Why can’t celiacs eat eggs?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, their immune system attacks the small intestine, damaging the villi – the small, finger-like projections that line the intestine and absorb nutrients from food. This damage leads to an inability to absorb nutrients properly, resulting in symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, and weight loss. The only treatment for celiac disease is lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet, avoiding all foods and products containing gluten. While many people assume eggs are naturally gluten-free, there are some important reasons why celiacs still need to exercise caution with eggs.

Are eggs gluten-free?

Eggs themselves do not naturally contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found in grains, and eggs are produced by chickens, not grains. The egg white and yolk are gluten-free ingredients. However, there are some potential sources of gluten contamination when it comes to eggs:

  • Chicken feed – Chickens are often fed grain-based feeds that contain gluten. While the gluten does not end up inside the eggs, it can be passed through the chicken’s manure and contaminate the egg shell.
  • Processing facilities – Many egg processing facilities also process gluten containing grains and products. Cross-contamination can occur through shared equipment and facilities.
  • Additives – Some additives added to eggs or egg products may contain gluten. These include preservatives, coloring agents, and flavorings.

So while eggs themselves do not naturally have gluten, there are opportunities for gluten cross-contamination during chicken feeding, egg processing, and from additives. This means celiacs need to take precautions when consuming eggs.

Symptoms of a reaction

If a celiac consumes eggs cross-contaminated with gluten, they may experience gastrointestinal and other symptoms just as they would from consuming other sources of gluten. Symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Skin rash
  • Mouth sores
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Tingling or numbness in hands and feet

The severity and type of reaction can vary widely between different celiacs. Not all celiacs react to trace amounts of cross-contamination. But for those sensitive, even small amounts of gluten can trigger symptoms.

Testing eggs for gluten

Since gluten cross-contamination can occur at various points during egg production and processing, the only way for a celiac to know for sure that eggs are gluten-free is to get them tested. There are a few options for testing eggs:

  • Purchase certified gluten-free eggs – Some egg producers test their eggs and certify them gluten-free. This involves testing samples from every batch of eggs. The certification gives celiacs assurance the eggs are safe.
  • Use a home test kit – Simple at-home test kits can detect gluten in foods down to about 10-20 parts per million. Celiacs can use these to sample eggs from a particular carton or batch for peace of mind.
  • Send eggs to a lab – More sensitive lab testing can detect gluten down to 5-10 parts per million. Celiacs with severe sensitivities may want to have batches of eggs analyzed by a certified lab before consuming.

Testing is the only way for a celiac to know if eggs truly are gluten-free. Without testing, there is always some uncertainty about the potential for cross-contamination.

Finding safe eggs

If a celiac wants to consume eggs safely, there are some sources that are less likely to have issues with cross-contamination:

  • Certified gluten-free eggs – As mentioned, some brands certify their eggs gluten-free after testing. This is the safest option.
  • Organic eggs – Organic eggs come from chickens fed an organic, gluten-free diet. However, they can still have issues in processing facilities.
  • Local farm fresh eggs – Eggs from a small, local farm that feeds chickens a gluten-free diet and processes eggs separately from other facilities may be safe.
  • Backyard chicken eggs – Eggs from chickens raised entirely in your own backyard avoid almost all risk of contamination.

When sourcing eggs from any of these locations, be sure to ask about their practices to ensure the chickens are fed a gluten-free diet and facilities are not co-processing gluten-containing grains.

Cooking and handling considerations

Even when sourcing safe eggs, a celiac still needs to take care in the kitchen to prevent cross-contamination:

  • Designate gluten-free cooking utensils and cookware – Use separate pots, pans, spatulas, etc that have not touched gluten.
  • Wash hands thoroughly before and after handling eggs.
  • Clean cooking surfaces well before preparing eggs.
  • Store eggs separately from gluten-containing foods.
  • Consider possibilities for contamination from ingredients added to eggs – Spices, oils, butter, etc.

With strict avoidance measures in shopping, cooking, and handling, celiacs may be able to safely incorporate certified gluten-free or tested eggs into their diet.

Including eggs in a gluten-free diet

For celiacs who can source and handle eggs safely, eggs can be a nutritious addition to a gluten-free diet. Here are some tips for including eggs:

  • Add hard boiled eggs to salads for extra protein.
  • Make omelets and frittatas with gluten-free vegetables and cheese.
  • Bake gluten-free muffins and cakes using eggs as a binder.
  • Use eggs instead of breadcrumbs for coatings on meats and vegetables.
  • Whisk eggs into rice or quinoa for added protein.
  • Make egg salad with sliced hard boiled eggs and gluten-free mayonnaise.
  • Prepare French toast with certified gluten-free bread and egg mixture.

Eggs are very versatile and can be used to add nutrition, binding, leavening, and texture to many gluten-free foods.

Should celiacs avoid eggs altogether?

While eggs can be a healthy part of a gluten-free diet, some celiacs choose to eliminate eggs altogether to remove any risk of reaction. This is a personal decision that may depend on factors like:

  • Sensitivity level – Celiacs who react severely to trace amounts of gluten cross-contamination may prefer to avoid eggs.
  • Availability of certified gluten-free eggs – Without access to certified eggs, risks may be too high.
  • Ability to maintain a gluten free kitchen – Avoiding cross-contamination when cooking may be difficult.
  • Presence of other food intolerances – Some celiacs are also sensitive to eggs themselves.
  • Nutritional needs – Celiacs without other major sources of protein or vitamins in the diet may benefit from eggs.

While eggs can be safe for some celiacs with proper precautions, for others it may be wise to remove them from the diet completely. Each celiac must evaluate their own health needs and tolerance levels when making the decision.

Other egg alternatives

For celiacs who choose to avoid eggs altogether, there are some recipe substitutions available:

  • In baking – Replace eggs with gluten-free flours like chickpea or almond flour. Also use binding agents like gelatin, cornstarch, or xanthan gum.
  • For scrambling – Try scrambled tofu seasoned with turmeric for color.
  • For omelets – Bake filled gluten-free crepes or use thin slices of potatoes.
  • For egg salad – Make salad with chickpeas instead of eggs.
  • For coating – Use ground nuts, crushed gluten-free crackers, or ground seeds instead of eggs.
  • For leavening – Use baking powder, yeast, whipped egg whites or aquafaba (chickpea juice) to leaven baked goods.

While egg replacements won’t replicate the exact same taste and texture, they can provide alternate ways to bind, leaven, and provide protein. Celiacs who need to avoid eggs entirely have many options to still enjoy gluten and egg-free cooking and baking.


While eggs themselves do not naturally contain gluten, opportunities for cross-contamination during production make their safety uncertain for celiacs. Finding certified gluten-free eggs or testing eggs at home provides the most assurance of safety. For celiacs who can safely source eggs, they can be a nutritious addition to a gluten-free diet. However, some celiacs may need to avoid eggs altogether to eliminate any risk of reaction. With proper substitutions, a diet without eggs can still be varied and enjoyable. Each celiac must weigh the risks and benefits of including eggs in their gluten-free lifestyle. Being diligent about sourcing and handling, as well as listening to an individual’s own body, can guide the decision.

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