Which Chex cereal is not gluten-free?

Chex cereals have been a popular breakfast choice for decades. With a crunchy texture and wide variety of flavors, Chex appeals to both kids and adults alike. In recent years, Chex has responded to growing demand for gluten-free options by making most of their cereal line-up gluten-free. However, there is still one Chex cereal that contains gluten. So which Chex cereal is not gluten-free?

What is Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity?

Before diving into which Chex cereal contains gluten, it helps to understand why someone would need to follow a gluten-free diet in the first place.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. For those with celiac disease, gluten triggers an immune response that attacks the small intestine, leading to damage and inability to properly absorb nutrients. Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue and anemia. The only treatment for celiac disease is following a strict lifelong gluten-free diet.

Gluten sensitivity or intolerance is different than celiac disease. It does not involve the immune system attacking the body. However, ingestion of gluten still causes uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms like pain, bloating and irregular bowel movements in those with gluten sensitivity. Removing gluten from the diet improves these symptoms.

For both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, adhering to a 100% gluten-free diet is essential to manage symptoms and prevent further damage. This means reading labels carefully and avoiding any foods that contain wheat, barley, rye and their derivatives.

The Majority of Chex Cereals Are Gluten-Free

Knowing that a gluten-free diet is a necessity for so many, Chex took action to make the majority of their cereal line-up gluten-free. Here are some of the Chex cereals that are certified gluten-free:

  • Rice Chex
  • Corn Chex
  • Honey Nut Chex
  • Chocolate Chex
  • Cinnamon Chex
  • Berry Chex
  • Vanilla Chex

These gluten-free varieties are made without wheat, barley or rye. They are produced on dedicated gluten-free production lines to avoid cross-contamination. Chex also tests the finished products to ensure they contain less than 20 parts per million of any gluten proteins. This rigorous approach makes these Chex cereals a safe choice for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Wheat Chex Contains Gluten

While the majority of Chex cereals are gluten-free, there is one variety that does contain gluten – Wheat Chex.

As you may have guessed from the name, Wheat Chex contains wheat as a main ingredient. Wheat contains gluten proteins, meaning Wheat Chex is not gluten-free.

The primary ingredients in Wheat Chex are:

  • Whole grain wheat
  • Sugar
  • Salt

Whole grain wheat flour is the second ingredient after sugar. Since wheat contains gluten, this automatically disqualifies Wheat Chex from being gluten-free.

Those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity need to be aware and avoid Wheat Chex, despite the Chex name. Thankfully Chex provides plenty of other delicious gluten-free options like Rice Chex and Corn Chex to choose from instead.

What Makes a Food Product Gluten-Free?

Checking the ingredients list like we did for Wheat Chex is the best way to evaluate if a product is gluten-free or not. But what exactly makes a food product gluten-free?

The FDA has defined requirements for when a food can be labeled as gluten-free:

  • Must not contain wheat, rye, barley or crossbreeds of these grains
  • May not contain any ingredient derived from these prohibited grains that has not been processed to remove gluten
  • May not contain any ingredient derived from these prohibited grains that has been processed to remove gluten, if use of that ingredient results in gluten levels above 20 parts per million (ppm)

Essentially, for a product to be considered gluten-free, it must completely avoid ingredients that naturally contain gluten like wheat, barley and rye. Just a small amount of gluten from these grains can trigger symptoms, so a threshold of under 20 ppm is enforced.

Oats are naturally gluten-free, but are often contaminated with wheat during growing and processing. Most companies will only label their oat-containing products as gluten-free if they have purity protocols in place to prevent cross-contamination.

Identifying Hidden Gluten in Foods

Avoiding obvious sources of gluten like bread, pasta and wheat cereals is straightforward. The tricky part is identifying “hidden” sources of gluten that could easily be overlooked when reading an ingredients label.

Here are some common hidden sources of gluten and ingredients to watch out for:

Thickening Agents

Starches used to thicken or stabilize foods often come from wheat. Watch out for:

  • Maltodextrin
  • Modified food starch
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein

Flavorings and Binders

Gluten-containing grains are sometimes used in flavorings:

  • Malt extract
  • Malt flavoring
  • Barley malt

Grains and Starches

Less common gluten-containing grains to look out for:

  • Farro
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • Durum
  • Semolina
  • Spelt

Alcohol Products

Distilled alcohols like vodka and gin are gluten-free. However, gluten grains are used in production of certain alcohols:

  • Beer
  • Ale
  • Lager
  • Malt beverages

Cross-Contamination Risks

Even when a food product doesn’t directly contain gluten ingredients, there is still a risk of cross-contamination occurring.

Cross-contamination happens when gluten is accidentally introduced to a food that is supposed to be gluten-free. Some examples include:

  • Sharing equipment or facilities to manufacture both gluten-containing and gluten-free products
  • Using the same utensils to handle gluten-free and non-gluten-free foods when cooking
  • Toasters that toast both gluten-free and regular bread

Only trace amounts of gluten are needed to cause issues for those following gluten-free diets. That’s why food labeling related to absence of gluten is so tightly regulated.

When evaluating if a food is safe to eat, you need to consider the risk of cross-contamination during manufacturing and preparation, not just the ingredients list.

What Symptoms Indicate Gluten Exposure?

Those who need to eliminate gluten for medical reasons should become very familiar with their unique symptoms triggered by accidental gluten exposure. Here are some common signs that you may have ingested some hidden gluten:

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Extraintestinal Symptoms

  • Brain fog
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Numbness in extremities
  • Rash or skin inflammation

Other Warning Signs

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Tingling sensation in mouth

If you experience any recurring symptoms after eating particular foods, it may indicate an issue with gluten. Keeping a food journal can help identify problem foods.

Serious Health Complications of Untreated Celiac Disease

For those with celiac disease, ingesting gluten triggers an attack by the immune system every time. Continuing to eat gluten can lead to severe malabsorption, malnutrition and even death if left untreated.

Some serious health complications that may result from untreated celiac disease include:

Small Intestinal Lymphoma

The chronic inflammation caused by untreated celiac disease is a major risk factor for developing lymphoma of the small intestine. The risk is estimated to be 60% to 80% higher compared to the general population.

Other Gastrointestinal Cancers

There is an increased rate of GI cancers reported in those with celiac disease. This includes cancer of the esophagus, stomach, small bowel and pancreas.

Early Onset Osteoporosis

Malabsorption of nutrients like calcium and vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis and serious bone density loss at a much younger age.

Infertility and Pregnancy Complications

Untreated celiac disease raises the risk of miscarriage, intrauterine growth restriction, low birth weight and stillbirth. It may also cause hormonal changes leading to infertility.

Central and Peripheral Neuropathy

Nerve damage in the brain and peripheral nervous system can occur. This can cause numbness, cognitive issues and loss of coordination.

Heart Disease

Chronic inflammation and malnutrition increases risk of cardiomyopathy, heart failure and even sudden heart attack.

That’s why those diagnosed with celiac disease require diligent management with a strict lifelong gluten-free diet. For gluten sensitive individuals, symptoms may be more variable but avoiding gluten is still advised to prevent complications.

Is There Any Treatment for Celiac Disease Besides a Gluten-Free Diet?

Following a gluten-free diet is the only widely accepted treatment for managing celiac disease at this time. There are some emerging options that show potential in early research:


Researchers are studying whether medications that inhibit immune system activity could help treat celiac disease. However, the risks and long-term effects are still unknown.

Gliadin Immunotherapy

This experimental treatment aims to desensitize the immune system’s reaction to gliadin, a protein component of gluten. It would involve repeated exposure to very small amounts of gliadin. More studies are needed to establish safety and efficacy.

Genetically Modified Wheat

Scientists are exploring ways to genetically modify wheat to remove the immune-stimulating parts of the gluten proteins. This modified wheat could potentially be safe for those with celiac disease. But it remains early-stage research.

For now, anyone diagnosed with celiac disease must continue to avoid gluten from wheat, rye and barley. A gluten-free diet is the only proven way to manage symptoms and prevent serious complications.

Is Wheat Chex Safe in Other Foods?

We’ve established that Wheat Chex cereal contains gluten and is unsafe for anyone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. But what about consuming Wheat Chex as an ingredient in other foods like trail mixes and baked goods?

Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Any amount of Wheat Chex, even as an ingredient, will contain traces of gluten and make the food unsafe for a gluten-free diet.
  • Check ingredient lists carefully for “wheat cereal” or directly listed “Wheat Chex.” Manufacturers may not realize that Wheat Chex contains gluten.
  • Cross-contact from shared equipment and facilities means other ingredients processed with Wheat Chex could be contaminated.
  • Opt for using certified gluten-free oat cereal or Rice Chex instead.

So it’s best to completely avoid Wheat Chex, even in small amounts as an ingredient. The packaging doesn’t always make it obvious that Wheat Chex contains gluten and is not a gluten-free-friendly option.

What Gluten-Free Substitutes Exist for Wheat Chex?

The good news is that those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity have plenty of nutritious and delicious cereal options to choose from instead of Wheat Chex.

Here are some great gluten-free substitutes for Wheat Chex:

Rice Chex

Rice Chex provides the same light, crispy texture and versatility of Wheat Chex without the gluten. It can be eaten as a breakfast cereal or incorporated into recipes.

Corn Chex

Another gluten-free alternative made from corn instead of wheat. Corn Chex works well as a crunchy cereal on its own or baked into party mixes.

Gluten-Free Oat Cereal

Look for certified gluten-free oat cereals that have been specially processed in dedicated facilities. Avoid oat cereals with generic “gluten-free” labels.

Quinoa Cereal

For a protein punch, try swapping Wheat Chex for quinoa flakes or puffed quinoa cereal. Quinoa is naturally gluten-free.


Crunchy, homemade granola with nuts, seeds, puffed rice and dried fruit can provide flavor and texture similar to Wheat Chex. Use certified gluten-free oats if including rolled or steel-cut oats.

DIY Nut and Seed Mixes

Make your own crunchy, savory cereal mix with nuts, seeds, rice crisps, puffed corn and seasonings like cinnamon and vanilla. Get creative with ingredients!

With so many nutritious, gluten-free cereals available today, avoiding Wheat Chex doesn’t mean sacrificing that tasty crunch at breakfast.

Should Rice Chex Be Consumed in Moderation for Those with Arsenic Concerns?

Rice products like Rice Chex have come under scrutiny in recent years for containing trace levels of arsenic, a naturally occurring toxin found in soil and water.

Arsenic is clearly carcinogenic in larger doses. But the small amounts measured in rice cereal are unlikely to be a significant health risk for most people.

Still, some organizations like Consumer Reports recommend moderate intake as a precautionary measure for the populations most vulnerable to arsenic’s effects. This includes:

  • Young children
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with weaker immune systems

Here are some sensible precautions these higher-risk groups can take regarding Rice Chex cereal:

Limit to 1-2 Servings Per Day

Eating Rice Chex cereal daily is fine but intake should be limited to just 1-2 child-sized servings.

Avoid as a Baby’s First Food

The first foods introduced when starting solid foods should be gentle options like pureed fruits and vegetables, not rice cereal.

Pair with High Calcium Foods

Dairy products and leafy greens can help inhibit arsenic absorption. Eat cereal with milk or fruit and pair with a source of calcium at each meal.

Buy Low-Arsenic Rice Brands When Possible

Some rice brands have been tested lower in arsenic based on where they source their rice. Opting for these when affordable can minimize risk.

Rice Chex remains a safe, gluten-free choice for those who need to avoid gluten. But varying the diet and not over-relying on rice products is smart for those concerned about arsenic exposure.


Identifying hidden sources of gluten in foods and meals requires diligence when following a gluten-free diet. For those with celiac disease, even small traces of gluten can trigger serious immune and intestinal damage.

When it comes to the various Chex cereal offerings, Wheat Chex is the only variety that contains gluten. All other Chex cereals are produced gluten-free. Rice Chex makes an ideal substitute to enjoy the cinnamon-y, crispy texture of Wheat Chex without the gluten.

Carefully reading ingredient labels, watching for cross-contamination risks and knowing your personal reaction symptoms are key to successfully avoiding gluten. Being informed about which Chex cereal contains gluten empowers you to make the right cereal choice and prevent adverse reactions.

Leave a Comment