Gluten-free cheese?

Hey Alice!

So I was in the store and I noticed a container of crumbled Gorgonzola cheese labeled "gluten-free." I thought all cheese was gluten-free. Do some cheese contain gluten or is this a marketing ploy?


Maybe a cheesy question

Dear Maybe a cheesy question,

Your question isn’t cheesy at all: in fact, it's a great topic to ‘whey’ in on (pun definitely intended). It brings up some good points to keep in mind for those who are on gluten-free diets. And, you are correct: unless cheese is processed with gluten-derived food additives or cross-contaminated by a gluten-containing product, all cheese is naturally gluten-free! More generally, dairy products are a good food source of calcium and protein for those who need to avoid gluten in her/his diet.

You may be wondering why someone would need to know if a product is gluten-free. Let’s start with the basics: Gluten (the proteins that occur in grains like wheat, rye, and barley), are found commonly in breads, pasta, cakes, cereals, baked goods, and other products made from these grains. People with chronic diseases such as celiac disease may have an autoimmune response to these proteins; other people might choose to forgo gluten because reducing gluten has been linked with weight loss or weight maintenance.

Becoming gluten-free isn’t as simple as removing the bun from a hamburger. Gluten is found in more than just breads: products such as soy sauce, food additives like modified food starches and malt flavorings, and even vitamins that use gluten as a binding agent can all contain gluten. Some people with celiac disease are so sensitive to gluten that if you sliced regular bread with a knife and then use that same knife to cut a piece of gluten-free bread (thereby cross-contaminating it) it could trigger an immune response. So, knowing if something is gluten-free could be crucial for those folks. Because of this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a standard defining the terms “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” “without gluten,” and “gluten-free.” In order to bear this label, the food product must have a gluten limit of less than 20 parts per million (ppm). If you’re avoiding gluten, try to keep an eye out for these terms and labels on the foods you buy.

Is it possible that, as you suggest, the move to label the gorgonzola cheese as “gluten-free” is a marketing ploy? Maybe. On the other hand, for those with celiac disease or a high sensitivity to gluten, knowing that a cheese has not been cross-contaminated by gluten or processed using gluten-derived additives may mean it makes the cut (Get it? Cut the cheese? Is this mic on?).

Whether you’re gluten-free or not, sometimes being cheesy is a good thing!

Originally published Jun 27, 2014

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