Can celiacs have Coca-Cola?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. For people with celiac disease, consuming gluten triggers an immune response that attacks the small intestine and inhibits nutrient absorption. This can lead to symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, fatigue, headaches and more. The only treatment for celiac disease is following a strict gluten-free diet, which means avoiding foods and beverages containing gluten. But what about soda like Coca-Cola? Can celiacs drink Coke safely?

Does Coca-Cola Contain Gluten?

The answer is yes, Coca-Cola and most other cola soft drinks are considered gluten-free and safe for people with celiac disease to consume in moderation. Coca-Cola’s ingredients include carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors and caffeine. None of these contain gluten. Barley or wheat ingredients are not used in traditional Coca-Cola recipes. The caramel coloring in Coke is made from corn, cane sugar or beets, not from gluten-containing grains. Any “natural flavors” added to Coca-Cola are proprietary blends that do not include gluten.

According to Coca-Cola Company, their beverages are tested regularly to ensure they meet the FDA’s definition of “gluten-free.” For a product to be labeled gluten-free in the United States, it must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.

Risk of Cross-Contamination

While the Coca-Cola recipe itself does not contain gluten, there is a small risk of cross-contamination occurring during manufacturing. Trace amounts of gluten could make their way into Coca-Cola from shared equipment, processing lines and facilities. Barley is sometimes used to flavor certain Coca-Cola products like coffee and tea beverages, energy drinks and ready-to-drink coffee products. Equipment used to make those beverages could expose traditional Coca-Cola to small amounts of gluten.

The company aims to limit cross-contamination risks by using separate production lines for known allergens and thoroughly cleaning equipment between production runs. But remnants may remain in very small amounts.

Coca-Cola Labeling

Coca-Cola does not make a gluten-free claim on its products. While Coke is inherently gluten-free based on its recipe, the company acknowledges the potential for cross-contamination. Because of this, Coca-Cola does not label its products as “gluten-free” or make guarantees to celiac consumers.

Instead, their products have an advisory statement that reads: “This product is made with gluten-free ingredients. But because we cannot guarantee it is 100% gluten-free, this product is not labeled gluten-free.” This covers them legally while informing gluten-sensitive consumers.

Risk Assessment

So is Coca-Cola truly gluten-free or does it contain traces of gluten from cross-contamination? Independent third-party testing provides some clues. Consumer Labs tested 13 different cola beverages including Coke, Pepsi, RC Cola and store brands. They found gluten levels under 5 ppm in all samples. Other sites like GlutenFreely report testing Coke and detecting no measurable amounts of gluten.

While Coke may pick up traces of gluten in the manufacturing process, testing indicates these amounts are very low and typically below the limit of quantification (LOQ) for test methods. Amounts this low are not likely to cause issues for the majority of those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Individual Factors

However, individuals have different sensitivity levels when it comes to small gluten exposures. Factors like the following can influence response:

  • Age at celiac diagnosis
  • Length of time on the gluten-free diet
  • Extent of gut damage and healing
  • Otherfood sensitivities
  • Quality of gluten-free diet

Those diagnosed at a younger age and who have strictly followed a gluten-free diet for years tend to tolerate trace gluten better. People with many food intolerances or those newly diagnosed are likely more sensitive.

Talk to your doctor about your individual case. They may advise avoiding products with advisory labels if you react strongly or suggest trying a small serving to see if you tolerate it.

Other Beverage Options

If you or your child has celiac disease and want to avoid even traces of gluten, opting for other beverages is recommended. There are many gluten-free soda options to consider instead, including:

Gluten-Free Cola Brands

  • Red River
  • Maine Root
  • Capt’n Eli’s
  • Tucker’s
  • Jones Cola
  • Santa Cruz Organics
  • Blue Sky
  • Hansen’s

Many of these brands state “gluten-free” directly on their labels, indicating a stricter standard. Some independent brands also specifically process and bottle their soda in dedicated gluten-free facilities, eliminating cross-contact concerns.

Other Gluten-Free Favorites

In addition to specialty colas, other naturally gluten-free sodas to enjoy include:

  • IBC Root Beer
  • A&W Root Beer
  • Izze Sparkling Juice
  • Zevia
  • Spindrift Sparking Water
  • Mountain Zevia
  • Orange Crush
  • Goslings Ginger Beer
  • Reed’s Ginger Beer
  • Sprite
  • 7UP
  • Fanta

Check labels to confirm gluten-free status, as formulations can change over time. And consider contacting manufacturers directly if uncertain.

Is There Caffeine in Coke?

Coca-Cola Classic contains 34 mg of caffeine per 12-ounce serving. This is slightly less than other popular sodas like Pepsi (38 mg per 12 oz) and Mountain Dew (54 mg per 12 oz).

The caffeine content comes from the kola nut extract used for flavoring. Other ingredients like guarana may also contribute small amounts.

Decaffeinated versions like Coca-Cola Zero Sugar and Coca-Cola Zero contain trace amounts of caffeine from the kola nut but no significant added caffeine.

Caffeine Sensitivity

Celiac disease often coincides with heightened sensitivity or intolerance to ingredients like caffeine. Some people notice caffeine exacerbates gut symptoms or causes headaches, jitters or insomnia.

Children and adolescents tend to be more susceptible to caffeine’s effects. There is also concern that colas may displace healthier beverages in a child’s diet or negatively impact calcium status.

Based on this, nutrition experts suggest limiting soda intake for kids and teens, including those with celiac disease. If consuming colas occasionally, caffeine-free varieties are preferable.

Sugar Content of Coke

Coca-Cola Classic contains 39 grams of sugar in each 12-ounce serving. This includes sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup as the main sweetener.

A 12-ounce can of Coke contains 140 calories, all from added sugars. This represents 27% of the daily value for added sugars based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Sugar and Celiac Disease

Consuming too much added sugar from soda and other sources can be a concern for those with celiac disease for a few reasons:

  • May crowd out more nutrient-dense foods and beverages in the diet
  • Can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes leading to fatigue
  • Linked to increased inflammation and reduced immune function
  • Contributes empty calories without nutrients
  • May worsen digestive issues in some people

There are also links between high soda consumption and reduced bone mineral density. Since bone health is already a concern with celiac disease, limiting colas high in added sugar is advised.

Diet Coke and Aspartame

Instead of high fructose corn syrup, Diet Coke is sweetened with aspartame. Each 12-ounce can contains 125 mg of the artificial sweetener aspartame.

Aspartame is created from two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid. It provides the sweet taste of sugar without all the calories. It does contain a tiny amount of methanol as a byproduct.

Is Aspartame Safe?

Despite early controversy, extensive research has confirmed aspartame is safe at typical intake levels. The FDA has approved its use, concluding aspartame does not pose cancer risks or other health hazards to the general population.

However, those with the rare genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) must control phenylalanine intake from all sources, including aspartame.

Aspartame is not a concern for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity specifically. But some report suffering headaches or other symptoms when consuming it. People vary in tolerance of artificial sweeteners.

Other Diet Cola Options

Beyond aspartame, there are alternative sugar substitutes used in diet and zero-calorie sodas like:

  • Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K)
  • Sucralose
  • Saccharin
  • Stevia
  • Erythritol

Coke Zero Sugar uses a blend of aspartame and Ace-K. Sprite Zero relies on aspartame, Ace-K and saccharin. And Pepsi Zero Sugar is sweetened with aspartame and Ace-K.

There are also stevia-sweetened soda options on the market to try. Not all artificial sweeteners agree with everyone, so personal tolerance varies.

Does Coca-Cola Contain Preservatives?

Coca-Cola does not contain added chemical preservatives. The carbonated water, acidity level and refrigerated storage provide preservation.

However, Coke does contain natural phosphoric acid. Added as an acidity regulator, phosphoric acid helps lend a tangy flavor and prevent growth of bacteria and mold.

Phosphoric Acid Content

There are 44 mg of phosphoric acid per 12 oz can of Coca-Cola Classic.

Diet Coke contains slightly more at 57.1 mg of phosphoric acid per 12 oz serving.

Is Phosphoric Acid Harmful?

Phosphoric acid is safe for consumption at these low levels. Potential health concerns are more applicable to cola over-consumption or consuming phosphoric acid as a pure chemical.

There is some evidence very high intakes for prolonged periods can negatively impact bone health by interfering with calcium absorption. But moderate soda intake as part of a varied diet is not a risk.

Those with gastrointestinal conditions like IBS or gut inflammation may find consuming less phosphoric acid beneficial. But for most, phosphoric acid in moderation is not problematic.

Should Celiacs Drink Coca-Cola?

In summary, here are considerations regarding Coca-Cola for people with celiac disease:

  • Coca-Cola is made with gluten-free ingredients, but there is a low risk of cross-contamination occurring.
  • Independent testing shows Coke contains less than 5 ppm of gluten, but some celiacs react more strongly to trace amounts.
  • Coca-Cola contains caffeine (34 mg per 12 oz), which can be a concern especially for kids.
  • A standard can of Coke supplies 140 empty calories and 39 grams of added sugar.
  • Diet Coke is sweetened with the artificial sweetener aspartame, which some people do not tolerate well.
  • There are alternative gluten-free soda options without advisory labeling if you wish to avoid any risk.

Drinking the occasional Coca-Cola is unlikely to cause illness for most. But those newly diagnosed or highly sensitive should take precautions until they know how they react individually. Water, milk, juice and other uncaffeinated, low-sugar beverages make healthier daily choices.

As with any product, listen to your body and see how you respond. And discuss any concerns with your doctor or dietitian.

Tips for Living Gluten-Free

Here are some suggestions to make following a gluten-free diet easier:

Learn to Read Labels

Get in the habit of always reading the ingredient lists and allergen statements on packaged foods and drinks. Watch for obvious sources of gluten as well as vague ingredients that could indicate hidden sources.

Look for Proper Certification

When possible, choose certified gluten-free products that carry the GFCO or other credible gluten-free symbol. This ensures the product meets strict standards to limit cross-contact risks.

Cook More Meals at Home

Preparing your own meals gives you total control over ingredients. Focus on naturally gluten-free foods like produce, meats, dairy, eggs, rice, quinoa and lentils.

Communicate with Wait Staff

When eating out, tell your server you need a gluten-free meal. Ask about preparation methods and risk of cross-contact with menu items containing gluten.

Watch Out for Unsafe Grains

Remember that barley, rye and conventional oats are off-limits. Wheat and its varieties like spelt, einkorn, farro and durum must also be avoided.

Skip the Beer

All beers contain gluten, even if made from sorghum, rice or corn. Opt for gluten-free ciders, wines and gluten-removed spirits instead.

The Takeaway on Coca-Cola

  • Coca-Cola and other mainstream cola sodas are considered gluten-free based on containing gluten-free ingredients.
  • But due to shared facilities and equipment, trace gluten from cross-contact is possible.
  • Independent testing shows amounts below 5 ppm, but sensitivity varies.
  • Those newly diagnosed or highly sensitive may want to opt for gluten-free labeled sodas.
  • Moderation is key due to caffeine, sugar and acidity.
  • Always make Coca-Cola an occasional treat, not a daily habit.

While an occasional Coca-Cola is unlikely to cause problems for most celiacs, there are healthier beverage choices to emphasize overall. Drink plenty of water, enjoy coffee and tea in moderation, and explore the expanding range of gluten-free sodas if craving a fizzy treat.

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