Coffee and Gluten: Start With the Research

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By William (Bill) M. Murray, NCA, CEO

One of today’s challenges isn’t finding enough information on a particular subject, but rather deciding how to evaluate all the information that’s available. Is that information unbiased, expert, and useful?

This is true not only for coffee drinkers, but also for consumers seeking information about the impact of coffee on their health. Sorting through the headlines, opinions, blog posts, and advice columns isn’t easy, which is why it is always best to seek out any underlying research on a topic. (For insight into evaluating coffee-and-health research, see “Behind the Headlines: Coffee, Health, and Research.”)

We were reminded of this after an NCA member recently asked, “Does coffee contain gluten?”

To say that the topic of gluten sensitivity is itself a sensitive issue would be an understatement. Even a cursory review of articles, books, and blogs on this subject reveals articles with headlines about “Gluten Wars,” referring to a vigorous, ongoing debate about gluten and health.

And before touching on this topic, it is important to note that this blog is never intended to provide, or be taken as medical advice. We also insist upon leaving the broad topic of “gluten and health” to medical professionals. But with respect to coffee and gluten, we can provide some facts and research that might be helpful.

Coffee itself does not contain gluten – “coffee” referring to the coffee bean that grows naturally, and from which natural coffee beverages are prepared.

But the coffee and gluten question is complex, just as coffee itself is complex.

Those with a gluten sensitivity need to be aware of not only what has been added to their coffee, but the possibility of cross- reactions – the potential for an unrelated food (or beverage) to trigger a reaction similar to gluten in those individuals who are gluten sensitive. The topic of coffee and gluten cross-reaction is one of those areas where many opinions are offered from many writers.

To better understand the potential for gluten-sensitive cross reactions with coffee, a good starting point is a study published in 2013 by A. Vojdani and A. Tarash in Food and Nutrition Sciences [1]. Although the authors examined gluten cross-reactions with a variety of foods, they were particularly focused on coffee, stating:

“Coffee is the most important agricultural commodity in the world, and there is much contradictory information spread through the modern media as to whether or not it cross-reacts with gluten. This causes immense confusion among both sufferers of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity and their health providers, who sometimes differ greatly on whether coffee can be safely included in a GFD.” [2]

They further emphasize the importance of their research by noting:

“…a great deal of publicity was recently generated based on a study conducted by researchers at the National Cancer Institute; this study showed that drinking coffee can lower the death rate from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, and diabetes. Because American adults drink 3.2 cups of coffee per day, in our own study we placed major emphasis on clarifying whether or not gluten does cross-react with coffee, and we wanted to ensure that drinking various coffee preparations was safe for individuals with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease.” [3]

The research itself is complex and technical. But the authors summarized their coffee-related findings in the body of the report by stating:

“These results indicate the following statements: first, instant coffee is contaminated with traces of gluten, which were detected by our sensitive ELISA and inhibition assays; and second, drinking pure coffee but not instant coffee may be safe for individuals with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease as long as these individuals do not have classical allergy to coffee.” [4]

It is important to again note that this blog is not medical advice, and that each person’s experience with coffee, like their individual tastes, may vary. To put it more plainly, coffee drinkers have to decide for themselves – with their doctors, if appropriate – what is best.

And, it is again worth noting that this research was based upon black, unflavored coffee, so that the addition of flavorings, sweeteners, or whiteners (like milk or creamer) might well have changed the findings. But for those seeking to learn more about gluten sensitivity and America’s favorite beverage, this research is a good place to start.

[Editor’s note: NCA has no relationship with the authors or the research cited above, and did not contribute to the research financially nor in any other way.]

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] Food and Nutrition Sciences is an open access scientific journal which “is committed to maintaining high standards though a rigorous peer-review together with strict ethical policies.”

[2] “Cross-Reaction between Gliadin and Different Food and Tissue Antigens,” Section 3.1; A. Vojdani, I. Tarash, Food and Nutrition Sciences, Vol. 4 No. 1 (2013)

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

 

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