Will Gluten or Other Grains from Chicken Feed Get into the Meat?

by | September 24, 2018 | Food, Health & Nutrition | 12 comments

The research-based short answer to the question Will Gluten or Other Grains from Chicken Feed Get into the Meat? is No.

And from Dr. Ruth MacDonald, Department Chair in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University:

The simple answer is no. The animal converts food proteins into animal proteins by breaking down their structure during digestion (amino acids are separated and then repackaged during metabolism). Therefore, the meat will never contain any consumed proteins in their intact form. Meat, regardless of what the animal is fed, will not contain any gluten. The only way gluten could be in the meat is if the meat has been processed using fillers or if breading or some other type of preparation is done that adds a product containing gluten. But meat, by itself, is always gluten-free.”

So, if you’ve heard otherwise, I have the facts so that you can help me spread the word, clear up the misinformation and set the record straight. ;-)

Let’s start with this juicy chicken feed fact:

 

Chickens Don’t Eat Wheat

Most poultry for consumption in the USA is from commercially grown broiler chickens. Those birds consume a high protein, nutritionally enhanced ration of corn (70%) and soybean (20%) meal. The remaining 10% of the ration consist of vitamins and minerals.

 

And They aren’t Vegetarians

Why the supplements in that corn-soy ration? Because chickens are omnivores. The oft-touted “vegetarian” diet they are fed is nothing more than a marketing ploy. In fact, it is not the best diet for a chicken.

 

Chickens Gone Wild

In the wild, chickens eat insects, worms, seeds, and nibble on green leafies and berries when they can find them. A chicken will even snag a small creature like a frog given the chance. As more and more people want to get back to what is most natural for the animals, we see some farmers raising pastured chickens.

While it sounds magical and lovely for chickens to roam the meadow and frolic their (short) feathery lives away, it’s probably not exactly like you imagine. They do live outdoors quite a bit, with room to roam, but they are also provided shelter from inclement weather, predators, etc. They also still eat chicken feed. Check out these pastured chicken facts.

 

Facts about Pastured Chicken

  • Chickens cannot digest grass.
  • When pastured chickens appear to be eating grass, they are really looking for insects, worms and seeds.
  • Pastured chickens must have a year-round daily supply of prepared feed.
  • Chickens eat less prepared feed in spring and summer when insect populations are highest, and in late summer when seeds from grasses and weeds are plentiful.
  • Chickens eat more prepared feed during late fall and winter when insects and seeds are scarce.

 

And if you’re thinking organic is the only way to go, here are a few organic chicken facts. I’m betting the last one will surprise most of you.

 

Organic Chicken Facts

  • Land used for pasturing and housing livestock and livestock feed and bedding crops must qualify for organic certification.
  • Poultry must be under continuous organic management beginning no later than the second day of life. That means chicks can be purchased from a standard (non-organic) hatchery at 1 day old, but not older, and that poultry older than 1 day old must be from an organic hatchery.
  • All certified animals must receive 100% certified organic feed. All pastures must also be certified organic. If roughages are used as bedding, they must also be certified.
  • Administering preventative vaccines and other veterinary biologics is accepted.

 

The point here is that regardless of the type chicken you eat – standard commercial, pastured or organic – you still eat chicken fed a grain ration.

 

Now, for the science that supports how the grains in chicken feed don’t get into the poultry.

 

 

Will Gluten or Other Grains from Chicken Feed Get into the Meat?

 

First, we must consider the animal’s digestion.

My training in animal husbandry and pre-veterinary medicine, not to mention my research science background, comes in handy here.

  • Did you know I did my time working in a chicken house vaccinating thousands of chicks? (Truth! Those houses are like 95°F!)
  • I’ve also artificially inseminated a turkey. (Successful!)
  • And I’ve performed surgery on a chicken to clean its crop of large gravel. (It survived.)

There’s more, but it’s on the neuro research side and will probably bore you to pieces. Let’s just say, I know my way around a chicken.

Now that we know those fun facts, let’s look at how chicken digestion works.

 

Here’s what happens to food chickens eat.

Domestic fowl have a unique digestive system that differs from that of humans. The specific organs and their detailed function aren’t necessary to know to understand the basics of how the ration is broken down in commercial fowl, but here’s the short version.

After food is ingested by fowl, saliva breaks it down. Next, the food undergoes a series of chemical and mechanical processes, further reducing it to a form that can be readily absorbed into the bird’s system.

These processes involve various organs. Some, like the gizzard, used for mechanical breakdown of food, are unique to birds. Other organs, like the pancreas and small intestine, which release digestive chemicals, are familiar to us and resemble those structures in our body.

Ultimately, what is important to understand about chicken digestion is that the ration they eat is reduced to simple building blocks (amino acids) that can be absorbed through the wall of the small intestine and into other structures to be used by the bird for maintenance of normal bodily functions and growth.

Particles that escape this breakdown and absorption process are not lost. These are acted on by bacteria in a unique structure (the caeca), then absorbed into the system.

What remains after digestion is nothing like the starter ration. Everything ingested is reduced to very basic molecules and anything beyond that exits as waste.

 

So, even if broiler chickens were fed wheat (which they are not), what would happen?

As stated, chickens are not typically fed wheat; however, if they were, the gluten protein would be broken down into individual amino acids (the basic building blocks of proteins), which are very small, short-chain fragments. No gluten protein would make it into the meat and onto our plate.

The resulting poultry we buy in the local grocery store, then, would be gluten-free (barring the addition of any seasonings, breading, sauces or marinades that may possibly contain gluten, of course).

And if you’re confused by hearsay about hormones, steroids and such, here are a few fun fowl facts.

 

Here are some other facts that might surprise you about poultry production in the USA:

  • GMO chickens do not exist.
  • The USDA does not allow hormones or steroids in poultry. All hormones and steroids in poultry were banned in the 1950s. (FYI, the same is true for pork.)
  • Chickens produced for meat are not raised in cages. They are raised in large broiler houses.

Now we know, like we’ve always known, that chicken is naturally gluten-free.

 

You may also be interested in my article about what science tells us about the gluten protein in eggs.

 

fried chicken

And if you’re hungry, try my favorite chicken recipe, Baked at 420 Chicken!

12 Comments

  1. Linda

    Wow! What a terrific question! And you answer was very understandable. Sometimes you lose me with all the scientific data, but this one was straight forward. Thank you so much! I had thought of this once or twice, but didn’t pay attention to it.

    Reply


    • Gluten Free Gigi

      Hi, Linda.

      Thanks so much for the feedback.

      I never want to lose anyone, so if my answers are ever unclear or just too “science-y”, please drop me a note.
      I want to make sure everyone gets the answers they need… and I’m not opposed to covering a topic more than once to see that through. :)

      xoxo

      Reply


  2. Jacquelynn McHugh Simon

    Gigi – What about eggs? If my chickens are fed using a mix in which the third ingredient is wheat (and if I feed them, I get sick right away), will that gluten pass into their eggs or is it broken down sufficiently?
    Thanks!!

    Reply


  3. angiepants

    Yeah but what about the the eggs?? Supposedly They carry these soy, gluten and corn proteins by lab results. How to get around this besides not eating them?

    Reply


  4. Trudy

    Hi Gigi, this is all great to know! Im curious growth hormones aren’t legal anymore , why are some commercial chicken breasts huge, while the more “natural” brands are very small in comparison? Could it be that some companies are using hormones illegally? Or are those chickens just being fed more Lol.

    Reply


    • Gigi Stewart

      The larger size of chickens these days is attributed to two things: (1) farming practices and (2) genetics. Companies are not likely using hormones illegally. I think Americans are so obsessed with wanting the FDA and USDA to be “wrong” or “harming us” all the time, that they put these ideas out that we are being marketed this horrible food. In some cases, there are definitely gaps in our food system (for example, some additives that are already banned in Europe that we probably shouldn’t be consuming) BUT by and large, we here in the USA have a superior food supply to most other countries. I’ve traveled extensively, and I assure you, America has a clean food supply that is well regulated relative to many other countries in the world. Again, we are not perfect, but I am grateful for the level of regulation we have here that some do not have available. xo Great question, Trudy!! Thank you! xo

      Reply


      • Trudy

        Thank you! That makes sense. It’s hard to know what the truth is with food anymore! I agree- I’m very thankful for the regulations, too! Xx

        Reply


  5. Joyce Covert

    I don’t want to stray from your topic on chickens, but I also have been struggling with the need to know about the hormones in beef. It is so hard to find any beef that I can know the hormone shots were not used before butchering. Can you help me with that question?

    Thank you for the information about the chicken. It is appreciated.

    Reply


    • Gigi Stewart

      Hi, Joyce. No problem. I am happy to answer your question. It is the same with beef, or any meat (pork, lamb, etc.). I have a great article coming soon on grass fed beef and there I discuss hormones in beef, how to avoid them, etc. You’ll like that one! :) Meantime, buy grass-fed beef only. It’s what you’re after. Yes, more expensive, but worth it! xo

      Reply


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