Gluten Free but not Wheat Free?
It is well known in the gluten free community that wheat free does not always mean gluten free. However, it is not as well known that gluten free does not always mean wheat free. Recently, we have discovered several products labeled gluten free that contain wheat. After finding these products, our office decided to investigate further. We found that in almost all of these “gluten free” products wheat germ oil was listed in the ingredients. We wanted to know more; what was wheat germ oil, how could it be labeled gluten free, and was it harmful to celiacs and gluten sensitive individuals?
What is Wheat Germ Oil?
Most frequently used in cosmetics due to its high vitamin E content, wheat germ oil is known scientifically as triticum vulgare. The only oil that is derived from a gluten containing source; wheat germ oil is a fatty acid found in very small quantities within the small embryo of the wheat plant.
Is Wheat Germ oil Gluten Free?
Typically, when wheat germ oil is used it has been refined. The refining process in theory removes all gluten proteins, and therefore would make wheat germ oil free of any gluten proteins. Although it is likely to be a small amount it is possible for refined oils to contain trace amounts of gluten. These trace amounts may be left over from a poor refining method or from cross contamination that may occur during the process. We essentially relate this to a product that is labeled “gluten free” yet made in a manufacturing plant that also process wheat. These are products that we believe should not be labeled gluten free and most often do contain gluten.
Can Wheat Germ oil be Labeled as Gluten Free?
There are no gluten free labeling laws in the United States. There are a set of “proposed laws” that state products under 20ppm gluten may be labeled as gluten free. Due to the low amount of gluten, these proposed laws would make wheat germ oil a “gluten free” product in the United States. Furthermore, the FDA states, “highly refined oils and ingredients made from highly refined oils are exempt from allergen labeling.” The US Department of Agriculture states “A benefit of refining oils is that the refining process renders them virtually free of allergenic protein”. This would then imply that wheat germ oil is an allergen free product, and exempt from all labeling laws.
Is Wheat Germ oil Safe for Celiacs?
According to celiac centers in the United States and Canada wheat germ oil is not a safe product for celiacs and gluten intolerant individuals. Here at the Gluten Free RN we are in agreement that wheat germ oil is not a safe product to use. We believe that using a product derived from wheat is too big of a risk to take. It is still possible that this product may contain a small amount of gluten, and we believe that any amount of gluten is too much for a gluten free diet. It is also important to remember that there are subsets of people who are both intolerant to gluten and allergic to wheat. These individuals would have a definite reaction to any products containing wheat germ oil.
Identifying Wheat Germ oil in Products:
Wheat germ oil is often found in beauty products and may be labeled as tocopherol (vitamin E). Although the amount of wheat germ oil found in tocopheral may be low, it is important to always contact the manufacture to insure their vitamin E is derived from a different source. If the manufacture does not know where their tocopherol is derived from we recommend finding an alternative beauty product. Remember any amount of gluten is too much!
Wheat germ oil can also be found in edible products including chocolate, and other processed products. Our office has found that these products are labeled gluten free but not wheat free and do include “wheat germ oil” on the ingredient list. Currently we recommend keeping these products out of your gluten free diet. The manufactures may insist that the gluten protein has been completely removed from their wheat germ oil but we believe that is too bold of a statement to make. There are just too many unknowns about wheat, gluten intolerance, and the affects of wheat germ oil on a gluten free diet to allow it to be part of our diets.When it comes to wheat germ oil we will use our golden rule; when in doubt, go with out!