Whey protein is derived from dairy and does not naturally contain gluten. Therefore, whey proteins that are not blended with grains or other gluten sources can be considered gluten-free. When selecting a gluten-free whey protein, it’s important to check the ingredients list and look for a certification symbol from organizations like the Celiac Support Association or Gluten Intolerance Group. Some reputable brands of gluten-free whey protein include Naked Whey, Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey, and Dymatize ISO100.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is a fast digesting protein supplement derived from milk. During the process of cheese making, whey is separated from the curds. This liquid whey contains high levels of protein along with lactose, vitamins, and minerals. The liquid whey then goes through processing and filtering to become a whey protein concentrate or isolate powder.
Whey protein is popular among athletes and bodybuilders because it contains high levels of branched chain amino acids like leucine. This helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis leading to increased muscle growth after workouts. Whey is also easy to digest and absorb making it a convenient protein source any time of day.
The two main types of whey protein are:
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
WPC contains low levels of fat and carbohydrates. On average WPC contains 70-80% protein by weight. The remainder comes from lactose, milk solids, and minerals. WPC tends to be the most affordable form of whey protein.
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
WPI is a more refined form of whey that contains 90% or higher protein by weight. The additional processing removes most of the lactose, fat, and carbs. WPI is quickly absorbed and contains primarily protein along with amino acids. However, the extra processing does come at an increased cost over WPC.
Is Whey Protein Naturally Gluten-Free?
Whey protein is derived from dairy and in its pure form does not contain gluten. Dairy products come from cow’s milk which does not contain gluten naturally. Therefore basic whey protein concentrate or isolate without added ingredients is gluten-free.
Gluten is a protein found in cereal grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Most people tolerate gluten just fine. However, those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity experience negative immune and digestive reactions when consuming gluten. For these individuals, checking labels for gluten content is important.
Potential Sources of Gluten in Whey Protein
While whey protein starts out gluten-free, it can pick up traces of gluten during processing depending on the brand. Here are some potential sources of gluten to check for:
- Grain-based flavorings: Chocolate, vanilla, and other flavor mixes may contain gluten from added cereals or starch.
- Thickeners: Some thickeners and emulsifiers like maltodextrin can be derived from wheat and barley.
- Cross-contamination: If the protein powder is produced on shared equipment with gluten-containing grains, cross-contamination is possible.
For this reason it’s important to check the ingredients list and contact the manufacturer when looking for a gluten-free whey protein.
How to Choose a Gluten-Free Whey Protein
When selecting a whey protein powder that is gluten-free, here are some tips:
Check for a Gluten-Free Label
Look on the packaging for a certified gluten-free symbol from organizations like the Celiac Support Association, Celiac Sprue Association, or Gluten Intolerance Group. These labels help identify products tested to contain less than 10-20ppm of gluten.
Review the Ingredients List
Scan all ingredients on the supplement facts and packaging. Avoid products with wheat, barley, rye, maltodextrin, and other suspicious sources. Look for simple whey protein isolate or concentrate as the first ingredient.
Call the Manufacturer
If unsure, call the protein powder company directly and ask about their testing for gluten. Many brands have strict protocols to avoid cross-contamination. But some smaller brands may not test as rigorously.
Stick to Reputable Brands
Large supplement companies recognize the gluten-free market and accommodate accordingly. Optimum Nutrition, Dymatize, Isopure, and other major brands test rigorously for gluten and often mark appropriately.
Buy Single-Source Whey Isolate
Whey protein isolate that comes from a single dairy source provides extra assurance. Manufacturers like Now Foods disclose the exact dairy source which reduces likelihood of blending with grains.
5 Best Gluten-Free Whey Proteins
Based on third-party testing, purity, transparency, and consumer reviews, here are 5 top choices for gluten-free whey protein:
1. Naked Whey
Naked Whey is a simple, no-nonsense whey protein from Naked Nutrition. It contains just one ingredient: grass-fed whey protein concentrate from family farms. With no added flavors, sweeteners, or thickeners, there’s little risk of gluten exposure. Naked Whey carries the Paleo, Keto, and Gluten Free Initiative Organization certifications.
2. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey is a top seller among bodybuilders and athletes. It’s also rigorously batch tested for gluten content. The company avoids grains in its manufacturing facility and follow cGMP standards for cleanliness. The popular Double Rich Chocolate flavor contains cocoa powder but tests below 10ppm gluten.
3. Dymatize ISO100 Hydrolyzed Whey Protein Isolate
Dymatize ISO100 contains 100% hydrolyzed whey protein isolate, perfect for those sensitive to lactose. During processing, gluten-containing grains never come into contact with the whey. The company’s manufacturing facilities are cGMP certified and regularly audited. Both natural and flavored options test below the 10ppm gluten threshold.
4. Levels Grass-Fed Whey Protein
Levels Grass-Fed Whey is sustainably sourced from New Zealand dairy cows that live free outdoors year-round. It’s naturally low in lactose and tests below 5ppm of gluten. Levels whey has only two ingredients: grass-fed whey concentrate and sunflower lecithin. It carries certifications from Informed Sport and Paleo Protein.
5. Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate
Sourced from small family farms in the US, Transparent Labs Whey Isolate contains non-GMO ingredients and additives. Their hydrolyzed isolate tests at less than 10ppm of gluten. With 31g of protein and just 1g of carbs per serving, it provides a clean protein boost anytime.
Homemade Gluten-Free Protein Shake Recipe
For those extra sensitive to cross-contamination risks, making homemade protein shakes is an option. Here is a simple gluten-free whey protein shake recipe:
- 1 Scoop Pure Whey Protein Isolate
- 1 Cup Unsweetened Almond Milk
- 1 Frozen Banana, Sliced
- 1 Tbsp Natural Almond Butter
- 1 Tbsp Ground Flaxseed
- 1 Tbsp Cacao Nibs
- 1 Tsp Cacao Powder
- 1 Cup Ice
- Add all ingredients to a high powered blender.
- Blend on high for 60 seconds until smooth and creamy.
- Enjoy immediately as a post-workout recovery shake or a gluten-free meal replacement.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does whey protein contain gluten?
No, whey protein is derived from the liquid byproduct of cheese production and does not naturally contain gluten. However, some whey proteins may pick up traces of gluten during manufacturing depending on the brand and facility practices.
What supplements should you avoid with celiac disease?
Those with celiac disease should avoid any supplements containing gluten ingredients like wheat, barley, rye, and maltodextrin. Always thoroughly read labels. Risk of cross-contamination is also a concern.
Is vanilla whey protein gluten free?
Pure vanilla whey protein should be gluten-free. However, some vanilla flavors contain added ingredients that may introduce gluten. Contact the manufacturer to verify gluten testing if consuming vanilla flavored whey.
Can you build muscle on a gluten free diet?
Yes, you can absolutely build muscle mass and strength on a gluten-free diet. Be sure to consume enough calories from protein, carbs, and fats. Whey protein like the gluten-free options listed here can help supplement daily protein intake for muscle growth.
Is whey protein dairy free?
No, whey proteins are derived from the liquid part of milk during cheese production. Therefore they contain dairy and are not suitable for vegans or those with milk allergies. There are plant-based protein powder alternatives made from soy, peas, brown rice, or hemp for dairy-free diets.
The Bottom Line
Pure whey protein isolate and concentrate without added ingredients should be gluten-free. However, flavorings, thickeners, and manufacturing processes can introduce the risk of cross-contamination. When shopping for gluten-free whey, look for reputable brands that use third-party testing and have dedicated gluten-free production lines. Or make your own custom shakes at home for full control over ingredients. With a quality gluten-free whey protein powder, you can meet added protein needs for muscle gain and recovery.