Does Gluten Intolerant Mean Coffee Intolerant?

They can take away my gluten, but at least I can still have my coffee…can’t I?

If you follow certain health and nutrition related blogs, chances are you’ve read about the possible connection between gluten sensitivity and coffee.  You may have even read that anyone who is sensitive to gluten should not be drinking coffee at all.  The problem with coffee is its potential to cross-react with gluten antibodies.  In a nutshell, there are proteins found in the coffee bean that are similar to gluten (which is a protein).  If you are sensitive to gluten and you drink coffee, your body could mistake the coffee protein for gluten, causing a similar immune reaction as when you eat gluten.

Being both gluten sensitive and a die-hard lover of the bean, learning about this could be cause for panic.  But before you give up coffee completely consider this:  there is no published scientific literature to suggest that everyone who is sensitive to gluten should not only avoid gluten, but coffee too.  I spoke with Cynthia Kupper, a registered dietitian with the Gluten Intolerance Group, and she agrees that this is a hot topic, but there is currently no proven science behind the idea.  There will always be people who have food sensitivities to lesser known potential allergens such as coffee – but it’s not the norm.  In other words, not everyone who is sensitive to gluten will also react to coffee.

All that being said, what to do from a practical standpoint?  I mean, if you are on a strict gluten-free diet and still not feeling well, does it really matter to you that there is no proven science behind this idea?  Probably not – you just want to feel good!  If you are following a strict gluten-free diet and yet you are still not feeling well, here are some recommendations:

  • Find a nutritionist or doctor who specializes in elimination diets.  They can guide you through this complicated process, ensuring you are removing all hidden sources of gluten and other allergens, providing meal ideas and guidance for grocery shopping and label reading, while offering support and encouragement along the way.
  •  If it fits into your budget, talk with your health care practitioner about doing lab testing for cross-reactivity with other foods so you can pinpoint your unique sensitivities.  Cyrex Labs has developed a test for gluten cross-reactivity with several foods (including coffee).
  • Remember that making major changes to your diet is a process, so for most people these changes won’t happen overnight.  Don’t expect to be ‘perfect’ at following your new diet right away.  Find support from the people around you and allow your healthcare practitioner to be your coach.

 

Erin Hugus, MS, CN has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University.  Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health.  She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.

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