Gluten can be found in certain types of grains, including rye and wheatgrass. Most people wouldn’t be surprised to know that barley is also on the list.
But many people would be taken aback to see a “gluten-free” label on a product that contains barley. How is that even possible?
Let us clear your doubts and suspicions.
How is Barley Grass Gluten-Free?
Let’s start off by defining gluten. Gluten is a protein that provides shape, strength, and texture to grain products. This protein is found in almost every type of grain, which are actually the seeds of the plants, to support and enable their growth. Corn gluten and even glutinous rice do not elicit a negative reaction from the gluten-intolerant.
However, for a very specific category of grains, gluten is a serious problem.
The gluten in the Poaceae family of grasses causes reactions and is dangerous for people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Hence, a gluten-free diet doesn’t necessarily equate to zero gluten. Most of the time, people are just trying to avoid that specific gluten.
Let’s make it very clear. Because gluten is only found in the seeds, pure barley grass technically does not contain any gluten and can be considered “gluten-free”. Avoid the seeds and you’ll be fairly safe.
Barley Grass in Health Supplements
Barley grass has been a hot favorite to be included in green supplements due to its various health benefits. We use barley grass in our super greens supplement too!
However, most manufacturers have been proclaiming their products to be gluten-free in order to be more marketable to the health junkies.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a product must contain no more than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten to be labeled as “gluten-free”. Any trace amount lower than 20ppm is currently undetectable due to the standard of technology. It is not required for manufacturers to label their products. However, if they choose to do so, they have to undergo testing to ensure that gluten levels are undetectable.
It is absolutely essential to ascertain the purity of the barley grass used in the manufacturing of the product. Make sure to check out the website to see if they are reliable and read a couple of reviews. Always do your research before purchasing a health supplement because such products are not regulated by the FDA.
If you’re uncertain, it is recommended to completely avoid all products that contain gluten due to the risk of gluten cross-contamination.
The Production Process
As mentioned earlier, it is imperative that barley grass is pure. Only then can it be gluten-free. Hence, there must not be any seeds produced when the plant is being harvested. Farmers need to harvest at the right time to collect pure barley grass. If some of the barley grasses had started producing seeds prior to harvest season, the collected barley grass would contain gluten.
Another thing to take note of is the location in which your supplements are being manufactured. If your “gluten-free” supplement is being produced alongside gluten-containing products in the same factory, there is a high possibility of contamination. If the manufacturer uses the exact same equipment, without any form of cleansing or precautions in place, there could be cross-contamination between products.
Each step of the production process plays a huge role in ensuring a certifiable gluten-free product. From harvesting to manufacturing, each person must take extra steps to maintain the purity of barley grass, to deliver a gluten-free product. This step makes or breaks a gluten-free supplement.
We explore in more detail how greens powders are made in our article.
Recommendations from Dieticians
Barley grass can be used as an ingredient in health supplements and still be considered gluten-free as long as the final product contains less than 20 ppm of gluten, according to the FDA. It might be doable, but it would take a lot of effort and honestly, from the perspective of a cynical consumer, it is highly unlikely that no grains contaminated the barley grass.
Some dieticians have recommended people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity to completely avoid all products that have not been attained the gluten-free label.
Besides the basic gluten-level testing, manufacturers should go a step further and test their products for gluten cross-contamination with the R5 ELISA test. This test will deliver the most accurate results and will inspire more confidence in your product. If the product passes all the tests, dieticians might give a stamp of approval. That product is gluten-free and safe to purchase!
Consider other Greens
Marketers of health supplements have at times, grossly exaggerated the health benefits of barley grass. Barley grass certain contains a multitude of minerals and vitamins, but there is another vegetable, with no gluten, that can bring you the exact same benefits. Or maybe even more.
Barley grass contains iron, copper, folic acid, Vitamin C, B6, and B12. But spinach is well-known as a superfood a wide array of minerals and vitamins. Manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, calcium, potassium, Vitamin B2, B6, E, C. It’s a very long list. Although barley grass contains five times more iron than spinach, the array of nutrients that spinach brings is undeniable.
Should Barley Grass be considered Gluten-Free?
Strictly speaking, barley grass is gluten-free, because gluten can only be found in the grains. If all the right precautions are taken, a gluten-free barley grass supplement is possible. However, we should be realistic about this.
The likelihood of contamination during the harvesting and manufacturing process is quite high. Furthermore, gluten levels less than 20ppm cannot be detected, which means that the product might not be completely gluten-free. This could be dangerous for people with high gluten-sensitivity.
There is a diverse range of vegetables that can easily replace barley grass in your diet. The health benefits of barley grass can be obtained from the consumption of other superfoods, such as kale, spinach or broccoli. It might be better to avoid green supplements that do not contain any barley grass or wheatgrass if you are highly sensitive to gluten.
Supplements that use whole food ingredients are great alternatives. Look out for nutritional ingredients such as spirulina and chlorella. These ingredients will be able to boost your nutritional intake and help you hit your daily nutrient needs.