Although I am not personally gluten sensitive beyond the normal sensitivity of all humans to gluten, a storage protein in the Triticeae grasses family, to which wheat and rye cereal grains belong, I do my best to avoid foods, containing these proteins.

I’ve operated a dedicated gluten-free bakery for 3 years. During that time, of course, I met and conversed with a lot of people, who suffered from gluten sensitivity. What is interesting, and what I wanted to discuss in this installment, is what some of them told me back then that they were fine, or at least they had milder reactions when consuming rye foods and breads. And, that’s despite the fact that most of them were highly sensitive to gluten.

As I said in the beginning both wheat and rye belong to the same botanical family and they both have the type of storage proteins that elicit allergic or auto-immune reactions in roughly 8 percent of the population.

So, let’s see what it is with rye foods and breads and whether they are safe for those, who should avoid gluten.

Does Rye Bread Have Gluten?

The storage proteins in the cereals from the triticeae family are called prolamins (there are other proteins in these grains, called “functional proteins”, but they don’t cause problems in gluten-sensitive people).

In wheat the problem-causing protein is known as gluten*and in rye – secalin (hordein in barley). Both of them contain a protein fraction, called gliadin, and precisely this is the fraction that’s the trouble maker in gluten-sensitive individuals.

There are several types of gliadins – α-, β-, γ-, ω-gliadins. The type of gliadin, affecting gluten-sensitive (and celiac) individuals to the greatest degree is a form of α-gliadin – a 33 amino acids-long fraction (33-mer gliadin). This fraction is not completely digested neither by stomach and pancreatic proteases nor by the enzymes in the upper small intestine (brush-border membrane enzymes).

It looks like from what we’ve found so far we can confidently conclude that rye foods, and of course rye breads, are not safe for people with gluten sensitivities. So, how come some of them still report better tolerance of these foods when compared to pure wheat containing foods and breads?

The answer (or at least partially) may be sought in the following:

  • as opposed to gliadin and glutenin in wheat, rye storage proteins do not form gluten when mixed with water and kneaded (keep in mind they still contain gliadin, which is what’s causing the problem in most people). Gluten provides one extra step for the digestive process of breaking down the gliadin fraction to smaller peptides
  • rye flour contains lower levels of prolamins and glutelins (gliadin-containing proteins) than wheat flour **
In conclusion, rye flour and foods are not safe for gluten-intolerant and celiac individuals. However, some less-sensitive people may be able to tolerate pure rye foods and rye breads better than other people with similar conditions due to the fact that there is less gliadin in rye when compared to wheat. Still, more and more evidence is coming out, demonstrating the ill-causing effects of the storage proteins in rye (1, 2).
If I personally had a well-pronounced gluten (gliadin) sensitivity in any form, I’d refrain from using any cereal grains from the triticeae family of grasses, including rye.


* Gluten actually forms only when wheat flour is mixed in water and the two proteins - glutenin and gliadin - form a complex network by associating via strong disulphide bonds. Before flour is mixed with water and kneaded these two proteins coexist separate from each other and not in the form of what’s known as gluten in bread making and other industries.

** Resource: “Food Biochemistry and Food Processing” By Benjamin K. Simpson

8 Responses to Does Rye Bread Have Gluten?

  1. darlene says:

    I purchase a bread that is manufactured in Germany; Mestenmacher 7 grain. Although it contains whole kernel rye, the package states the product is gluten free… is this possible? Are there different standards in the European food community….

    • Ivan Nikolov says:

      That’s interesting! They must have different standards in Europe for labeling gluten-free foods.

      As far as I know in the US, UK and EU in order for a food to be labeled gluten-free it must have less than 20 ppm (parts per million). One reason I can think of why they labeled rye-containing bread “gluten-free” is if they used such a minuscule amount of rye that the product as a whole is still under 20 ppm. I’ve seen beer that is less than 7 ppm. I think now there are even ways to enzymatically reduce the present gluten levels.

  2. Nick says:

    Hey, thanks for posting this.

    I’m personally not sensitive to gluten, as in, I don’t suffer from celiac disease, but I try to avoid wheat in particular because of it’s under researched “modern protein”. That being said, the gluten itself in modern wheat seems to be fairly different from the gluten found in the less industrialized grains because of wheat’s highly modified nature. Many speculate that it could be a contributing factor to the rise of many auto-immune diseases in the last 3 decades. This is because most people’s bodies can’t properly break wheat gluten down into its corresponding amino acids. This can lead to issues with leaky gut and wreak havoc on parts of the body that aren’t even related to digestion. I’d highly checking out William Davis, though I’m sure you’ve already heard of him or read Wheat Belly.

    Re GMO wheat, interesting read:

    • Ivan Nikolov says:

      I agree with you. Gluten is one of the largest protein molecules known to man (titin is the largest). So, no wonder why we have problems digesting it. It just sits there in the gut and in more sensitive individuals when the body sees it sitting there it assumes it is a foreign body (which it is) and ramps up the immune system and attacks it. The problem is the attack is so severe that it damages the tissues around the gluten protein as well, overtime causing micro ruptures in the gut, which we call “leaky gut syndrome”. And, yes, once gut content starts floating in the body there is no telling what else might happen. Allergies and other auto-immune problems start becoming more common at this point.

  3. Eveline Markow says:

    is there gluten in Deutsche Kuche Sunflower Seed Bread with Whole Rye Kernels
    Ingredients: Whole Kernel Rye, Water, Wholemeal Rye Flour, Sunflour Seed, Salt Oat Flour Fiber Yeast

    • Ivan Nikolov says:

      Hi Eveline. As I said in the article, rye contains gliadin – the problem-causing protein fraction in wheat. However, rye breads – if there is no wheat added to them – should not technically contain gluten (which is gliadin and glutenin mixed with water and kneaded). Many people who are not celiacs are sensitive to the larger protein molecule gluten than to one of it’s fractions – gliadin.

  4. Mary Wier says:

    Thanks for your website. I am researching rye grain as I too am following Wheatbelly book and it took 2 years to realize I was depending on gluten free bread filled with “bad” starches of potato, corn, rice, tapioca. I did find Paleo bread in Calif. with coconut flour. Recently I bought some organic rye at local health store with only rye flour to see the effects.
    I haven’t noticed anything I can tell. Then I found a pdf file from 1927 where Dr.(?) Osbourne
    had a lengthy paper on all grains and how they
    function chemically. this paper said that rye
    had pentosans that surrounded the gluten and trapped it.But rye had a stronger free sugar
    in it, so I thought, oh well—thanks for the website.

  5. Mary Wier says:

    Hi from Mrs. Wier, I wanted to verify the pdf file I found, the author is: Ralph LaMour and the paper from 1927 is: a Comparative Study of the Glutelins of the Cereal Grains, I think that Osborne was another researcher who commented. I guess rye is out for me.

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