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Coffee and Gluten: Why the Relationship is Complicated

Coffee and Gluten: Why the Relationship is Complicated

Clark Clark
7 minute read

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According to the celiac Disease Foundation, 1 in 100 people worldwide suffer from celiac Disease. This number doesn’t include the vast number of those with gluten sensitivity. Once the autoimmune disease or sensitivity is diagnosed, monitoring diet and scanning for gluten ingredients are key to eliminating digestive issues.

We know to expect gluten in most breads, pastas, and baked goods. But gluten is somewhat sneaky and it can be found in less obvious foods like:

  • Candy
  • Energy bars
  • Meat substitutes
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces (soy sauce, gravies, marinades)
  • Soup

And occasionally coffee. No need to worry, though; you don’t have to give up your favorite morning pick-me-up.

Though gluten can sneak into coffee a few different ways (primarily via processing and additives), the good news is it’s rare and completely preventable. Read on to find out more on those rare gluten coffee scenarios and how to avoid them!

Is coffee usually gluten-free? Yes, coffee is naturally gluten-free. In rare cases, gluten gets into coffee as it’s processed or loaded with additives like creamer and syrups. Ensuring a gluten-free cup of coffee is fairly easy to do.

How the Rumor Started

For a time, a rumor circulated in the food/health communities that coffee is not considered a gluten-free food. This rumor stemmed from a 2017 review that analyzed the relationship between coffee and autoimmune diseases.

The review’s abstract stated: “coffee consumption was associated with cross reactivity with gliadin antibodies in celiac patients.” This appeared to conclude that coffee consumption would cause the same symptoms as gluten for those with a gluten intolerance.

A closer reading of the review itself revealed that only one study tested cross-reactivity between coffee and gluten. What’s more, only 2 instant coffees were cross-reactive.  

This rumor serves as a nice reminder – you can’t always rely on health advice from the internet! 

Crossreactivity May Be a Culprit

Roughly 30% of those with celiac who strictly adhere to a gluten-free diet still experience gastrointestinal symptoms. This could be due to cross-reactivity. 

Cross-reactivity occurs when the body believes gluten has been consumed, because a particular protein structure in the food closely resembles gluten protein.

Once the body’s immune system has been fooled, it has an inflammatory response, releasing anti-a-gliadin and anti-tTG antibodies (as it normally would) to fight the perceived “gluten” and the surrounding lining of the small intestine.

Food and Nutrition Sciences published a 2013 study that found a handful of foods can be cross-reactive for patients with celiac disease:

  • Corn
  • Dairy
  • Millet and rice
  • Oats
  • Yeast

Instant coffee was also tested and found to be cross-reactive; however, “pure coffee,” read black coffee, was deemed not cross-reactive. For those with celiac and gluten sensitivity, plain brewed coffee is the best bet against hidden gluten ingredients.

Is Instant Coffee Safe?

Most instant coffees are gluten-free; however, as the 2013 study showed, the type of coffee can matter. Instant coffee can contain gluten because of how highly processed it is. 

The lengthier the process between cultivation and end product packaging, the higher the chances of gluten cross-contact. Gluten cross-contact is when some form of gluten comes in contact with a gluten-free food. Gluten-free food might be exposed to gluten via another food, kitchen equipment/utensils, or a person.

Gluten in Flavored Coffee

Flavored coffees like pumpkin spice or chocolate hazelnut have a higher chance of containing some amount of gluten. Granted, it’s likely trace amounts. 

The FDA considers products gluten-free as long as they contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

Additional sources of gluten can be syrups, flavorings, and sweeteners. Also, those with celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity may have a dairy intolerance. Keeping coffee dairy-free could help with digestive issues. 

The best ways to ensure you’re drinking gluten-free coffee are as follows:

  • Purchase whole bean coffee as opposed to ground coffee. Cross-contamination is possible during the grinding process.
  • Look for certified gluten-free coffee brands.
  • Grind coffee beans at home rather than using the store’s grinder. This is a good practice if you’re hoping to avoid coffee mold as well. Grinders are relatively inexpensive.
  • Craft your own coffee drinks instead of purchasing them from coffee shops, where cross-contamination can take place.
  • Read labels on powdered creamers and other additives, as they sometimes include gluten as thickening agents.

How to Find Out if You’re Reacting to Coffee

There’s a fair amount of overlap with gastrointestinal symptoms between food allergies. These symptoms can include

If you’re completely gluten-free and still experiencing symptoms, there are a couple of ways to investigate and hopefully solve the mystery of your symptoms.

A Cyrex Array 4 test (also called the Gluten-Associated Cross-Reactive Foods and Food Sensitivity test) is a blood test that checks antibody levels to see if your body is reacting to certain dietary proteins. 

You might also consider an elimination diet. Many dietitians feel this method is the most revealing. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Cut out coffee for two weeks.
  2. Start a food journal to keep track of your body’s reaction.
  3. Gradually reintroduce coffee into your diet.
  4. Continue making entries in your food journal to see how you feel after consuming coffee.

Pro Tip: Try an alternative during the coffee fast if you need to fill the void.

Potential Issues

If symptoms persist, you might explore other causes for symptoms. 

Food Allergies

While true coffee allergies are rare, about 85 million Americans suffer from food allergies. A food allergy occurs when the immune system senses an allergen and identifies it as a harmful invader to the body.

Common allergens include:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Tree nuts
  • Shellfish 
  • Soy

Schedule an appointment with your doctor or immunologist and they can conduct a test to help detect what allergens your body is fighting.

Caffeine Sensitivity

Caffeine is found in a number of foods, beverages, and even some pain medications. Though the FDA considers 400 mg of caffeine a day permissible, everyone reacts to caffeine differently.

Symptoms of too much caffeine include:

  • Anxiety
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches
  • Jitters
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Upset stomach

Keep an eye on the caffeine content in your diet. It could be contributing to your digestive issues.

Digestive Disorders

According to the GI Alliance, 62 million Americans are diagnosed with a digestive disorder every year. Conditions can range from acid reflux to IBS and can affect any part of the complex digestive system. 

Interestingly, a slightly older study sought to determine why those with celiac continued experiencing gastric symptoms despite their gluten-free diet. Out of 15 participants, 10 were diagnosed and treated for small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Participants were symptom-free after treatment. 

Consider scheduling an appointment with your primary healthcare provider or a gastroenterologist if you suspect a digestive disorder.

Looking for coffee that’s easy on your gut?

Look no further! Golden Ratio is not only gluten-free, but low-acid as well. Not to mention, you can trust our variety of flavors like birthday cake and chocolate mint as there’s no gluten to be found on our ingredient lists!


  1. Coffee and autoimmunity: More than a mere hot beverage!
  2. Cross-Reaction between Gliadin and Different Food and Tissue Antigens
  3. High prevalence of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in celiac patients with persistence of gastrointestinal symptoms after gluten withdrawal

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