Gluten-free milk is part of a gluten-free diet advised for people suffering form celiac disease. A protein found in certain grains, gluten cannot be fully processed by the digestive system of some people. This causes an immune system reaction and possible damage to the small intestines. Animal-sourced milk does not contain gluten, so all cow’s milk is gluten-free milk as long as it is in its natural state. Consumers should be cautious as certain products based on gluten-free milk are combined with thickeners and additives that do contain gluten.
Cows, goats and sheep all naturally produce gluten-free milk. Only when additives derived from gluten-containing grains are included in milk products do they cause a reaction in gluten-intolerant people. Dairy products that have malt flavorings, vegetable gum, or hydrolyzed vegetable protein may contain gluten if these additives are made from wheat or other grains with gluten. Chocolate milk and other flavored milk drinks, some yogurt, and sour cream could contain gluten. Homemade chocolate milk, using pure cocoa powder and milk, contains no gluten.
Dairy products that are gluten-free do not contain additives made from grains. Whole milk, skim milk and low-fat milk are all gluten-free milk. Plain yogurt is also free of gluten. Flavorings, thickeners and other additives in flavored yogurt products may contain gluten. Most cheese is also gluten-free, including natural cheeses such as Swiss and Cheddar, as well as some processed cheese foods.
Some people are both gluten intolerant and sensitive to dairy products. Non-dairy types of milk produced from soy, nuts or rice are alternatives to animal-sourced dairy products. Grains that contain the protein gluten include wheat and its varieties like spelt and durum, rye and barley. Other members of the grain and nut families do not contain gluten and are safe for people with celiac disease. Rice does not contain gluten, so rice milk is a gluten-free milk as long as it is free of wheat-based thickeners.
Other non-dairy products that fit a gluten-free lifestyle are made from soybeans or almonds. The unflavored, unthickened varieties of gluten-free milk made from soy, rice or almonds will not cause gluten or dairy intolerance reactions. Some varieties of flavored and thickened non-dairy milks are specifically made without gluten and labeled gluten free. Many resources are available that help people suffering from celiac disease learn about gluten-free food choices.
Some labels will state whether a dairy or non-dairy milk product is gluten free. If the label does not say this, the ingredients can be analyzed for substances that might contain gluten. Additives that are sometimes made from wheat and other gluten-containing grains include vegetable protein, vegetable gum and modified food starch. These are in addition to already mentioned additives that might be made from wheat and other grains with gluten.