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Is Gluten free beer a healthy alternative or a myth?

Just when you thought you had seen it all amidst the expanding array of gluten–free products, along comes gluten-free beer. If you need to avoid gluten because of your body’s intolerance to it or you just prefer not to consume it for health reasons, you can now enjoy your beer and be gluten-free too.

People with certain conditions — celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and dermatitis herpetiformis, for example — cannot tolerate glycoproteins (aka gluten) in their diets. Ingesting even small quantities of gluten can trigger minor to very serious symptoms in gluten-intolerant people. Some symptoms related to gluten intolerance include abdominal bloating, discomfort or pain; diarrhea/constipation; muscular, bone or joint pain; migraines/headaches; fatigue and severe acne.

Standard beer generally uses four main ingredients: hops, yeast, water, and barley/wheat grains. Barley contains hordein while wheat contains gliadin; both are specific types of gluten. To produce gluten-free beer, one must use ingredients that don’t trigger glycoprotein problems while simultaneously achieving a flavorsome beer. Those ingredients may include millet, buckwheat, rice, corn, and sorghum, which don’t carry gluten. Easier said than done though.

In 2013, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued labeling standards for gluten-free foods sold in the United States. These standards demand that a beverage or food tests below 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten to be considered gluten-free. The standards also revealed that some beers not previously marketed as gluten-free – now referred to as “low gluten” beers — actually meet the FDA criteria so that drinking them should be okay for gluten intolerant folks. However, some celiacs experience problems drinking these low gluten beers. Why? Gluten-intolerant people have different levels of intolerance to trigger a reaction, so some have problems while others don’t. Hence, there continues to be ongoing controversy about what truly constitutes acceptable gluten-free levels in beer and other products. One research chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted: “It is not proved beyond any doubt that the peptides in beer are actually toxic to celiac patients, but it is quite possible that the peptides remaining in any barley-based or wheat-based beer … are harmful to celiac patients.” Until the issue is better clarified, it’s advisable for gluten- intolerant beer drinkers to settle for gluten-free beers over “low gluten” beers. England, Finland, Argentina, and Sweden have more carefully controlled standards regarding gluten levels in specific malt brews and they tend to be safer to drink.

Previously the pleasing options for gluten-free beer in the marketplace hadn’t been that great and, in some cases, the unsatisfying results were not worth the effort of seeking them out. But today there are some pretty tasty varieties as breweries appeal to “celiacs” and other gluten-intolerant drinkers, and the beers are becoming popular among gluten-free imbibers. Between chain supermarkets, specialty markets, microbreweries and homemade versions, you should be able to find what you want in a beer…without the gluten. For ambitious gluten-free beer drinkers, there are even gluten-free beer kits to generate your own gluten-free beers. In the meantime, the links below will direct you to some notable gluten-free beers.


A Collection of Highly Rated Gluten-free Beers:

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The Beer Diaries: Gluten-free Guide

Bon Appetit: Gluten Free Beers

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