Are Light Beers Really Gluten-Free?

These light beers are said to be safe on the gluten-free diet, but they're not.

light beer on bar at restaurant

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In This Article

Despite what some may believe, mainstream light beers—including Corona, Bud Light, Coors Light, and Michelob Ultra—are not gluten-free. These beers are made with barley (a gluten grain) and are not considered to be safe for people who need to follow the gluten-free diet. Therefore, if you're gluten-free, you should avoid mainstream light beers and instead drink only beers that are specifically labeled "gluten-free."

So why have some light beers gained a reputation of being OK to drink for people who have celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity? The answer to that question lies in how the beers are made—and maybe some wishful thinking.

Why Light Beer Is Not Gluten-Free

Beer is made by malting (i.e., sprouting) grain. Brewers halt the germination process—otherwise a barley plant would grow—and then crush the grain to release the sugar it contains. These sugars are the actual malt, which are then fermented in a mixture of water, yeast, and more grain to make beer. During the fermentation process, the malted sugar feeds the yeast to produce alcohol.

Barley has been the preferred grain for beer-makers for millennia. Regular beer—the type on tap at your favorite restaurant or bar and sold in six-packs at the store—generally is made with malted barley, or sometimes with a combination of malted barley and malted wheat plus other grains. Since both barley and wheat are gluten grains, regular beer is off-limits for those following the gluten-free diet.

Light (or lite) beer is made with many of the same ingredients as regular beer—including barley. Barley is a gluten grain.

To turn regular beer into light beer, brewers add an enzyme designed to break down more of the carbohydrates in the brew. This process increases the alcoholic content in the mixture, so the final step involves diluting the beer, or watering it down until it's around 4 or 5% alcohol by volume (ABV).

Light beers generally have fewer calories and may contain less gluten, simply because they have been watered down. In fact, it's possible that some varieties may contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. However, these beers don't qualify for gluten-free labeling because they're made with the gluten grain barley. They may make you sick if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Gluten-Free Beer Brands

Some beer manufacturers (including Anheuser-Busch and many specialty brewers) make gluten-free beer out of gluten-free grains, such as malted sorghum, millet, rice, and buckwheat. Anheuser-Busch's Redbridge (made from sorghum) is one the best-known gluten-free beers, but you often can find a selection of other gluten-free beers in well-stocked stores and even on tap in gluten-free-friendly restaurants

If you like light beer, you could consider trying Coors Peak, which is similar to Coors Light but made with brown rice instead of barley. Coors Peak is available at select stores around the United States and also online. Bard's Original (made with sorghum) also is considered by some beer connoisseurs to be on the lighter side. 

A few manufacturers make what's called "gluten-removed" beer. This beer is made with barley, but the final product is treated with an enzyme that breaks down the gluten protein. However, a study conducted by the Gluten Intolerance Group and the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center found evidence of an immune system reaction from gluten-removed beer in people with celiac disease.

Experts do not recommend gluten-removed beer for people with celiac disease as studies have shown that it may cause an immune system reaction.

Light Beers That Are Not Gluten-Free

Many light and ultra-light beers have been misunderstood as being safe for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, but are not actually safe since they're all made with barley. Gluten-containing light beers to avoid include:

  • Bud Light
  • Coors Light
  • Corona Extra
  • Corona Light
  • Dos Equis
  • Heineken Premium Light
  • Keystone Light
  • Michelob Ultra
  • Miller Lite
  • Milwaukee's Best Light
  • Natural Light
  • Stella Artois Light
  • Yuengling Light

Note that there are reports online indicating that some of these light beers have tested below 20 parts per million (PPM) of gluten. Unfortunately, since these beers are still made with barley, you shouldn't rely on those results—particularly if you are sensitive to cross contamination or trace amounts of gluten. Corona's website, for instance, states: "There are traces of gluten in all our beers. We recommend that you consult your physician regarding consumption."

There also are reports online of people with celiac disease who consumed regular light beers and didn't react. However, you shouldn't take these anecdotes as a reason to try light beer yourself. Everyone's level of sensitivity to gluten is different, and consuming gluten may still damage your small intestine even if you don't notice a reaction (that's why you shouldn't cheat on the gluten-free diet).

A Word From Verywell

Giving up "real" beer can be difficult for people who are diagnosed with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but regular light beer made from barley just isn't a safe alternative. Fortunately, there are better options.

Try a gluten-free light beer, and if you don't like the taste, consider a different type of beverage. You can try gluten-free hard cider—many people like cider for its crisp, light taste, and lots of brands are naturally gluten-free. Plus, there's good news if you're a wine drinker, as almost all wine is gluten-free.

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Article Sources
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