Some Low-Gluten Beers Mislabeled; May Contain as Much as Regular Beer
People with a condition known as Celiac Disease must adhere to a strictly gluten-free diet, as the protein from wheat, barley and rye can damage the lining of the intestines, inhibiting the ability to absorb nutrients. Recently, though, some Americans have gone “gluten-free” as a way to lose weight, boost health, or treat other disorders such as ADHD or autism. Because of the need for clear labeling, the FDA is proposing new standards for providing gluten information. Unfortunately, now, certain foods labeled low-gluten may not actually be correct.
Dr. Michelle L. Colgrove of the University of Queensland in Australia and colleagues analyzed 60 commercial beers for the presence of gluten. Detecting gluten in malted products is not easy, so the scientists developed a new test for hordein, the gluten component in barley-based beers. Although barley itself contains gluten protein, brewers may be able to reduce the amount during the brewing process.
Eight of the beers that were labeled “gluten-free” were labeled correctly and did not contain gluten. However, two of those labeled “low-gluten”, which is supposed to contain less than 20 ppm, actually contained as much as a regular beer.
While European countries, Australia and New Zealand have standards in place for gluten food labeling, the US Food and Drug Administration is still in the process of setting standards for American products. The American Celiac Disease Alliance states that foods below the 20 ppm standard in other countries should be safe for the majority of individuals with celiac disease.
Brewers who make a low-gluten or gluten-free claim, are required to test every batch for gluten, however, the tests may not be accurate or the definition of “gluten” may be skewed. Donald D. Kasarda, a research chemist in the United States Department of Agriculture, cites a past statement made by Sapporo Breweries stating that although their beer contains barley, because it is boiled and filtered during the brewing process, all gluten is removed from the end product.
Kasarda says that barley hordeins are broken down into peptides during the malting and fermentation products and therefore no intact hordein proteins can be detected using normal testing methods. However, these smaller protein pieces are water-soluble and do remain in the product through all processing. He states that there is some evidence that celiac patients can still react to these peptides and cause harm.
Brands of gluten-free beers that are distributed in the United States include Red Bridge (Anheuser-Busch), Bard’s Gluten-Free Beer, Green’s Gluten-Free Beers, New Grist Gluten-Free Beers (Lakefront Brewery), Honey Beer and Skull Crusher (Ramapo Valley Brewery) and Shakparo Ale and Mbege Ale (Sprecher Brewery).
American Chemical Society. What is in a Beer? Proteomic Characterization and Relative Quantification of Hordein (Gluten) in Beer. Michelle L. Colgrave, Hareshwar Goswami, Crispin A. Howitt, and Gregory J. Tanner. Journal of Proteome Research Article ASAP
Is Beer Gluten-Free and Safe for People with Celiac Disease? Celiac.com; accessed December 22, 2011.