Textured Vegetable Protein and Gluten

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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

A gluten-free diet is designed to restrict exposure to gluten, a protein that naturally occurs in wheat, rye, and barley to which some individuals have an allergic reaction, according to the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America. 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, and 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

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. 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. You can use textured vegetable protein as a meat substitute, and the USA Emergency Supply website shows that it serves as a good source of protein, fiber, and some vitamins, like vitamin B-12.

TVP and Gluten

The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America cautions against using textured vegetable protein because some varieties and 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

If textured vegetable protein is something you cannot use due to the presence of gluten, you can still create similar dishes with alternative ingredients. You can incorporate dehydrated legumes into soups, stews, and sauces to provide volume, flavor, protein, and fiber to dishes. In addition, dried meat, ground meat or poultry, tofu, and soybean-based tempeh may substitute for textured vegetable protein, if refrigeration is not a concern. Some diced ham, bacon pieces, and prepared meats may also provide flavor, but be careful, because those ingredients may contain gluten, the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America shows. 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.