Textured Vegetable Protein and Gluten

If you are following a gluten-free diet, then you know you need to avoid gluten-containing foods that could make you very ill. Correctly choosing packaged foods are sometimes challenging, because gluten derivatives may be used to thicken or provide structure for some foods. Textured vegetable protein comes from a variety of sources, and some versions are gluten-free, but carefully read labels to be sure.

Gluten-Free Diet

For individuals with celiac disease, the immune system reacts to gluten in food and can cause damage to the small intestinal tract. Other reactions to gluten include:

  • skin problems
  • muscle aches
  • stomach upset
  • diarrhea
  • constipation,
  • possible weight loss
  • according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

To prevent exposure to gluten, individuals must avoid all foods that contain it, including foods related to the wheat family, such as kamut, triticale, spelt, emmer. You should also carefully avoid foods made from wheat, such as modified food starch and hydrolyzed wheat protein.

Textured Vegetable Protein

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According to the USA Emergency Supply website, textured vegetable protein, also known as TVP, is derived from soybean flour, from which the soybean oil has been removed 2. The resulting product is pressure-cooked, extruded, shaped, and dehydrated. After it is dried, textured vegetable protein is shelf-stable, not requiring refrigeration, and it is lightweight and easy to transport.

TVP and Gluten

The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America cautions against using textured vegetable protein because:

  • some varieties
  • flavors could be derived from corn
  • wheat
  • barley
  • soy
  • oats
  • or even milk

In addition, the flavored versions may contain modified food starch, soy sauce, or other flavors and seasonings that may contain gluten. For this reason, you should carefully read the product label for the ingredients and any allergen information provided. If you are unsure about the product, the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America shows, you should not eat it.

Gluten-free Alternatives

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If textured vegetable protein is something you cannot use due to the presence of gluten, you can still create similar dishes with alternative ingredients. Whole grains like quinoa and brown rice may not provide as much protein, but they are filling and can bulk up a stew or casserole.

TVP in Foods

Many vegetarian pre-packaged foods -- including frozen entrees and veggie burgers -- use TVP as a source of protein, and fast-food vegetarian burgers often feature TVP as well. Check the nutrition label thoroughly to determine whether a food contains TVP -- it might be labelled as "plant protein" or "textured protein" instead of "textured vegetable protein." Keep in mind that, even if a product does not contain TVP, it might still contain gluten, so look for foods labelled "gluten-free" to avoid harmful side effects.