Coffee is one of those things – you either love it or hate it. You know if you like the taste or not (or if it’s just a reason to drink sugar and cream). You know how it makes you feel (i.e. your gut, your mind, etc.). Not to mention the crazy headlines that say coffee is great, and the next day you should avoid it!

BUT, is coffee safe for celiacs? I’ll answer that in a minute. First let’s get some background information on coffee.

There is actual science behind why different people react differently to it. It’s a matter of your genetics and how much coffee you’re used to drinking.

NOTE: Coffee does not equal caffeine. Coffee contains between 50-400 mg of caffeine/cup, averaging around 100 mg/cup. Coffee is one of the most popular ways to consume this stimulant. But… a cup of coffee contains a lot of things over and above the caffeine. Not just water, but antioxidants, and hundreds of other compounds. These are the reasons drinking a cup of coffee is not the same as taking a caffeine pill. And decaffeinated coffee has a lot less caffeine; but, it still contains some.

Let’s look at caffeine metabolism, its effects on the mind and body, and whether coffee drinkers have higher or lower risks of disease. Then I’ll give you some things to consider when deciding if coffee is for you or not.

 Caffeine metabolism

Not all people metabolize caffeine at the same speed. How fast you metabolize caffeine will impact how you’re affected by the caffeine. In fact, caffeine metabolism can be up to 40 times faster in some people than others. I know for me, caffeine gives me the jitters and heart palpitations, which is why, I drink decaf coffee. But my husband on the other hand, is totally unaffected by caffeine.

About half of us are “slow” metabolizers of caffeine. We can get jitters, heart palpitations, and feel “wired” for up to 9 hours after having a coffee. The other half is “fast” metabolizers of caffeine. They get energy and increased alertness and are back to normal a few hours later.

This is part of the reason those headlines contradict each other so much – because we’re all different!

The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body

NOTE: Most studies look at caffeinated coffee, not decaf.

The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body also differ between people; this is partly from the metabolism I mentioned. But it also has to do with your body’s amazing ability to adapt (read: become more tolerant) to long-term caffeine use. Many people who start drinking coffee feel the effects a lot more than people who have coffee every day.

Here’s a list of these effects (that usually decrease with long-term use):

  • Stimulates the brain
  • Boosts metabolism
  • Boosts energy and exercise performance
  • Increases your stress hormone cortisol
  • Dehydrates

So, while some of these effects are good and some aren’t, you need to see how they affect you and decide if it’s worth it or not.

Coffee and health risks

There are a ton of studies on the health effects of coffee, and whether coffee drinkers are more or less likely to get certain conditions.

Here’s a quick summary of what coffee can lead to:

  • Caffeine addiction and withdrawal symptoms (e.g. a headache, fatigue, irritability)
  • Increased sleep disruption
  • Lower risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  • Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Lower risk of certain liver diseases
  • Lower risk of death (“all cause mortality”)
  • Mixed reviews on whether it lowers risks of cancer and heart disease

Many of the health benefits exist even for decaf coffee (except the caffeine addiction and sleep issues).

NOTE: What’s super-important to note here is that coffee intake is just one of many, many factors that can affect your risks for these diseases. Please never think regular coffee intake is the one thing that can help you overcome these risks. You are health-conscious and know that eating a nutrient-rich whole foods diet, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep and exercise are all critical things to consider for your disease risk. It’s not just about the coffee.

 Should you drink coffee or not?

There are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should drink coffee. No one food or drink will make or break your long-term health.

Caffeinated coffee is not recommended for:

  • People with arrhythmias (e.g. irregular heartbeat)
  • People who often feel anxious
  • People who have trouble sleeping
  • People who are pregnant
  • Children and
  • Teens

If none of these apply, then monitor how your body reacts when you have coffee. Does it:

  • Give you the jitters?
  • Increase anxious feelings?
  • Affect your sleep?
  • Give you heart palpitations?
  • Affect your digestion (e.g. heartburn, etc.)?
  • Give you a reason to drink a lot of sugar and cream?

Depending on how your body reacts, decide whether these reactions are worth it to you. If you’re not sure, I recommend eliminating it for a while and see the difference.

And now for the big question:

Celiac Disease and coffee

I have been all over the internet trying to find the answer to that very question for years. And, just like all of the other information about coffee, depending on what website you are on, you will get differing opinions, BUT, here is what I found on two different Celiac websites that I consider to be very reliable: 1) The International Celiac Disease Symposium, and 2) Beyond Celiac.

The International Celiac Symposium was held on September 22, 2013, in Chicago, Illinois. Celiac disease expert Stefano Guandalini, MD, addressed the very issue of coffee and confirmed that there is no evidence that coffee has a protein that cross-reacts with gluten antibodies. So yes you can drink coffee if you have celiac disease. However, that being said, you do need to be very careful of the flavored coffees found at the grocery store and also at your local coffee shop.

Also, coffee can be an intestinal irritant for everyone, not just celiacs, and can cause diarrhea. If it does this to you, just quit drinking it.