Bad News, Guys: Coffee Can Look Like Gluten to Your Body

CoffeeHere comes the coffee nazi again! More and more it seems my job is to crush people’s dreams and take away all of their favorite addictions (grains, cheese, coffee…). I know, even if you won’t admit it to yourself, that coffee MAY be affecting your life. Like in a negative way – not the happy, helps-me-live-my-life, buzzy way you experience it. I’ve written about it before here.

Most people have accepted that gluten sensitivity is a real thing, unlike this fable that coffee could possibly be harmful. So I’d like to use your resolve that gluten can be “bad” to help foster this idea that coffee can also be “bad” for you.

Parts of coffee look like gluten to your body. Yes, even decaf.

In fact, a company called Cyrex Laboratories does a test on a bunch of foods – coffee, millet, sorghum, tapioca, dairy, oats, etc. – to see which ones look the most like gluten to your particular body. And coffee was the most common cross-reactor.

I was about to write up my own much more in-depth post about this when I came across Sarah’s post at She says it better than I could, and she links to some great resources and videos for you to watch on this. So here goes, and thanks, Sarah, for the great post!

Link to  

By the way, I have seen a lot of people improve their health by removing coffee from their daily routine. Like, a lot. I know you love it, but if you’re still having migraines, eczema, fatigue, digestive problems, joint pain, or other gluten-related symptoms, even after removing grains from your diet, consider giving coffee up for a month to see what happens. Drink tea instead. You can do it :)


  1. Not meaning to totally disagree, but there is so much conflicting research out there about coffee. How can anyone know what to really think. This study you refer to is reliable?

    1. Sasha – I think it’s reliable, yes, but it depends on the person, too. I always just say to people that if they’re having symptoms and they’ve gone Paleo, start thinking outside the box. Not drinking coffee is definitely outside the box, and it’s something to consider removing from your diet for a while as an experiment if you’re suffering. You’ve got nothing to lose…

  2. I wonder how much this has to do with mycotoxins in low quality coffee beans. It’s not well known, but most store-bought or chain-bought coffee is very bad for you due to the high content of mycotoxins. I wonder if this is what the study is picking up on and if this issue is resolved by consuming low-toxin beans.

    Decaf, by the way, is typically higher in mycotoxins and even worse for you.

  3. I’m so glad to hear more about this! I just gave up coffee and chocolate a month ago under the sinking suspicion that this was the cause of my inflammation and gut discomfort. I read somewhere about the possibility that it was having the same/similar effect on body as gluten and indeed after this month of abstaining- my issues have disappeared.
    I miss it- but not enough to feel like that again.
    Thanks for the link and the encouragement that I am not alone. :)

  4. Last fall, we traveled for Thanksgiving and I ate all kinds of things I shouldn’t eat, mostly in the gluten category. After a week of that, my body finally rebelled and broke out in the most massive celiac rash I’ve ever experienced. In the past, I had gotten a little bit of rash on my knee or maybe wrist but this time, it covered both knees, elbows, wrists, and even a little on my chest. The only thing worse I’ve experienced is poison ivy rashes. Anyway, I immediately eliminated all gluten (again) but the rash didn’t get better. If anything, it got worse. Then I happened to run across information for celiac disease patients stating that coffee can cross react in sensitive individuals and cause celiac-like reactions. Took the coffee out of my diet for a week, rash cleared up immediately.

    Since then, I’ve been conducting a series of n=1 experiments regarding coffee and caffiene in general. Because coffee is a fermented product, like tea, cocoa, olives, and many other healthful foods, I’m loath to chuck it entirely. I’ve found that when my body is healthy and unstressed, 1 cup, and I mean a measured 8 oz kitchen speak 1 cup, of coffee will not cause reactions, as long as the coffee beans are of excellent quality. I’ve always tended towards coffee snobbery but it makes a difference in my health now. Beans must be organic and freshly ground (I need to grind myself; pre ground coffee is nearly always rancid by the time one opens the tin). They can’t be flavored in any way. When I’m sick or stressed, I drink bone broth instead.

  5. @ Kevin – For me, the quality of the bean and how freshly ground it is definitely make a big difference. I’m sure there are some people, maybe even many people, who will react no matter the quality and freshness of the bean. Like so many things in the paleo/primal sphere, I think this is one of those things where n=1 experiments are invaluable.

  6. This is an interesting read. I had never heard of coffee having these effects. I drink 2-3 cups a day, but don’t have problems with any of those symptoms. However, I do have a couple of friends that complain of some of these types of ailments that drink coffee as well. I will have them read this to see if maybe this could be part of the problem.

  7. I’m so happy I came across this. I experienced this same issue with coffee. I went gluten free almost a year ago because of a laundry list if symptoms that had me thinking I had MS, lupus or another auto-immune disease. Within 5 days of eliminating gluten my horrible daily headaches, constant joint pain, and much more started fading. However, as the months went by I noticed as my gut began to heal there was less I could tolerate- specifically dairy and coffee. I’m guessing this is because as my gut healed, I was absorbing these foods more than before and I was seeing that I had these intolerances all along as well? I notice that I just don’t feel great eating legumes etc and have started to begin a paleo lifestyle.

  8. I have never seen any research that backs up the idea of gluten “cross-reactivity” with the possible exception of corn (zein). Believe me, I’ve done the PubMed slogging.

    As for corn, here’s a link to the study abstract :

    and here’s a link to a short discussion :

    I have seen research that rules out cross-reactivity for several of the grains Cyrex tests for.
    tef, millet, amaranth and quinoa

    Cyrex tests for all of these – tef, millet, amaranth, quinoa and sorghum.

    Here is a good overview of the concept of cross-reactivity:

    I think Cyrex’s work in the neurological area is fantastic, and I think O’Bryans efforts to increase awareness are admirable, but find the discussion of cross-reactivity to be unhelpful because it avoids the problem of trace gluten contamination. The proposed standard for gluten free (FDA regs to be finalized this summer) is set at 20ppm. This considered to be safe for the “vast majority” of celiacs. But if you are reacting at a lower level, then gluten cc is a big issue, perhaps the issue for your health.

    Another possibility is milk protein intolerance which is quite common in the gluten sensitive population. If casein or other milk proteins are preventing intestinal healing, then food sensitivity will continue. “Antibodies against at least one cow milk protein were identified in nearly all (91%) coeliac patients and in half (49%) of the patients with other malabsorptive disorders.”

    I am not a coffee drinker myself. I have seen a very gluten sensitive person change brands of coffee and no longer have issues. I have also washed the coffee beans and seen the sensitivity disappear. In other words, the beans were cc’d or cross-contaminated with gluten. One brand to consider trying is Starbucks Via packets.

    If you think you are reacting to gluten at this low of a level, consider the Gluten Free Watchdog, a gluten testing site: (possibly of less interest to Paleo eaters avoiding grains anyway)
    or home gluten test kits such as Neogen or Glutentox
    or the GlutenZap website

    This may seem like semantics, but it is important because cross-reactions would almost certainly be permanent. Food intolerances/sensitivities can be healed with intestinal healing and sourcing very clean product (such as washing coffee beans.)

    I hope they continue to do research in this area and I wish you all the best as you sort out your health issues.

  9. Neely,

    I have been eating 85% paleo for about a month now and seem to be doing well. One thing I have noticed is that coffee (wasn’t willing to give up) doesn’t taste so good anymore. Has anyone else had this experience? I have had cereal twice to use it up and it didn’t taste nearly as delectable as it once did.

    Just curious to hear about other’s experiences with this. I won’t complain about the change in taste, it will make it all the easier to pass on these foods when tempted.

  10. Hi! I am new to paleo diet and it has been fun exploring all the websites and blogs! It has been exactly a week since I have been on a Paleo diet. I used to think people who’s doing this diet was crazy but after reading Gary Taubes’ books, I began to rethink about the traditional nutrition guide and decided to give paleo diet a try.
    It has been surprisingly easy for me to adapt to the diet and I don’t have any cravings. To begin with, my diet has been pretty clean with lower carb (not too low), high protein, and low fat diet. But I began to experience a lot of bloating lately and researched some books which led me to Gary Taubes’ books to Paelo diet.
    I love that I can eat whole eggs, whole avocado, high fat cheese, full fat steak, bacon, and chicken with skin on!
    I have been hungry for years and finally I am not! Amazing what some extra fat can do for you.
    More than anything, I am not bloated anymore. This all happened within a week! First 3 days were kinda horrible thou. I experienced pretty much everything you have listed.
    Being an asian, sushi is what pizza is like to Americans. I absolutely have no resistance. A couple of days ago I was invited to a party at a really nice sushi restaurant but to my pleasant surprise, I absolutely had no cravings.
    Wine, Chocolate, cocktail, sake, oat meal, muslix…you name it and I won’t have any problem getting rid of it.
    EXCEPT my beloved espresso.
    Caffeine never affects me the way in usually does to people. Sometimes I drink several espresso shots a day (sometimes before bed) and I can still sleep like a baby at night. I just love it as a treat through out the day.
    Through my 1st week of Paleo, I had a shot or two a day. This is one thing I just can not give up and may be I refuse to believe there is something wrong with caffeine.(Tea has a lot of them too. Also, recent research says coffee does have high content of antioxidant) Researchers seem to keep going back and forth between the advantage and disadvantage of caffeine. There really isn’t any absolute answer out there. I just think it’s up to an individual since everybody’s body is different.
    If coffee doesn’t give you any physical problems such as heartburn, bloat, grogginess, insomnia, at least for me, I don’t see a reason to give up a treat that gives a happiness. Happiness = endorphin :) ( Ok, in moderation.)
    Just saying… I think sometimes we do get so caught up with these principles to the extreme it becomes an obsession which makes it stressful. Stress increases coristol. ;-) We are all doing this to get healthy and wholesome, right?

    Sorry for the rant. I am just trying really hard to justify my coffee rituals.

    Happy Eating!

    1. Jasmine – I agree with you in ways, for sure. A little treat in moderation is definitely soothing and helps relieve stress. I think that I stated this in the blog post, but maybe I didn’t make it clear: I said that if you have symptoms you’re still trying to resolve, you should consider giving up that one food you’re most attached to. If you don’t have any symptoms at all – weight loss plateau, skin issues, emotional/mental issues, digestive problems, autoimmune markers, insomnia, infertility, menstrual issues, etc., then at this point I don’t think there’s any reason to give up anything. Keep up the good work. But if you did have any symptom, then that’s when you’d want to consider giving it up. That’s all.

  11. I can tell you from experience (60+ years) that it is true for me. I used to tell people that coffee put me to sleep and naturally, they wouldn’t believe me. I was getting symptoms about 20-30 minutes after drinking coffee (extreme sleepiness in my case). Then, what I did was take one of these:
    The symptoms went away for me within about 30 minutes, confirming my suspicion. I couldn’t believe it!!! (It was like night and day for me-literally!)

    By the way, I’m not affiliated in ANY WAY with the product either.

  12. Hi – I have celiac and, it seems, a severe sensitivity to coffee beans. I have no ideas if these two issues are connected. I found this link while researching the connection online. For those interested, I do not seem to have issues with caffeine (tea, chocolate, coke) or coffee flavoring. I think there is something in the bean screwing up my stomach. So sad!

    1. Hi Laura,

      I’m a huge fan of coffee, but only after I spent a year (yep – a full 12 months!) without drinking it at all. I tried tea, and it was OK, but as you know, tea is no match for coffee. When I did go back to coffee, I drank organic, Swiss processed, decaf (just like you suggested!). My reasoning for taking a year off of coffee was to give my body time to sensitize to it, and then when I tried a cup of coffee after the year, I was prepared to feel awful. But I didn’t. Since Paleo is meant to be an 80/20 kind of thing, I have no problem having coffee in my life. You may be the same, but I would advise trying at least 8 weeks with no coffee to allow your body to re-sensitize. When adding back, if you have no reactions, I’d say you’re good to indulge in that good quality decaf. If you do have a reaction, perhaps you need to give your body more time or work more on healing your gut. Either way, the decision is fully up to you! I hope this helps you, and if you have any more questions, shoot me an email:

      – Aimee

  13. After years of the gluten and coffee it takes a little time to determine which of these have caused the most problems. I’ve been off coffee now for about 5 months and at first I thought it was the main problem. Then I discovered it was something else, the gluten. Now I have to wait until I’m entirely free of gluten because I keep making mistakes and not reading the labels. After I’m free of coffee and gluten for about a year and do some detox to clean out my system, I’m going to test to see what one cup of lite coffee will do to my system.

Leave a Reply