Gluten is the general term for a group of plant proteins found in wheat, rye and barley that trigger an autoimmune disorder known as Celiac disease, or CD. According to the Celiac Sprue Association, “The best and only known treatment for CD is simply this: a lifelong elimination of ‘gluten.’ ” People with Celiac disease have to be sure their hot and cold beverages aren’t manufactured from plant sources containing gluten.
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When gluten-sensitive individuals drink a beverage containing gluten, their bodies identify the protein as a foreign body and launch an attack that damages the villi, or tiny finger-like projections on the inside of the small intestine. Over time, the villi lose the ability to absorb important nutrients from the partially digested food passing through the gut. People with CD gradually become malnourished no matter how much they eat or drink.
According to the Celiac Sprue Association, or CSA, fresh-brewed coffee is gluten-free.
People with CD can safely add unflavored milk or soy milk to their coffee, says the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, or NFCA. CSA says cream, spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, sugar and honey are gluten-free coffee flavorings. Mocha beverages that contain coffee, pure cocoa and marshmallows are also safe for people with CD. Specialty coffees made with brandy, rum or whiskey are also gluten-free, says NFCA.
The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center highlights some gluten-containing ingredients to avoid, including malted milk and barley malt flavoring. Be cautious of flavored cream substitutes, such as those that contain caramel made from barley malt, advises NFCA.
Read labels carefully before adding commercial products to coffee. For example, rice doesn’t contain gluten in its pure form, but some brands of rice milk have gluten added during the manufacturing process.
While coffee is gluten-free, it can be contaminated during the food preparation process. Keep gluten-containing foods and beverages in a separate location from gluten-free products in the kitchen, and thoroughly clean cups after use.