Celiacs often wonder if they can drink certain beers, like Corona, that are made from gluten-containing grains like barley. The quick answer is no – celiacs cannot safely drink Corona beer due to its gluten content.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. This leads to inflammation and damage to the villi – the small, finger-like protrusions in the small intestine that absorb nutrients from food.
Symptoms of celiac disease may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Skin rash
Celiac disease is estimated to affect around 1% of people worldwide. However, many people go undiagnosed. The only treatment for celiac disease is adhering to a strict gluten-free diet for life. Even small amounts of gluten from cross-contamination can trigger symptoms and intestinal damage.
What is Corona Beer Made From?
Corona beer is a Mexican lager produced by Cervecería Modelo. It’s made primarily from malted barley, but also contains corn, yeast and hops. The gluten-containing source in Corona beer is the malted barley.
Here are the key ingredients in Corona beer:
- Malted barley – Barley contains gluten proteins called hordeins. Since Corona contains malted barley, it contains gluten.
- Corn – Corn does not contain gluten.
- Hops – Hops are also naturally gluten-free.
- Yeast – The yeast used to brew Corona does not contain gluten.
During the brewing process, the malted barely goes through a mashing process where the starches are converted to fermentable sugars. The sugars are then fermented by the yeast. So while the gluten remains present in the final beer, it is changed chemically from its original form.
Gluten Content of Corona
Most conventional beers contain between 10 to 30 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. According to testing sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, Corona Extra contains 59.6 ppm of gluten.
In comparison, other common beers contain around these levels of gluten:
|Gluten Content (ppm)
According to the FDA, foods can be labeled “gluten-free” if they contain less than 20 ppm of gluten. Clearly, Corona Extra far exceeds this threshold. So Corona would not qualify as a gluten-free beer.
There are some modified beers that have had the gluten proteins removed after brewing. These “gluten-removed” beers may have less than 20 ppm of gluten and be safer for celiacs to drink. However, the gluten content can vary between different batches. Omission beer is one brand that produces gluten-removed beers.
Are Celiacs Sensitive to Even Small Amounts of Gluten?
Yes, celiacs are extremely sensitive even to very small traces of gluten. While the amount of gluten in a single Corona beer may seem tiny, it is enough to cause issues for those with celiac disease.
Research shows that celiacs react to gluten levels as low as 10-50 mg per day. A 12 oz serving of Corona Extra contains about 72.5 mg of gluten. This is well above the tolerable threshold for most celiacs.
After being on a gluten-free diet, celiac patients also become more sensitive over time to trace amounts of gluten. This is because the villi in their small intestine heal and become better at absorption. But this also means they may react strongly when trace amounts of gluten are introduced.
Symptoms from Trace Gluten
When a celiac ingests even a small amount of gluten, they may experience:
- Abdominal pain
- Brain fog
- Joint pain
Some celiacs do report being able to tolerate up to 10-20 ppm of gluten without issues. However, this is not the case for all celiacs. The only way to prevent symptoms and intestinal damage is strict avoidance.
Is Corona “Gluten-Free”?
No. Corona beer contains malted barley and has too much gluten to ever be considered gluten-free. According to testing, Corona Extra has 59.6 ppm of gluten.
A product has to contain less than 20 ppm of gluten to be labeled gluten-free in the United States. Even beers marketed as “gluten-removed” tend to have around 5-15 ppm of residual gluten. So Corona cannot legally or safely be marketed to celiacs as a gluten-free beer.
There is also some concern around cross-reactivity for celiacs drinking beers like Corona. This means the immune system may react to similar protein sequences in the barley malt that are like gluten sequences. So some celiacs react to gluten-removed beers even though the measurable gluten content is low.
One study found that 50% of celiacs had an abnormal immune reaction after consuming beers made from gluten-free grains. So even though the grains didn’t contain the prolamin sequences in wheat, barley, and rye, there were similar enough structures to trigger immune cross-reactivity.
More research is needed, but the potential for cross-reactivity is another reason celiacs should use caution when it comes to beers brewed from gluten-containing ingredients.
Is Corona Safe for Gluten Sensitivity?
Individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) can sometimes tolerate small amounts of gluten. The gluten content in a single Corona beer may or may not trigger symptoms in those with gluten sensitivity.
Reactions can vary quite a bit from person to person based on the severity of their sensitivity. Some people with NCGS report having gastrointestinal issues after drinking beers like Corona, while others seem to do okay with an occasional beer.
Those with NCGS who wish to drink Corona should pay close attention to any symptoms that develop afterwards like bloating, headaches, fatigue or brain fog. Keeping a food and symptom journal can help determine your personal threshold.
Of course, the only way to completely avoid any reactions is to stick to gluten-free beer alternatives instead.
Beer Alternatives for Celiacs
So what beer options are available for celiacs? Here are some gluten-free beers to consider:
- Beers made from gluten-free grains – Some examples include sorghum beer, buckwheat beer, or quinoa beer.
- Cider – Cider is naturally gluten-free as it is made from apples.
- Wine – Most wines are gluten-free, just watch out for those with barley-based fining agents.
- Mead – Mead is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey and water.
- Gluten-removed beer – As mentioned earlier, some modified beers have had gluten proteins removed. These may be an option, but proceed with caution.
- Standard lagers and ales brewed without gluten grains – There are an increasing number of dedicated gluten-free breweries making beers from ingredients like sorghum, rice and corn.
When choosing a gluten-free beer, opt for a brand that is transparent about their brewing process and ingredients. Look for independent gluten testing certificates to verify the gluten content. And as always, listen to your own body and discontinue drinking any beer that causes issues or symptoms.
Is Corona Safe for People Without Gluten-Related Disorders?
For people without celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy, Corona beer is generally safe from a gluten perspective.
The gluten content in Corona is too low to trigger issues in people who do not have underlying gluten disorders and can tolerate gluten normally.
However, Corona beer (or any beer) may cause issues for some people due to its alcohol content, carbonation or other ingredients. But the amount of gluten itself is not a concern for people who do not have medical conditions related to gluten intake.
Despite being a light lager, Corona beer contains gluten from its malted barley ingredient. The measured gluten content is around 60 parts per million, which exceeds the FDA threshold for gluten-free labeling. Celiacs are very sensitive even to small amounts of gluten, so Corona beer is not considered safe for those with celiac disease.
People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may or may not tolerate an occasional Corona, but should be cautious due to potential cross-reactivity issues. Those without gluten disorders do not need to worry about the gluten content in Corona.
Celiacs should focus on truly gluten-free beer alternatives made from ingredients like sorghum, buckwheat, corn, rice or gluten-free grains. And always check the brewing process and labeling when selecting a gluten-free beer option.