Sounds delicious, right? Just saying the word “meat glue” makes me throw up in my mouth a little. But what is meat glue and how would it cause celiac disease and/or trigger celiac autoimmune symptoms?
If you’re celiac and vegan, be aware that meat glue is also used in meat-substitute products like tofu.
WHAT IS MEAT GLUE?
Meat glue is a term that includes dozens of different enzymes that are used to bind products together. They are also called cold binding agents.
You will often hear people reference transglutaminase (TG) or fibrin, two of the more common enzymes that are used.
In the US, fibrin is derived from cow plasma (in Europe, fibrin is derived from pig plasma) from the enzymes that cause blood to clot.
Transglutaminse is a naturally ocurring enzyme, but the transglutaminase used in food is manufactured by way of bacterial fermentation.
Transglutaminase (also called Thrombin) was discovered in 1959 and was studied in the 1960s for its potential use in food.
It wasn’t used widely until the 1990’s, after researchers found a way to produce it and refine it in a cost-effective manner.
It’s applied either as a powder or is mixed with water to brush on the meat. It binds protein molecules together, like super-glue for meat.
According to the American Meat Institute, meat glue is regulated as an ingredient and is required to be listed on the ingredients.
Foods that contain these enzymes should have language such as “formed” or “shaped” on the packaging.
HOW IS MEAT GLUE USED?
You’ll see a lot of blogs online that say meat glue is used to glue meat scraps together.
The reasoning being that small pieces of meat, like a pound of stew meat, sell at cheaper prices than large pieces of meat, like a steak.
The reasoning is that you can make more money by making smaller cuts appear to be a premium cut.
However, the American Meat Institute (AMI) claims this is false. They state, “This is not only impractical from a time and cost perspective, it is illegal under state and local consumer protection laws.”
So how do they claim meat glue is used? AMI states:
“These products are most commonly used for food service purposes. In many cases, they help with portion control by creating a uniform size. For instance, they can help bind two cone-shaped tenderloins into a single cut that will have the same diameter when sliced.”
How is that different? I have no idea. It sounds the same to me–you’re gluing stuff together so it looks better than it is. Perhaps the distinction is simply lost on me.
It’s also used by chefs to be creative or to make a dish attractive, for example to keep bacon wrapped around steak.
And it’s used in processed foods to increase shelf-life, improve texture, and refine palatability.
If you want to avoid meat glue, here’s the takeaway. In a store, the meat is supposed to be labeled as formed, reformed, bonded, or reconstructed.
However, I will cite a 2018 research study below that states meat glue is not on labels or ingredient lists. So I’m not sure which is true.
Meat glue is also often used where food is not labeled—at banquets, in casinos, on cruise ships, and in high end restaurants (for hybrid meat dishes).
So if you’re eating out, the only way to know is to ask. And of course, we all know that’s a hit-or-miss approach.
WHAT DOES MEAT GLUE HAVE TO DO WITH CELIAC DISEASE?
According to a 2018 study, meat glue (specifically transglutaminase):
“…cross-links gliadin peptides, creating neo-complexes that are immunogenic and potentially pathogenic to celiac disease communities. Even lacking sequence identity, it imitates functionally the endogenous tissue transglutaminase, known to be the autoantigen of celiac disease and representing an undisputable key player in celiac disease initiation and progress.”
In English, this means that meat glue may bind itself to protein fragments in your gut, and cause your immune system to think these protein fragments are now enemy invaders.
So your immune system attacks the microbial transglutaminase (enemy invaders) and remembers it, so it can attack it really fast next time.
BUT your immune system may mistake your own body tissue transglutaminase (as opposed to meat glue) as the enemy, and attack your tissue transglutaminase in error creating an autoimmune response.
Transglutaminase is the target of the autoimmune response in celiac disease. One of the tests used to help doctors diagnose celiac disease is a tissue transglutaminase (tTG) antibody (IgA) test.
It also appears the ingestion of meat glue may contribute to increased intestinal permeability otherwise known as leaky gut.
Of note, contrary to the American Meat Institute, this study states that meat glue is NOT listed as an ingredient on food labels. So I don’t know how reliable labeling is or isn’t for detecting meat glue.
There appears to be a strong correlation between ingesting meat glue and both the cause of celiac disease and the triggering of celiac disease symptoms.
In fact, in Switzerland products that contain meat glue must be labeled as non-celiac friendly.
So while the research is not yet conclusive, if you have celiac disease, it’s probably a good idea to avoid meat glue in your foods.
Here are some additional resources if you want to read more:
- The function of tissue transglutaminase in celiac disease, 2012
- Transglutaminases in dysbiosis as potential environmental drivers of autoimmunity, 2017
- Microbial transglutaminase: A new potential player in celiac disease, 2018
- Intracellular Localization of Microbial Transglutaminase and Its Influence on the Transport of Gliadin in Enterocytes, 2018
- Microbial transglutaminase is immunogenic and potentially pathogenic in pediatric celiac disease, 2018
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the advice or attention of heath-care professionals. This information is for educational purposes only. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions.