Does vegan mean gluten-free?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Does vegan mean gluten-free? And will discuss the difference between vegan and gluten-free diets.

Does vegan mean gluten-free?

No, being vegan doesn’t mean gluten-free. As a vegan, you may follow a gluten-free vegan diet that excludes all animal products, including eggs, dairy, and seafood. However, you must also avoid gluten-containing grains like wheat and rye, as well as certain oats, to follow this diet.

Currently, 1% of the United States population holds a diagnosis for celiac disease, however, a more recently recognized and possibly related condition, “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” has been suggested to affect up to 6% of the United States public (5).

What Is Gluten and What Does It Do?

The wheat kernel contains 8%–15% of protein, from which 10%–15% is albumin/globulin and 85%–90% is gluten. It is a complex mixture of hundreds of related but distinct proteins, mainly gliadin and glutenin. Different wheat varieties vary in protein content and in the composition and distribution of gluten proteins. Collectively, the gliadin and glutenin proteins are referred to as prolamins, which represent seed proteins insoluble in water, but extractable in aqueous ethanol and are characterized by high levels of glutamine (38%) and proline residues (20%) (1).

The gluten protein is an insoluble one found in wheat, rye, and barley, and may be found in a wide range of foodstuffs such as bread and pasta as well as in soy sauce, cookies, beer, salad dressing, and other drinks. Gluten can also be found in soy milk. Gluten is in charge of the elastic dough’s texture and the chewy texture of wheat-based meals like bread and pasta.

Is Gluten Harmful to Your Health?

Those with wheat allergy, celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity may have difficulties with gluten sensitivity. When a person’s immune system generates an allergic response to wheat protein, wheat allergy is an uncommon but serious illness. Wheat allergy is an immunologic reaction to wheat proteins especially common among children and may progress to anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal event. In IgE-dependent wheat allergy, the symptoms appear within 2 h from the food intake (2,3).

Foods containing gluten cause inflammation and damage to the lining of the small intestine in those with Celiac disease, which is a genetic condition. Because of this, digestive functions are impaired, resulting in symptoms such as abdominal cramping and bloating as well as gas and diarrhea, as well as weight loss, skin irritation, and disorders such as osteoporosis and anemia (2).

An increased risk of some cancers is associated with untreated celiac disease. Celiac disease affects 1 in 100 – 200 people in the United States. A biopsy is used to confirm the diagnosis of celiac disease when blood testing indicates that it is likely the patient has the condition (2).

Until recently gluten intolerance has been believed to be typical of celiac disease and wheat allergy. In the last few years, however, several study results have been published that have proved that gluten intolerance can also affect people who do not suffer from any of the above mentioned diseases. The new syndrome has been named non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten sensitivity. It has been included in the new list of gluten-related disorders published in 2012. Researchers believe that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is the most common syndrome of gluten intolerance (2). 

A gluten-free diet is the most effective therapy since it aids in healing intestinal damage and alleviating symptoms. Some individuals ingest gluten and develop symptoms even though they don’t have celiac disease or sensitivities.  A gluten-free diet comprises only naturally gluten-free food products (e.g., legumes, fruit and vegetables, unprocessed meat, fish, eggs and dairy products) and/or substitutes of wheat-based foods, specially manufactured without gluten or having a gluten content lower than 20 ppm (3).

These folks are sensitive to gluten but do not have celiac disease. They suffer from uncomfortable stomach symptoms, as well as weariness, mental fog, joint discomfort, and rashes. In particular, a gluten-free diet aids in the relief of these side effects.

What is a vegan diet?

If you follow a vegan diet, you won’t consume any animal products or anything that has been tried or tested on animals. This includes meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, and honey, among other things. An alternative definition is one in which the only foods consumed are those derived from plants, such as nuts and seeds. Vegan diets are associated with a reduced risk for chronic diseases in nonathletic populations (4).

If you’re vegan or gluten-free, what’s the difference between those diets?

Veganism is a way of life that forgoes the use of animal products in any way, whether it is for food, clothes, or personal care items like cosmetics and cleaning supplies. Gluten-free, on the other hand, is the avoidance of gluten-containing foods due to health reasons, particularly for people who are allergic to or intolerant to gluten.

Veganism is primarily motivated by ethical considerations, such as compassion for animals, care for the environment, and concern for one’s health. People adopt vegan diets for health, ethical, environmental, religious/spiritual, and aesthetic reasons.  However, avoiding gluten is done solely for health reasons. See the distinctions between veganism and plant-based diets.

Studies show that vegans may suffer deficiencies in their diets. Calcium, integral for bone health, is a concern for vegans, as well as vitamin B12. Iodine is a red flag mineral for many vegans who avoid table salt (typically fortified with iodine), and vitamin B12 is a concern for vegans because it is found exclusively in animal products. Vegans should consume vitamin B12-fortified foods daily or take a vitamin B12-containing supplement or multivitamin (4).

Is It Possible to Be a Vegan and Gluten-Free?

Absolutely! A gluten-free diet avoids any plant foods that contain gluten, while a vegan diet includes any plant-based foods. Certain plant-based meals can be consumed by vegans, but they can’t all be gluten-free. You may choose to be a vegan or not by including or excluding products that contain gluten.

Studies show that a primary reason for adherence to a gluten-free diet is the widespread conviction that gluten elicits universal gastrointestinal injury/symptoms and triggers inflammation. A gluten-free diet is further touted as overall healthier and suggested to provide an ergogenic advantage (4).

A vegan gluten-free diet must be high in fruits and vegetables and rich in gluten-free whole grains, low-fat, legumes, and nuts, but low in refined grains. It must assure a high intake of dietary fiber and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and a low intake of fat, sugars, salt and saturated fatty acids (2).

Gluten-free Diets Have Many Advantages.

It reduces inflammation

Gluten is a frequent irritant, and the immune system’s reaction to it is inflammation. It doesn’t matter whether you are gluten-allergic or not—inflammation is at the root of almost all disorders. 

Adverse reactions, particularly gastrointestinal symptoms, are associated with consumption of gluten-containing foods in individuals without a clinical condition requiring gluten elimination. Amid subjective reports of a gluten-free diet improving gastrointestinal symptoms, an interesting connection exists between reduced FODMAP (low fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) intake and avoidance of gluten-containing grains (4).

Enhances one’s ability to concentrate

Gluten-sensitive people often experience low energy levels. The reason for this is because gluten is an irritant and destroys the gut walls, making it difficult to absorb nutrients like vitamins and minerals like iron from food. Fatigue and weakness are symptoms of low iron levels in the body. Hence, an improved gluten-free diet may contribute to increasing the count of beneficial bacteria and reducing the count of harmful microbial species, thus enabling gluten-free diet treated patients a recovery of the gut ecosystem and reduce weakness (1).

 Helps you lose weight

By eliminating gluten, you’re cutting out the bad carbs like wheat, which keep you from gaining weight that you don’t need to. However, studies show contrasting results of weight gain/ loss by adhering a gluten-free diet. A study found in a cohort of 679 CD adults (>18 years) that 15.8% of subjects moved from normal/ low BMI into an overweight BMI, and 22% of patients that were overweight at diagnosis gained weight. In contrast, another study found that 69% of underweight patients at diagnosis gained weight while on a gluten-free diet, while 18% of overweight and 42% of obese patients lost weight (1).

Reduces bloating and gas

Gut symptoms such as bloating, gas, and stomach pain are all reduced by avoiding gluten. Gluten’s inflammatory effects may be seen in several ways. Continue reading to learn more (6).

Enhances the health of the skin

As a result of consuming gluten, the stomach is frequently damaged, which makes it difficult to absorb nutrients that are important for good skin health such as vitamin A (and its antioxidants), vitamin C (and its antioxidants), and zinc (and its antioxidants). By eliminating gluten, you give your body a chance to recover and return to its natural state. Dermatitis or skin rash are common symptoms of gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity (6).

Other FAQs about Vegans that you may be interested in.

Is a vegan diet low fat?

How is vegan ice cream made?

How is vegan leather made?

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Does vegan mean gluten-free? And discussed the difference between vegan and gluten-free diets.

References

  1. Biesiekierski, Jessica R. What is gluten? J gastroenterol hepatol, 2017, 32, 78-81.
  2. Czaja-Bulsa, Grażyna. Non coeliac gluten sensitivity–A new disease with gluten intolerance. Clin nutr, 2015, 34, 189-194.
  3. Melini, Valentina, and Francesca Melini. Gluten-free diet: Gaps and needs for a healthier diet. Nutrients, 2019, 11, 170.
  4. Lis, Dana M., Daniel Kings, and D. Enette Larson-Meyer. Dietary practices adopted by track-and-field athletes: Gluten-free, low FODMAP, vegetarian, and fasting. Int J sport nutr exerc metab, 2019, 29, 236-245.
  5. Igbinedion SO, Ansari J, Vasikaran A, et al. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: All wheat attack is not celiac. World J Gastroenterol. 2017, 23, 7201-7210. 
  6. Pieczyńska, Joanna. Do celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity have the same effects on reproductive disorders?. Nutrition, 2018, 48, 18-23.