Alcohol on a gluten free diet
When adopting a gluten free lifestyle, many people often start to research what foods are safe to eat and what foods are not safe to eat. Of course this information is critical to maintaining a gluten free diet and ultimately healing your gut and managing any associated conditions.
But it isn’t just food that matters. The drinks you consume may also include gluten. And some of the most common drinks that people consume include those with alcohol!
So what alcohol is gluten free? And should those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity even consume alcohol?
Gluten Free Society is glad to guide you through your gluten free journey with research-backed support. Let’s take a closer look at alcohol on a gluten free diet.
What is gluten?
Gluten is the protein in grains that lends elasticity to bread and other baked goods. Gluten is often associated with wheat, rye, and barley. However, we know that gluten protein can be found in ALL grains. Of course, many alcohols are grain-based, which can be problematic for those with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
For those with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, gluten can be incredibly harmful. Gluten can trigger an immune reaction causing inflammation in the intestines, which can result in a host of other health issues.
Should Those with Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity Consume Alcohol?
Here are the key reasons you may want to avoid or limit alcohol consumption.
Alcohol is generally not supportive of health
Alcohol is generally not recommended because common consumption is not healthy regardless of gluten status. For those with celiac disease or who are otherwise healing their gut, alcohol can slow this process. Remember that gluten sensitivity causes liver damage as does alcohol intake.
Furthermore, alcohol is often served with other unhealthy ingredients, like added sugar in mixed cocktails. Alcohol can also alter inhibitions and disrupt sound decision making. Many people find themselves mistakenly consuming gluten when drinking alcohol.
Finally, some resources advocate the intake of wine as a heart disease preventative. However, there are far better ways to support your heart health than by drinking wine daily. Gluten Free Society does not recommend daily use of any alcoholic beverage while you are trying to overcome illness.
Alcohol can damage the intestines
Research has established a negative effect of alcohol consumption on the microbiota in the gastrointestinal tract. Alcohol can cause changes in the composition of the gut microbiota composition as well as a person’s metabolic function. Alcohol consumption can contribute oxidative stress, intestinal hyperpermeability (leaky gut), and the development of a number of other chronic diseases.
Since the gut microbiota helps to extract energy from food, synthesize vitamins and amino acids, and helps form barriers against pathogens, a gut that is imbalanced or “dysbiotic” has been associated with a number of gastrointestinal conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and celiac disease.
In fact, some research has even explored whether alcohol can directly cause villous atrophy (the erosion of microvilli in the small intestine). Other research suggests that villous atrophy might be explained by alcohol’s effects on protein turnover. This research indicates that two forms of alcohol can act as potent protein synthetic inhibitors, which could contribute to motility disturbances and nutrient malabsorption.
Alcohol can cause malnutrition
Alcohol consumption can interfere with nutrient absorption, resulting in overall malnutrition or in deficiencies of specific micronutrients. In fact, several studies have shown that blood vitamin levels are low in alcoholic patients, and that vitamin supplementation can support these patients.
For example, alcohol can reduce the absorption, and increase the loss of zinc in the body.
This is particularly troublesome as zinc is necessary for the health and integrity of gut barrier function, and zinc deficiency can further contribute to the development or advancement of gastrointestinal diseases.
When to consider alcohol
Of course, there are certain times that you might feel like consuming an alcoholic beverage, for example at a holiday celebration or at a wedding. These social gatherings are a normal part of life and should be celebrated, just remember to consume gluten free beverages in moderation if you do consume alcohol.
And remember, you should never feel required or pressured to drink alcohol. If you know that alcohol doesn’t make you feel well, or disturbs your digestion, or if you know that moderating your intake (either quality or quantity), is difficult, please feel empowered to abstain.
Considerations for alcohol quality
Just as with food, it is important to consider the quality of the source ingredients of alcohol, in addition to ensuring that it is free from gluten. Many alcoholic beverages (even those that are gluten free) are fermented from crops like grapes, potatoes, and sugar cane, that have been heavily sprayed with harmful pesticides. Pesticides like glyphosate have been associated with damage to the microbiome. Purchasing organic alcoholic beverages can help to ensure that you aren’t consuming pesticides and chemicals that could damage your gut and overall health.
What alcohols are gluten free?
It should be noted that distilled alcoholic spirits (hard liquors) are considered gluten free by the manufacturers. The claim is that distillation eliminates any gluten in the beverage.
Gluten Free Society does not recommend the consumption of any spirit derived from grain regardless of manufacturer claims.
Wine or champagne
Wine and champagne are produced from grapes. Wine is safe on a gluten free diet, but it is recommended that you check with the manufacturer to make sure no gluten has been added. Wine coolers are NOT gluten free as they contain barley malt. Gluten Free Society trusts the clean wine from Dry Farm Wines.
Wine and champagne are typically gluten free. Wine coolers are not gluten free.
Beer or ale
Beer is typically brewed using grain. Many beers labeled “gluten free” use sorghum, millet, buckwheat, and brown rice as a substitute for wheat and barley. As sorghum, millet, and rice contain glutens, both regular and “gluten-free” beers are not recommended.
Brandy is distilled from fruit. Most commonly used are pears, cherries, peaches, and raspberries. Brandy is typically gluten free.
Cider is generally made from the fermented juice of apples. The juice is typically fermented in oak barrels by adding yeast. It has a higher alcoholic content than beer (5% or greater). Ciders are sometimes gluten free, as many manufacturers add barley to them.
Be sure to read the label and do additional research as needed. For example, Angry Orchard notes that they make their cider with gluten free ingredients and test their equipment for gluten to minimize the risk of cross contamination.
Cognac is traditionally made from white grapes and is safe on a gluten free diet.
Grappa is made from pressed grapes and is safe on a gluten free diet.
Mead is a wine produced by fermenting honey. It is safe on a gluten free diet, unless additional grain-based ingredients are added to it. Check the label!
This Grecian beverage is made from aniseed, fennel seed, and other aromatic plants. Ouzo is safe to consume on a gluten free diet. Other beverages similar to ouzo are Absinthe, Sambuca, and Raki.
Rum is traditionally made from sugar cane. Rum is safe on a gluten free diet, but it is recommended that you consume rum drinks without added ingredients.
Sake is made from milled rice. It is produced by adding koji mold (Aspergillus oryzae). Some koji is derived from barley. Therefore, sake is only sometimes gluten free and it can be hard to determine when it is safe and when it is not safe. For this reason, sake is not recommended on a gluten free diet.
True German Schnaps is made from fermented fruit and is considered a true spirit. This type of schnapps is safe on a gluten free diet.
However, American Schnapps are produced by mixing grain spirits with fruit flavors or other flavors. American schnapps is not recommended on a gluten free diet.
Tequila is produced from the blue agave plant. Traditional tequila is safe on a gluten free diet.
Vodka can be made from either grain or potatoes, so vodka is only sometimes gluten free, when it is made with potatoes. The following vodka brands are made using potatoes:
- Blue Ice
- Cold River Vodka
- Teton Glacier
- Woody Creek
Whisky is a distilled beverage made from fermented grain. Typically, barley, rye, wheat, and corn are used to make whisky. Whisky is also commonly called Scotch, Bourbon, and moonshine. Whisky is not recommended on a gluten free diet.
Many mixed drinks are made with mixes containing multiple ingredients, including sugar, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and more. It is important to read the labels on these products as they often contain hidden gluten. Common examples include margaritas, daiquiris, pina coladas, and other sweetened frozen or fruity alcoholic beverages.
When in doubt, it is best to prepare your own mixed drinks so that you can be sure that all of the ingredients are safe.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to consuming alcohol on a gluten free diet, it is important to know what you are drinking. Read labels, inquire with manufacturers, and if you are not sure if it is safe, don’t take any chances! And of course, drinking in moderation in order to promote optimal health is always recommended.