Eliminating wheat from our diets is part of the gluten-free lifestyle. Wheat, barley, rye, and contaminated oats are off limits. But what about the food powerhouse wheat germ? Despite its health benefits to many, wheat germ can and will make those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance ill by damaging the intestinal villi.

What is wheat germ?

Wheat germ is basically the seed from which wheat germinates. It is the embryonic stage of the wheat kernel and is popular because it is considered to be high in vitamins, proteins, and minerals. However, while wheat germ has many positive attributes, it does contain gluten and is not an appropriate dietary choice for people with celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities. Products that derive from wheat germ, such as wheat germ oil, are also not gluten-free and should not be a part of a gluten-free diet.

Wheat germ can be a particularly tricky product for people trying to avoid gluten. Not only is it a common ingredient in food, it is also a common ingredient in personal care products. Shampoos, conditioners, and soaps often contain wheat germ oil. For gluten-free people who have contact reactions to gluten or who avoid personal care products with gluten because of potential cross-contamination from the residue, wheat germ and wheat germ oil are important ingredients to avoid. Always check the label to make sure you aren’t coming into accidental contact with gluten through non-food means.

No part of the wheat plant is appropriate for a gluten-free diet. In fact, the word “wheat” is a good giveaway that a product or ingredient will not be gluten-free. However, this method is not 100% foolproof. Despite the name, buckwheat, for example, is completely unrelated to wheat and contains no gluten whatsoever. It’s completely safe for people with celiac disease and others living a gluten-free lifestyle and an excellent substitution!

It is also important to remember that food products made with sprouted grains that contain gluten are also not safe for a gluten-free diet. While sprouted grain breads are framed as more nutritious and easier to digest, this does not apply to the specific needs of people with celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities.

Wheat, in all its forms, contains gluten. This is as true of wheat germ as it is of sprouted wheat.

If you’re faced with a recipe that calls for wheat germ, a number of gluten-free substitutions are available. Ground flaxseed or buckwheat groats are both gluten-free alternatives that have a similar texture and flavor. For those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance who can tolerate certified gluten-free oats, gluten-free oat bran is another option. Certified gluten-free oat bran is essential as oats can be contaminated by wheat, rye or barley during farming, processing, and storage. Learn more about Purity Protocol Oats here.

Tasty Gluten-Free Alternatives to Wheat Germ:

  • Ground Flax Seed
  • Buckwheat Groats
  • Gluten-Free Oat Bran

Off-Limits Grains with Gluten:

Remember that the following grains contain gluten and are NEVER safe for those with celiac disease or other dietary needs that involve excluding gluten:

  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Durum
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • Farina
  • Farro
  • Graham
  • Freekeh
  • Kamut
  • Orzo
  • Rye
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
  • Triticale
  • Wheat
  • Wheat Berries

Living gluten-free takes practice. With time and patience, not only will you know what gluten-containing foods and products to avoid, you’ll discover safe and delicious tasting substitutes. It may seem like gluten is everywhere, but it doesn’t have to be!

Feeling confused and overwhelmed on ‘what is gluten’?

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