Gluten Free Beers – they aren’t all the same!

Do you have coeliac disease and oddly find that you can’t tolerate gluten free beer?

The USA’s Gluten Intolerance Group discuss a laboratory study carried out at Chicago University in the video below and conclude that coeliacs may be damaging their gut with “gluten removed” beer; that’s what we know as “gluten free” beer in the UK. This is a pilot study and calls for more research but it’s a good start in understanding the gluten reactions many coeliacs get when drinking GF beer.

Watch the YouTube video below for a detailed and interesting 55mins…

What is Gluten Free Beer?

In the UK and EU, “Gluten Free” beer is beer made from gluten or non-gluten ingredients that show gluten in test results to be below 20 parts per million. In some other countries, the criteria is different and more descriptive terminology is used such as Naturally Gluten Free (no gluten ingredients) and Gluten Removed (normal gluten ingredients beer treated with an enzyme). So in the UK “Gluten Free” can mean both.

GF beer made by removing the gluten

The removal of gluten involves two gluten ‘reducing’ processes, fermenting and hydrolyzing. Fermentation involves yeast nibbling away at the gluten protein DNA but like most nibbling it leaves crumbs – fragments of gluten DNA. Hydrolyzation is where brewers add an enzyme to clarify beer called Clarex. This enzyme targets the proline amino-acid in gluten and further nibbles away at the gluten fragments. Unfortunately, the yeast and enzyme don’t leave a clean plate after their meal!

Gluten is actually a group name for the proteins we’re interested in. There are two protein groups, gliadin and glutenin, which are implicated in coeliac reactions. In a separate piece of research carried out by Francisco Barro’s team at the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in Cordoba, Spain, they found that gliadin protein has no fewer than 45 copies of the problematic part of the DNA that causes coeliac reactions. Knowing this, its easy to understand coeliacs responding to one of these short piece copies of the DNA sequence. Consequently, fermenting and hydrolyzing might be similar to putting a document through a first generation paper shredder – useful parts of the message can be left exposed!

The ELISA test is commonly used to determine whether a product is gluten-free or not. It can only consistently identify gluten at over 20ppm. That’s why 20ppm was picked as the convenient bench-mark for stating something is gluten free.

So if beer tests negative from the usual ELISA test that’s okay isn’t it?

Sadly, its not quite that straight-forward. Coeliacs don’t react to the whole gluten protein as one entity, their autoimmune response is being triggered by small parts of the gluten protein’s DNA. All that yeast and enzyme munching doesn’t necessarily munch the bits that you react to – you may be reacting to the gluten DNA fragments they leave behind in the beer!

In this study by Chicago University they took blood serum from coeliacs and non-coeliacs and looked for antibody reactions against three beers:-

  1. traditional barley based beer
  2. naturally gluten free beer (not made from gluten grains)
  3. gluten removed beer starting from barley or wheat mash (known as gluten free beer in the UK).

All of the coeliacs reacted to a wheat control sample. Of those who reacted to a barley control sample, roughly half reacted to Traditional Beer and roughly a quarter of the barley reactors reacted to Gluten Removed Beer (what we call “Gluten Free”); none reacted to Naturally GF Beer!

As an aside, they make the point that although coeliac disease is understood as reacting to wheat, barley and rye, in fact it is likely to be more nuanced and person-specific. A coeliac reacts most strongly to those grains they are most exposed to so nearly all will react to wheat, many will also react to barley and some will react to rye. Some people may also be reacting to other elements from these grains that isn’t being tested.

Summing up

If as a coeliac you get a bodily reaction that you recognise as being ‘glutened’ you know to avoid it. This happens with me when I drink “Gluten Free” beer (gluten removed) so I gave up drinking it because I just didn’t trust it to be truly GF whatever those tests said!

What if you don’t get an immediate reaction? Some coeliacs have no immediate symptoms whilst their autoimmune system is quietly wrecking their small intestine, robbing them of important nutrients and leaving them at high risk of developing cancer of the small intestine. They may be anaemic, have low bone density, odd liver function tests, headaches etc but nothing specific that highlights they are in any danger from beer that appears to be approved as gluten-free?

Coeliacs are all different. Some will be fine on Gluten Removed Beer, some won’t. If you don’t know for sure then why take the risk?

Avoiding beer unless it is Naturally Gluten Free Beer would seem sensible for coeliacs until testing of beer and person gets better than it is today!


“The Celiac Patient Antibody Response to Conventional and Gluten-Removed Beer” study conducted by Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) at the University of Chicago’s Celiac Research Center.
Note: GIG, founded in 1974, created the USA’s Gluten-Free Certification Organisation in 2005; similar in concept to the Coeliac Organisation in the UK.

Video explanation (as embedded above):

Published paper by AOIC International:;jsessionid=9d31vo9v0udo.x-ic-live-02

Naturally Gluten Free Beers

Greens Beers

As I type, Greens Beers brewed in Belgium are the best known brewers of Naturally Gluten Free beers. Look for these products: Amber, Dry Hopped Lager, IPA, Dubbel and Tripel. They are made from other ancient grains – sorghum, millet, buckwheat and brown rice husks.

Like other brewers, their most available products are frustratingly gluten removed beers treated with the enzyme as described above.  Look for their bottled beers that have “naturally gluten free” on the front label which indicates that they are free of wheat, barley and rye.

Visit their site at  and look for these products:-
Amber, Dry Hopped Lager, IPA, Dubbel and Tripel.

ScreenHunter_634 Aug. 21 21.51.jpg

Autumn Brewing Co.


Based in North East England, they produce a Pilsner, A Pale Ale and a Stout known as Alt Brew Nos 1, 2 and 3 respectively.

They brew using rice, quinoa and millet.


Updated : 18 Jan 2018

Gluten, barley and wheat free beer

Alex Gazzola, editor of Allergy Insight, has a very interesting post which spotlights the beer that Coeliacs can drink without worry…



Coeliac struggling with high fibre – is it soluble or insoluble!?

Okay, so coeliacs know that high levels of fibre in food is good for them. It can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and some cancers, and improve digestive health.

10256045 - white rice and food ingredients
(c) 123RF and aopsan

Gluten free food can be nutritionally poor and so nutrients and fibre are added to many gluten free staple foods such as bread, pasta, breakfast cereals. Over the last year, I’ve seen an increase in the levels of fibre that is being added and I do wonder whether this is becoming too much of a good thing for some of us?

I decided to look more into fibre and what I found has surprised me a bit.

High fibre diets aren’t necessarily right for everyone!

You might have thought high fibre was best but high levels of fibre, particularly insoluble fibre, can cause bloating and too loose stools or too frequent urges to go to the smallest room.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t tolerate high level of fibre and now believe that many intestinal disturbances I’ve had over the last year or so were actually due to high levels of fibre and not gluten contamination as I’d believed!

You might have heard of soluble and insoluble fibre and most foods which naturally contain fibre contain both soluble and insoluble fibre.  My layman’s understanding of their effect on our bodies is as follows:-

Insoluble fibre

Insoluble fibre isn’t digested, it pretty much goes straight through our intestinal tract. It’s action is to bulk up our stools and in general it speeds up progress which is helpful in combating constipation but can be too helpful!

The food groups that are high in insoluble fibre are typically what you might regard as breakfast cereals – so grains, perhaps nuts and seeds but also whole grains, many vegetables and their skins have high proportions of insoluble fibre.

Soluble fibre

Soluble fibre is digested and counts in terms of calories. It dissolves in water and becomes a gel in the intestines which makes stools easier to pass and can slow down progress through the gut.

The food groups that are high in soluble fibre are typically fruits and root vegetables but specifically:- citrus fruits, apples and pears; beans and pulses; white rice and pasta; soy, quinoa, corn meal; root vegetables such as potatoes; winter squashes.

Additionally, eating soluble fibre before insoluble fibre can slows down the the transit speed of food through your gut, not to the degree of constipation but it can tame the sometimes too-fast speed produced by high levels of insoluble fibre.

What’s in your gluten-free staple foods?

Whilst many gluten free food providers provide the levels of fibre in their nutrition information, this isn’t split between soluble and insoluble. It’s not a statistical analysis but I decided to ask what this proportion is of a few suppliers for specific products:-

  • Breakfast cereals – Juvela said their Fibre Flakes have around 90% insoluble fibre and 10% soluble fibre
  • Bread – Glutafin said they don’t analyse fibre at this level but helpfully added that seeded loaves would have a higher proportion of insoluble fibre. Genius said they don’t test for this but their ingredients suggest that mostly their fibre is insoluble from psyllium husk.

Small changes I’m making which may be helpful

  1. Coffee is known to speed up progress through the gut particularly at breakfast time so coffee is now for afternoons. This hasn’t anything to do with caffeine btw.
  2. Chocolate, prunes, figs and curries have legendary effects as moving everything along the gut too which you may like to avoid or encourage!
  3. I’m moving to Glutafin Select fresh brown bread (now free of codex wheat) as it has a moderately high level of mostly soluble fibre at 7.4% and not the too high (in my view) level of 10% of Genius fresh brown bread from mostly insoluble psyllium husk.
  4. Have an orange before anything else at breakfast time
  5. Adding a small portion of beans or pulses daily to lunch or dinner


  1. Look up typical soluble and insoluble proportions in different foods:-

About me: I’m just a coeliac sufferer in the UK trying to find my way and asking questions.


Gluten, Malt Whisky and Beer

Being diagnosed with coeliac disease in recent years, I miss many things I used to enjoy to eat and drink. For coeliac sufferers gluten isn’t a lifestyle choice it has to be avoided at all costs. Coeliac is an autoimmune disease so the damage occurs from our own immune system attacking ourselves when it encounters gluten.

(c) 123RF and Hayes Ng

Gluten is the protein in Wheat and is used as a generic term for the similar proteins found in some other grains – Rye and Barley being it’s close cousins. Some also react to Oats!

People with coeliac disease get varied symptoms which are particular to themselves and can range from mild to very debilitating. The autoimmune reaction however seriously damages the small intestine and increases the risk of bowel cancer significantly so coeliacs must avoid gluten even if they are only aware of mild symptoms.

Gluten-free beer – can you drink it?

44463005 - beer and hops
(c) 123RF and Yuliya29

The grain used to make most beers is barley. Its protein is called hordein but it can be regarded as gluten. Brewers can create specifically “gluten-free beer” by chemically neutralising the protein to reduce its content to levels that most coeliac sufferers won’t react to. Or at least that’s the theory!

I’ve tried around half a dozen different gluten-free beers more than once and have decided I can’t tolerated gluten free beer at all. I get symptoms which are much like I did before I was diagnosed. My Dietician gave me the not so great news that some coeliac sufferers also react to gluten-free beer and that if they do it is likely that they are having an autoimmune reaction which is every bit as dangerous to them.

I’ve tried to understand why some coeliacs react to gluten-free beer and the suggestion is that although deglutenising the hordein protein in barley will show the beer to have gluten levels that are below 20ppm, there are still likely to be high levels of fragments of its DNA left in the beer. Some coeliacs, like me, are sensitive to these fragments.

Whisky – is it gluten-free?

18372945 - shot of a cut crystal glass containing brandy.
(c) 123RF and Igorr

Whisky is produced by first creating a product similar to beer in many ways and then distilling it. The distillation process drives off alcohol vapour which is then captured and condensed. Distillation should remove the gluten from the product and so whisky, or any spirit on its own, be drunk by coeliacs.

The flavour of whisky has a lot to do with what happens next. Whisky is stored in oak barrels that may have previously contained sherry or brandy. Typically the barrels are  burned on the inside which contributes to the complex flavours tasted in whisky.

Single-malt whisky is the safest form of whisky to drink and should be gluten-free. I asked Glenfiddich about their process; their whisky is gluten-free and they don’t use any barley based products to colour the whisky.

Colouring the whisky with barley derived colour can be an issue apparently. Single-malt whisky is nearly always safe from this practice. Blended whisky may have barley based colouring added as the producer creates a standard product in terms of taste and colour regardless of the originating whiskies that have gone into making it.

My conclusion

For me, I mostly drink wine and cider. Spirits such as single-malt whisky, brandy, gin and rum are fine for me but I won’t go anywhere near gluten-free beer!

About me: I’m just a coeliac sufferer in the UK trying to find my way and asking questions.