Do Any Meats Have Gluten?

Elise Deming, RDN
Couple buying fresh meat in supermarket

Meat is a critical component to most people's diets. Meat provides nourishing protein, iron, and a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Fortunately, meat can fit into a gluten-free diet.

Is Meat Gluten-Free?

Meat can include numerous animal products such as poultry, beef, pork, fish, lamb, venison, and game meat, all of which are naturally gluten-free. However, not all are gluten-free as some meats have gluten added for flavor or binding. Additionally, meats may experience cross-contamination which could expose the protein to gluten.

Fresh Meat

When meat is fresh and only contains the animal meat, it is safe to consume on a gluten-free diet. This applies to all meats. However, when purchasing fresh meat some important things to consider include:

  • Added ingredients - Gluten may be found as a filler or breading in items such as crab or salmon cakes, stuffed chicken breast, and breaded meat.
  • Cross-contamination - This can easily occur at the deli or butcher if they have breaded and stuffed meats or sell other food items. The easiest way to prevent cross-contamination is to speak with your butcher and ask them to prepare your meat separately, with clean utensils and surfaces.

Deli Meat

Deli meat is typically gluten-free. What may cause trouble is cross-contamination with gluten-containing foods in the manufacturing facility or at the deli. When ordering at the deli ask the workers to use clean slicers and new gloves to prepare your meat. Additionally, a few gluten-free deli meat brands exist including:

  • Boar's Head - This brand offers a full range of standard and flavored deli meats, including chipotle-flavored chicken, blackened turkey, and garlic ham. They also offer frankfurters, knockwurst, and sausage.
  • Applegate Naturals Deli Meats - This company offers a variety of turkey, chicken, ham, and beef deli meats, including herb, honey, and barbeque flavors.
  • Most of Dietz & Watson deli products, including beef, chicken, turkey, and ham are gluten-free. (The only deli meats from this brand that do contain gluten are Scrapple and Bockwurst.)

Frozen Meat

Similar to fresh meats, if the meat is the sole ingredient, it should be free of gluten when it comes to frozen varieties. However, caution should be used in mixed meat meals and breaded items, such as:

  • Meatballs
  • Frozen Dinners
  • Fish Sticks
  • Chicken Patties
  • Crab Cakes
  • Salmon Cakes
  • Chicken Fingers
  • Breaded Chicken Wings
  • Breakfast Sandwiches

Although traditional versions of the above frozen foods may contain gluten, some great gluten-free alternative are available such as:

  • Dr. Praeger's - Their frozen food products include over a dozen gluten-free seafood products along with meat alternatives like veggie burgers and bowls.
  • Udi's - This brand has a great selection of frozen meals, including Ziti & Meatballs, Chicken Parm Penne, and Lasagana With Italian Sausage.
  • Rosina - This brand sells gluten-free meatballs.
  • Ian's Natural Foods - Find gluten-free fish sticks from this brand.
  • Applegate Naturals - Get chicken patties made without gluten from this company.

Packaged Meats

The Celiac Disease Foundation lists processed meats as foods that may contain gluten. These meat products contain a large amount of added ingredients and a great risk of cross contamination. Packaged meats can include hot dogs, sausages, pork roll, packaged deli meats, spam, and canned chicken and fish. The best way to ensure you are buying gluten-free meats is to purchase from a certified gluten-free company such as Applegate Naturals and Jones Dairy Farm.

If buying meat from non-certified brands, be sure to read the ingredient list for wheat, barley, and rye. Additionally, other ingredients to avoid include: modified food starch, maltodextrin, and malt.

Hidden Ingredients

Although most meats are naturally gluten-free, some products contain hidden ingredients that could be harmful to those following a gluten-free diet. These include:

  • Glazed ham - Glazes used on ham contain ingredients such as modified food starch and natural flavorings, both of which may come from wheat. When buying ham, it is best to purchase from certified gluten-free companies such as Jones Dairy Farm or Boar's Head.
  • Meat prepared with spices or marinades - These may contain gluten and therefore should be avoided if possible.
  • Meats cooked or marinated in soy sauce - Wheat is used to make soy sauce and therefore soy sauce is not gluten-free.

Meat & Gluten

Most meats are naturally gluten-free and can easily be incorporated into a gluten-free diet. However some precautions should be taken when purchasing deli, frozen, or packaged meats. The safest option is to purchase from a certified gluten-free company. When in doubt, speak with a registered dietitian for assistance.

Do Any Meats Have Gluten?