Is Dextrose gluten-free? When I was diagnosed with celiac over 10 years ago, dextrose was one of the ingredients I had to watch out for. Back then, it could be derived from wheat and thus, it was not considered gluten-free. However, is this still the case today?
As a celiac dietitian and fellow celiac, I’m going to break down when and if Dextrose is gluten-free.
P.s. Need help with label-reading? Sign up for my FREE USA Label-Reading Class where I show you EXACTLY what you need to look for on a food label to stay celiac-safe in the USA. Stop stressing over grocery shopping in just 4-simple steps with this FREE training!
When talking about if dextrose is gluten-free, it’s important we know what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, contaminated oats, and wheat. It may be helpful to remember the acronym “BROW” when trying to remember what foods have gluten.
In baked goods, gluten holds things together working as a binding agent. It gives texture and chew to foods.
Most people can safely eat gluten. However, some people have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease which means they need to avoid gluten. It can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea and nausea as well as nonintestinal symptoms such as rashes, headaches, or joint pain.
Before we get into if dextrose is gluten-free, it’s important to understand what it is. Dextrose is a form of glucose. If you’re into the chemistry of it, it’s essentially a different form of glucose.
And glucose is the pure form of sugar and is what our body uses for immediate energy. In fact, this is why it’s used in total parenteral tube feeds in hospitals.
So dextrose is essentially glucose, or sugar, and can be derived from corn or wheat…
As we look into the gluten-free status of dextrose, you might be freaking out because I just said it can be derived from wheat. And that’s true, a lot of dextroses can come from wheat. However, remember that something can be gluten-free but not wheat-free… more on that in the next section.
So is dextrose gluten-free if it can be derived from wheat? The short answer: yes, Dextrose is gluten-free in the USA! But let me explain!
Dextrose is made by refining sugars out of starches. So if we are starting with wheat starch, we are refining the wheat starch into pure sugar, dextrose/glucose.
If we take a look at this, wheat starch is the carb portion of the wheat plant. When you live gluten-free, you need to avoid gluten, a protein found in wheat.
So wheat starch technically should not contain any gluten, though often it can have contamination of gluten at unsafe levels due to cross-contact. This is why wheat starch is only considered gluten-free when in gluten-free marked products like gluten-free Digiorno pizza.
However, to make dextrose we are taking that already mostly gluten-free wheat starch and refining it into pure sugar. Due to the heavy processing required to separate out dextrose from wheat starch, the dextrose will be gluten-free regardless of its starting material because it’s essentially just pure sugar (KIND of like distilled alcohols).
So I know it sounds scary that dextrose derived from wheat can be safe on a gluten-free diet, but it totally is. And there’s a lot to worry about on food labels in the USA, so take the win and check dextrose off that list.
So dextrose is gluten-free, but what is its purpose in food products? Well, dextrose is essentially glucose or sugar. So you’ll usually see dextrose added to products to help sweeten them. This can be in things like candy or even over-the-counter medications like cough syrup.
I find that when educating people on when things are gluten-free, it helps to give examples. So an example of a gluten-free food that has dextrose in the USA is Gatorade.
Gatorade has dextrose in it and regardless of if the dextrose was derived from wheat or not, it’s considered a gluten-free sports drink.
A lot of people are confused about the gluten-free status of dextrose and other gluten-free but wheat-derived ingredients.
This is where it’s important to understand that wheat-free and gluten-free are two separate diets used to medically treat two different conditions. A wheat-free diet is generally for a wheat allergy and a gluten-free diet is for gluten-related disorders, most commonly celiac disease.
For celiac disease, it’s usually an IgA-mediated reaction to gluten and we have generally safe thresholds we can consume without harm (I.E. the <20ppm FDA gluten-free ruling in the USA). In this case, gluten-free means <20ppm of the gluten protein here in the United States of America.
But another key difference between a gluten-free diet and a wheat-free diet is that a gluten-free diet is a diet free from gluten. Proteins found not just in wheat, but also barley and rye.
For a wheat allergy, it’s a diet free from wheat. It does not include barley and rye. And it’s IgE mediated, with no generally safe thresholds of exposure. Meaning that something can be considered gluten-free and safe, but if it was derived from wheat, it’s not considered wheat-free for those with a wheat allergy.
That’s a long-winded way of saying: wheat-free is for wheat allergies, and gluten-free is for gluten-related disorders like celiac. And they are not the same.
Now the science behind why dextrose is gluten-free is great, but what if you’re still reacting to it? We know that dextrose is gluten-free regardless of starting material due to the high level of refinement. So, if you’re still reacting, It’s important to look at other things that may be causing the reaction.
Often when people are gluten-free, they think the only thing that can trigger them is gluten. But often, there are other food triggers present as well. For celiac disease specifically, this can be due to intestinal damage impairing digestion of specific sugars, impacting the speed of your digestive tract, or disrupting the microbiome.
If you find yourself still reacting to foods with dextrose, even though dextrose is gluten-free, it’s important to work with a celiac dietitian to get to the bottom of what is triggering you. Otherwise, you’re likely going to feel stuck thinking everything (even gluten-free food) is making you sick, and that’s not what I want for anyone.
Now that we know dextrose is gluten-free, I want to also acknowledge that your comfort-level matters with this. I realize that there are many people who feel uncomfortable eating wheat-derived ingredients, even if some are considered gluten-free.
I used to feel this way too many years ago, and it’s taken a while but I’ve been able to slowly expand my comfort zone to include these foods as I’ve learned more about the safety of them.
So know that I share this information not to tell you that you are wrong, but to provide knowledge to help you understand why these ingredients are allowed in our foods.
And as your comfort level expands, to hopefully encourage you to expand your diet with that as well. Learn more about balancing carefulness with quality of life here.
Dextrose is gluten-free even when it’s derived from wheat. This is due to the high level of refinement required to get dextrose, a form of glucose.
However, just because it’s gluten-free does not mean it’s wheat-free. Take this into consideration if you need to be wheat-free.
Want more help with label-reading? Don’t forget to sign up for my FREE USA Label-Reading Class where I show you EXACTLY what you need to look for on a food label to stay celiac-safe in the USA. Stop stressing about grocery shopping in just 4-simple steps with this FREE training!