Can You Get #Gluten Free Eggs?

Sadly, my view is probably not totally gluten free, no. Ooh controversial.

C sent in a question recently asking about this and included a link she found to an article discussing this very subject: Are Eggs Gluten Free?

If you think of the traditional gliadin free diet rules, eggs are said to be gluten free. But, for those people who are hyper-sensitive, much like grain-fed meat, they can react to eggs from grain-fed chickens. I usually eat and recommend the Woodland ones (from supermarkets) which will of course have come from chickens who have had some supplemental grain feed but probably not as much as other types of chicken. Anyway, I have found I react to other eggs but not the woodland ones.

It sounds daft, doesn’t it? But then so does reacting to grain fed meat and we know many of us do that. It could be a problem more of cross-contamination, of course, or a problem with a reaction to the egg itself, but some people could indeed be hyper-sensitive to the grain proteins in eggs.

As the article says:

Can Gluten-Eating Chickens Produce Gluten-Containing Eggs?

Now, this may seem pretty far-fetched, but there’s actually a bit of scientific evidence that indicates it may be possible for proteins or protein fragments to pass from chicken feed into the eggs themselves (gluten is a protein).

An Ohio State University graduate student experimented with feeding chickens a diet high in soy protein to see if he could influence the amount of soy isoflavones (a component of soy protein) in those chickens’ eggs. He found that he could: chickens fed the high-soy diet routinely produced eggs higher in isoflavones.  (You can read the thesis here)

Now, obviously this experiment did not involve gluten grains. However, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that it’s possible for gluten-eating chickens to produce eggs that contain a tiny bit of gluten protein (or, more likely, gluten protein fragments).

If these eggs did have gluten in them, it would be a very small amount — likely far below even 1 part per million (for comparison, foods are generally considered “gluten-free” if they contain fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten, or are less than 0.0001% gluten). Commercially available tests for gluten in foods can’t reliably detect gluten below around 3 parts per million, so it’s impossible to say how much gluten, if any, actually is in these eggs.

But yes, some people are sensitive to gluten at those levels, and they’ve reported seeing their symptoms resolve when they drop eggs from gluten-fed chickens. They’ve been able to eat eggs again by sourcing them directly from farmers who don’t feed their chickens gluten grains.

Personally, I would love to find a farmer who doesn’t feed their chickens grains but have failed to do so. As far as my information goes, when I asked the chicken powers that be (some association of chicken farming, I forget now), chickens have to be fed with grain or they cannot survive. Is this true, does anyone know?

Some comments on chickens generally on the TGF Food page seem to suggest it is indeed do-able so perhaps it is the UK guidance that is saying so (or the grain food manufacturers, she says cynically…). A conundrum.

Another case of something supposed to be naturally gluten free, but is altered by production processes and is tested gluten free (for gliadin again though note, not actual gluten) but that some react to. Is it the grains? I assume so, yes. Luckily, most people seem OK with the less grain-fed chicken eggs, though.


15 thoughts on “Can You Get #Gluten Free Eggs?

  1. Celiac and Allergy Adventures

    Hmm…. very interesting

  2. We had an issue a couple of years ago with soya in chickens (and turkeys) and their eggs – we had a couple of ultra soya sensitive readers. Since even free range etc get booster feeds with soya finding totally soya-free birds or eggs proved impossible! Sadly….

  3. Howdy Glutenaughts,

    The poultry industry quote is so amusing I will probably be smiling over it for the next few years. There is a breed of chickens used for breast meat that have frontends the size of turkeys. They can rise up, walk a few steps and then fall over. This is not natural, but then industrial farming isn’t either. Given the extent of genetic modification of animals when an ‘expert’ says that they can’t live without grain they are probably right. The modified animals wouldn’t survive a day in the wild. I can say that during all of my time on the farm I have never seen a chicken hunt the wild corn plant and devour the seeds off the cob in a rotary or typewriter fashion or sneak up on a soya bean and empty the seed pod like a gumball dispenser. One of the reasons these grains are cracked for the birds is because they are too big. That and the grain mill needs to make money on the backend for products under government subsidy by cross marketing stuff that isn’t food for humans let alone animals. So you drizzle on some molasses, sprinkle in some industrial vitamins and minerals and grind up any number of animal parts (chickens are omnivores) to the tune of even sheep’s brains (Scrapie is the equivalent of Mad Cow and the use of the nervous system tissue from cows and sheep in feed for grass-grazing animals is said to have caused the whole spongioform encephalopathy) and you got yourself a bag ‘o’ chicken chow.

    You can play Where’s Waldo with the possible source of the Gliadin in that lineup.

    Sorry to be so gross, but the industry is that gross.

    There are organic farmers out here in the Colonies that use integrated farming and animal-rearing methods where the cows, sheep, fowl, and pigs rotate across the fields so that even the parasites have no ability to finish their lifecycle in any one animal. One thing that you will see in a free-range fowl is that they will chase down insects like brides rushing a department store during a gown sale. They subsist on bugs and small plant seeds. (The chickens — not the brides). You probably have a one in a thousand chance of finding a producer of truly free-range animals but they are out there.

    Another thing to consider in the food reaction topic is that from the 1950s forward vaccines were made in chicken eggs. That alone would sensitize us to be ‘allergic’ to chicken eggs. Since chicken eggs made me unwell, I found that switching to duck eggs (I’ve never had a Rabies vaccine) from the organic producer made all the difference in the world and I can eat 3 at a time without the slightest discomfort. Best to go to the store with a friend to lean on when you check the price.

  4. Micki—
    You have presented no reasonable hypothesis for how gluten could get from a chicken’s diet into an egg, and you have not shown any evidence that it does. Why are you pursuing these wild speculations? There are a million things that one could speculate about.

    Regarding isoflavones, I would expect them to pass through into eggs. Isoflavones are small, fat-soluble molecules that are absorbed intact in the gut. Proteins like gluten are digested in the gut, and I’m not aware of gluten ever being detected in blood. As regards small peptide fragments (even if they existed), these are rapidly cleared from the blood in the kidney.

    • I didn’t present it as fact, Peter, but as opinion (mine and others’) and am reflecting personal and clinical experience here. I said it could indeed not be the gluten but it could be and that is worth mentioning. The only fact available is that we don’t actually know.
      But since me and some others have a problem, we speculate it could be the gluten or grain elements (not just proteins/peptides) and choose foods as free from those as we can find, which seems to help. Don’t forget, when you say gluten free, you are coming at it from a traditional viewpoint. I am concentrating on hyper-sensitivity to gluten and the need to be grain free. Not everyone will have a problem with the level of gluten/grains, if there is any, in an egg, but for some it might be a lightbulb idea for them and suddenly make sense of a reaction they are having, and that’s why I say it.

  5. Micki—
    My main concern with people on the internet who raise hypothetical concerns is that ti can raise unnecessary anxiety among celiacs, who already have major challenges in avoiding gluten contamination. In this case, the risk is fear-mongering itself, more than the topic.

    Probably the greatest problem for celiacs is complying with a GF diet, while still achieving balanced nutrition. I would discourage people from shying away from such a cheap, wholesome, nutritious and versatile food as eggs. (And, no, I don’t work for an egg producer!).

    As far as the diet of chickens is concerned, this will obviously be very varied. My hunch is that most growers will rely on the cheapest available feed, including soy and maize, while gluten-containing grains would be more expensive.

    Of course, as Patrick points out, many people develop allergies to foods like eggs, but that’s a different matter altogether.

  6. I don’t discourage people from eating eggs, Peter, I think they are an excellent food and very useful on any restricted diet. I eat loads myself. BUT, I am not going to shy away from saying unpopular things that have raised themselves in clinical practice just because they don’t fit with the current GF diet thinking. If saying it helps one person then I am happy. I make it very clear on this blog, hopefully, that we are dealing with a non-traditional GF diet here and most people do seem to get that. Our anxiety as non-coeliac gluten sensitives is just as valid as that of coeliacs, even if it is not widely acknowledged yet as a serious condition like coeliac is.

    I agree with your hunch re chicken feed. The difference in our approach is there to see though since corn/maize is one of the main non-gliadin grains that cause the most reactions in people who are sensitive to all glutens and not just the accepted gliadin ones.

    I did also point out that it may not be gluten or grain in the egg that causes the problem and raised cross-contamination and egg allergy in the post as possibilities. I say again: we simply don’t have a clue, any of us, yet but I would certainly like to see more research on it, as I’m sure you would!

    Thanks for commenting. I do hope I am not fear-mongering as that is certainly not the intention but I hope I am raising awareness of some of the issues surrounding gluten diagnosis and treatment for those coeliacs and gluten sensitives who are not getting well – and that is mostly NOT because they are not following the GF diet properly, an excuse I always find rather insulting on their behalf. Anyway, am waffling on now (as per) and am off to have my tea – a wild smoked salmon omelette as it happens 😉

  7. I have dealing with celiac and DH for 5 years now. I can tell you that I can not eat any grain fed/farm raised chicken,eggs, beef, fish. I do fine on grass fed beef and wild caught fish. Hard
    to find eggs that are not from grain fed chickens though. There is for sure something to this!

  8. Christine Harrison

    I am hyper-sensitive to gluten and cannot eat eggs due to the grains the chickens are fed. I’ve tried every brand of organic eggs that I can find and cannot tolerate any of them. I KNOW that you are right, Micki.

    • Thanks for that vote of confidence, Christine :). Have you tried the Woodland ones? Most of us seem to be able to do those as I presume they have at least less grain feed.

      • Christine Harrison

        Thanks, Micki. Are they only sold in the uk? Where can it buy them in Georgia near the 30040 website.

  9. Christine Harrison

    Micki, sorry about the error in the last post. That is area code 30040 (not website) Georgia USA.
    I’m still in a little brain fog due to a cross-contamination gluten reaction to probiotics that were supposed to be gluten free. However, I read the small print, and they were processed in the same plant as wheat products were. Seems that I’m always getting poisoned somehow. Desperate.

    • No worries, we all recognise that feeling! Sorry, didn’t realise you were in the US; I don’t know about equivalents there. The woodland eggs here are simply from hens grazing in woodland and only given supplemental feed as I understand it. Still some grain feed, but not as much. There are available in supermarkets here, you will have to do some sleuthing in yours and with local producers maybe. Good luck and hope you feel less foggy soon.

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