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Cheese on a gluten-free diet: Understanding safety concerns for celiac disease

Lana Bandoim's picture

Most people consider cheese to be a safe choice for someone on a gluten-free diet. However, people who are sensitive to gluten or who have celiac disease still need to be careful because not all brands and varieties of cheese are safe. It is important to understand that gluten can still be an issue with this dairy product.

Cheese is generally considered a gluten-free food, but this is not always true for every product you may find on a grocery store shelf. If you are not lactose intolerant and have no issues with consuming dairy, then you may want to consider the following tips while shopping. There are several ways to determine the gluten content of cheese.

Some companies make the shopping process easier by directly labeling their cheese products as gluten-free or explaining their gluten policies online. Brands such as Boarshead, Sargento, Organic Valley, Cabot, Kraft and many others either label gluten or provide information on their websites about the protein. It is still important to read every ingredient list because the potential for contamination exists in every facility.

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One of the most controversial products is blue cheese because of ongoing debates about its safety for people with celiac disease. In some cases, manufacturers may use a growth medium that contains gluten such as barley or wheat, but the amount of the protein that is transferred to the blue cheese is considered to be small. A study from the Canadian Celiac Association reveals that researchers did not find gluten in blue cheese after testing it. Brie is another product that is sometimes grown on a gluten-containing medium, but it is also believed to be generally safe. However, for people with extreme sensitivities to the protein, blue cheese and brie cheese may need to be added to the list of items to avoid.

It is possible to find gluten in some shredded cheese products if they use powdered cellulose that has the protein. However, most brands will label this on their packages, and some use potato starch to keep the shredded cheese from clumping. You may also want to be careful while shopping at a store or vendor that has artisanal cheese because contamination is possible. If you are buying your cheese from a deli, it is important to keep in mind that the slicers and scales may also be contaminated with gluten.

Read more about celiac disease:
Celiac disease tips for making bread at home
Celiac disease apps help create gluten-free meal plans

Image: Christian Bauer/Wikimedia Commons