Gluten refers to a class of proteins in grain foods. These include the proteins in wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, rye and triticale, which is a combination of rye and wheat. Oats and other grains may also cause problems for some people with gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivities. However, these issues arise primarily from cross-contamination with gluten-containing grains. Although this may also be an issue for some tofu manufacturers, plain tofu typically does not contain gluten.
Gluten and Tofu
Plain tofu contains three ingredients: soybeans, water and a curdling agent. As all of these ingredients are gluten-free, plain, unprepared tofu typically does not contain gluten. However, some varieties of flavored tofu are not gluten-free. This is because gluten may be present in the compounds that help to add flavor to the plain tofu. Prepared dishes containing tofu are often also off-limits for people with gluten intolerance, as wheat-containing soy sauce is a common tofu-flavoring agent. As the Food and Drug Administration requires that food labels indicate the presence or possible presence of wheat, careful attention to flavored tofu and soy sauce labels can help you to avoid gluten-containing products.
Also known as "mock meats," meat analogs are vegetarian products that taste, smell and often feel similar to meat products. Common examples include veggie dogs, soy burgers and vegetarian deli slices. Although the main ingredient is typically a soy product called "textured vegetable protein," some of these meat analogs primarily consist of tofu. However, to improve the texture and increase the protein content of mock meats, many manufacturers add gluten -- in the form of "vital wheat gluten" -- to their products. As such, most tofu- and soy-containing meat analogs differ from plain tofu in that they are not gluten-free.
For people with celiac disease, consuming gluten causes an abnormal immune system response. This results in a variety of possible symptoms, including anemia, vitamin deficiencies, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, weight loss, joint pain, depression and extreme weakness or fatigue. If you have a gluten sensitivity, you may test negative for celiac disease but suffer some similar digestive issues. Despite the potential problems arising from these issues, you should only remove gluten from your diet on the advice of a dietitian or other medical professional. This is because unnecessarily and improperly removing gluten from your diet can lead to an inadequate fiber intake, vitamin deficiencies and overconsumption of sodium and carbohydrates.
According to MayoClinic.com, wheat and soy are two of the most common food allergens. Similar to gluten intolerance or sensitivity, soy allergies have a variety of possible symptoms. These include itching, tingling in and around the mouth, hives, eczema, breathing difficulties, dizziness, fainting and anaphylaxis, a severe, widespread and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. In addition, soy allergies may cause digestive issues similar to gluten sensitivity, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. As such, if you have allergic reactions even to plain, unprepared tofu, a mild soy allergy may be the cause.
- Gluten Free Living: Ingredients
- MayoClinic.com: Food Allergies: Understanding Food Labels
- Soy Protein and Formulated Meat Products; Henk W. Hoogenkamp
- Soyfoods Association of North America: Soy Meat Alternative
- The Globe and Mail: Is a Gluten-Free Diet a Good Idea?
- Cleveland Clinic: Soy Allergy
Matthew Lee has been writing professionally since 2007. Past and current research projects have explored the effect of a diagnosis of breast cancer on lifestyle and mental health and adherence to lifestyle-based (i.e. nutrition and exercise) and drug therapy treatment programs. He holds a Master of Arts in psychology from Carleton University and is working toward his doctorate in health psychology.