Alcohol and Celiac Disease: Which Drinks Are Safe?

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Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder impacting an estimated two million people in the U.S. and one percent of people worldwide. And if you’ve been diagnosed with it, you’ve probably had to make some lifestyle changes to stay healthy.

Along with these changes, you may wonder what kind of alcohol (if any) is safe to drink. Can you still drink hard liquors, seltzers, or wines? Are there any risks to drinking when you’re gluten-intolerant?

If you’ve been wondering how alcohol can fit into a gluten-free lifestyle, we’ve got you covered. Below, we’ll discuss what you need to know about alcohol and celiac disease, including safe gluten-free alcoholic drinks and what to avoid.

What Type of Alcohol Is Safe?

When it comes to celiac disease and alcohol, beer carries the highest risk, as it is often made from materials containing gluten. Many other common alcoholic beverages are fairly safe. However, there are a few things you should be aware of before you grab a drink.

For starters, the FDA allows anything that has been through the distillation process to be labeled as “gluten-free.” But a very small portion of people do still report unpleasant side effects after drinking distilled liquor made from gluten-containing ingredients.

Some people speculate that tiny gluten fragments or cross-contamination during the manufacturing process can cause these side effects. In any case, if you find that you’re sensitive to certain spirits, you should opt for liquor with naturally gluten-free ingredients when possible.

For example, you could reach for potato-based vodka instead of wheat vodka. Or you could choose brandy, which is distilled from wine, as opposed to gin or whiskey.

What Alcohol Is Gluten-Free?

In most cases, the beverages listed below are gluten-free (although it’s never a bad idea to check directly with the brand for exact gluten content):

  • Wine is a grape-based beverage, making it naturally gluten-free most of the time. That being said, look out for additives that may include gluten.
  • Most liquors, such as bourbon, whiskey, tequila, rum, etc., are considered gluten-free after the distillation process.
  • Hard seltzers are almost always gluten-free. Their ingredients generally contain zero gluten to begin with. However, some added flavorings may contain gluten, so it’s important to check before consuming.

Alcoholic Drinks to Avoid

The good news for those dodging gluten is that choosing which drinks to avoid is fairly straightforward.

Here are some general guidelines to help you out:

  • Avoid beer or ale unless it is labeled “gluten-free.”
  • Be aware of seltzers or wines with flavored additives or other ingredients containing gluten.
  • Avoid hard cider that is not explicitly labeled “gluten-free.”
  • Be cautious of alcohol with a “gluten-removed” label. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, some people with celiac may still have an immune reaction to gluten-removed products.
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What Happens If You Drink Beer With Celiac Disease?

When it comes to alcohol and celiac disease, you’ll want to be mindful of drinking beer. If you consume beer made with barley, wheat, or rye, you could experience an immune reaction, with symptoms such as:

  • Indigestion and diarrhea
  • Gas and bloating
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Skin rash

Overall, it’s always best to choose something other than traditional beer. There are so many gluten-free alcoholic options out there, so don’t feel like you have to go completely sober. You can always grab a brew made from gluten-free ingredients, a flavored seltzer, or even a glass of wine instead.

Can Drinking Alcohol Increase Your Chances of Gluten Intolerance?

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In most cases, no. Most people don’t need to worry about developing a gluten intolerance from drinking alcohol.

However, a 2013 study found that excessive alcohol use may increase gluten sensitivity in genetically susceptible individuals. In other words, there’s a chance that too much alcohol can be the catalyst for symptoms when you have a predisposition.

Keep in mind that this study looked at excessive alcohol use. Fortunately, there isn’t any evidence showing that light or moderate drinking can contribute to developing gluten sensitivity. As long as you keep your drinking to healthy limits, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Where Does Alcohol Fit into a Healthy, Gluten-Free Diet?

An occasional glass of wine, beer, or seltzer can absolutely fit into a celiac-conscious lifestyle—you should just be aware of which types of alcohol are gluten-free.

Beyond choosing your drinks wisely, also be sure to limit your consumption to healthy amounts. The general rule of thumb is to keep it under one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.

The Bottom Line on Alcohol and Celiac Disease

If you’ve been worried about celiac disease and alcohol reactions, you’re not alone. The good news is that you can still enjoy alcohol as part of a well-rounded lifestyle. And you can sidestep any adverse effects of gluten by simply being mindful of what you’re drinking.

You may have to consider extra factors that most other people won’t have to think about regarding alcohol—but celiac disease won’t limit your options as much as you might think.

Resources for Alcohol Use

On the other hand, if you’re asking this question because it’s hard to imagine cutting back on alcohol, there is now more flexible assistance to drink less. Take our alcohol use survey to find out where you fall on the spectrum. And if you feel you could use some help, we invite you to schedule a no-obligation call with a member of our team.

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Written By:
Alicia Schultz
Minnesota-based freelancer and health advocate who aims to empower others through her work.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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