’s fries?

People with a wheat allergy need to avoid McDonald’s fries entirely. Since the fries contain both hydrolyzed wheat protein and wheat dextrin, they are not safe for people with wheat allergy.

Even trace amounts of wheat protein could potentially trigger an allergic reaction in those with wheat allergy. While the gluten content may be low, wheat allergy sufferers must abstain from McDonald’s fries due to the confirmed presence of wheat as an ingredient.

Do McDonald’s fries contain barley?

Yes, McDonald’s fries also contain barley-derived ingredients. Specifically, the Natural Beef Flavor added to the fries contains hydrolyzed barley protein along with hydrolyzed wheat protein.

Barley is a close relative of wheat and contains gluten like wheat. So people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity also need to avoid barley.

The amount of barley gluten from the hydrolyzed barley protein is likely trace, but still present in McDonald’s fries. People with barley allergy would also need to avoid the fries.

Are McDonald’s fries coated in wheat flour?

No, McDonald’s fries are not coated in wheat flour. The fries undergo a multi-step process:

  1. Potatoes are cut into fry shapes and washed.
  2. Fries are partially fried in vegetable oil to cook and form the exterior.
  3. Fries are flash frozen to preserve freshness.
  4. Fries are shipped frozen to McDonald’s restaurants.
  5. Restaurants finish frying the par-fried fries in vegetable oil to warm through and make crispy.
  6. Fries are salted immediately after frying, then packaged.

At no point in the process are the fries coated in wheat flour. The exterior is formed from the fries initially frying in oil rather than any wheat-based batter or breading.

There are some media reports of McDonald’s fries containing wheat flour in other countries like China and Japan. But in the US, wheat flour is not used in the preparation of McDonald’s french fries.

Can celiacs eat McDonald’s fries cooked in dedicated fryer?

Some McDonald’s restaurants have dedicated fryers for cooking only french fries and hash browns. Since these fryers do not also cook breaded, gluten-containing menu items, it theoretically reduces the risk of cross-contact gluten exposure.

However, having a dedicated fryer does not eliminate the wheat and barley-derived ingredients within the fries themselves. Celiac organizations still consider fries cooked in dedicated fryers unsafe because of the natural beef flavor and wheat dextrin.

For highest safety, celiacs need to avoid McDonald’s fries entirely, even if cooked in a dedicated fryer. The miniscule amounts of gluten from ingredients are still present regardless of what food is cooked alongside the fries.

Do McDonald’s fries contain malt or malt vinegar?

No, McDonald’s french fries in the U.S. do not contain malt or malt vinegar as ingredients. However, McDonald’s fries served in the UK and some other international markets do contain malt vinegar as an ingredient.

Malt is made from barley, so malt vinegar contains gluten. In the UK, the malt vinegar makes the fries unsuitable for a gluten-free diet.

But in the US, malt and malt vinegar are not used in making McDonald’s fries or added as flavorings. So these ingredients are not a concern for the gluten content of fries sold in American McDonald’s restaurants.

Can McDonald’s fries be made gluten-free?

Currently, it is not possible to make McDonald’s fries completely gluten-free. This is because the Natural Beef Flavor and wheat dextrin used in the recipe inherently contain gluten.

McDonald’s would need to remove these ingredients and replace them with gluten-free alternatives to have a truly gluten-free french fry recipe. The cooking process could also be modified to use dedicated fryers and packaging to reduce cross-contact.

Some celiac advocacy groups have petitioned McDonald’s to offer gluten-free fry options. However, McDonald’s has not indicated any plans to modify their classic fry recipe to be gluten-free.

For now, french fries from other quick-service chains that have gluten-free recipes may be a better option for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Comparison of fries at other fast food chains

Restaurant Gluten-Free Fries?
McDonald’s No
Burger King Yes
Wendy’s Yes
Chick-fil-A Yes
Arby’s No

Should you avoid McDonald’s fries with celiac disease?

The consensus among celiac disease experts and advocacy groups is to continue avoiding McDonald’s fries if you have celiac disease or are highly gluten-sensitive.

Here are a few key considerations around McDonald’s fries and celiac disease:

  • Fries contain gluten from wheat and barley sources
  • Gluten exposure is below 20 ppm but trace risks exist
  • Individual celiac sensitivity levels vary
  • Potential for cross-contact with gluten
  • Not considered gluten-free by most celiac groups
  • Safer fry options exist from other restaurants

Every celiac needs to weigh their own health history and risk factors in deciding whether to eat McDonald’s fries occasionally or avoid them completely. Speak to a gastroenterologist for individualized guidance. But the general advice is to steer clear of McDonald’s fries if you have celiac disease or are highly gluten intolerant.

The bottom line

McDonald’s fries in the U.S. contain less than 20 ppm gluten from wheat and barley-based ingredients. This technically meets FDA standards for gluten-free foods. However, due to ingredient and preparation concerns, most celiac experts still recommend against eating McDonald’s fries if you have celiac disease or are highly gluten intolerant.

For people with a wheat allergy (not just gluten), McDonald’s fries should also always be avoided due to their wheat content.

Ultimately, individuals with celiac disease or wheat allergy have gluten-free fries available at other quick service restaurants. So it’s easy enough to get your fry fix safely by choosing a certified gluten-free product from another restaurant chain.

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