A few autumns ago, after several chilly days signaled the season change was official in Atlanta, I spied a cheery orange bag of Pumpkin Spice Dunkin’ Donuts ground coffee in the supermarket. I had plenty of coffee at home, but had never tried Dunkin’s coffee, so why not?
For several days I enjoyed that coffee, ignorantly sipping the seasonal flavor of pumpkin spice. Unfortunately, a few days after my coffee purchase, I felt ill. At first, I brushed it off as a cold coming on. Then, my body became achy and my energy levels plummeted. I changed my diagnosis to “flu”. Of course, the flu did not explain the bloating and other gastrointestinal symptoms I endured. Not to mention, my appetite all but vanished and I was constantly tired.
Finally, two weeks into these puzzling symptoms, signs of my Iron Deficiency Anemia surfaced. Shocking because I am on lifetime iron therapy. My physical pain became overwhelming, nearly debilitating. I collapsed doing laundry, was unable to make dinner and walking up and down the stairs was nearly impossible. My vision blurred. I had difficulty focusing.
These symptoms were exactly the same symptoms I suffered off and on for over 25 years prior to learning I must live gluten-free. Exactly the same symptoms.
What changed in three weeks??
I do not eat prepackaged, highly processed foods, and at the time, when I still ate gluten-free grains and flours, those were certified gluten-free and purified water was all I was drinking. I searched the fridge and pantry. No seasonings, spices or condiments had changed. My entire home is gluten-free, so no risk of crumbs or other cross-contamination existed.
Then it occurred to me (well, it occurred to Dreamy)…that coffee! It was the only change I had made. I went for the package and on the label: “Artificial flavors”. Damn! I had been sipping my poison for three weeks on a near-daily basis! I felt like an idiot. How could I fall for that “artificial flavors” business?! We talk about it all the time, after all.
Those symptoms I shared above, they are all symptoms of celiac disease and/or gluten sensitivity. They are my symptoms. They are your symptoms.
I went to my computer and tried to find allergen information for Dunkin’ Donuts pre-packaged coffees. I could not, so I emailed the company to ask whether any of their coffees are gluten-free. Here is an excerpt from the response I received via email:
Response from Dunkin’ Donuts Regarding their Pre-Packaged Coffees:
“Thank you for contacting The J.M. Smucker Company regarding our Dunkin’ Donuts® coffee products.
Coffee is not a source of gluten and our Dunkin’ Donuts® roast and ground coffee items are produced in a dedicated facility where no other types of agricultural crops are handled or processed.
However, due to the use of common equipment within the agricultural community to harvest, store and transport crops, our roast and ground products may contain trace amounts of grain-based ingredients.
Additionally, our flavored coffee products may contain added ingredients that are not gluten-free.”
Well, I had my answer.
(FYI: Millstone coffees are also produced by J.M. Smucker and I received the exact same email reply when I inquired about those coffees.)
Now, understand, I’m not sharing this story for sympathy. Three days off the coffee and I began improving. Besides, it happens. I thought this experience might help you, at least one of you, who is having difficulty with enduring symptoms, even on a gluten-free diet. Gluten can creep in, even when we don’t realize it.
I also thought it provides an excellent example of why we must always read labels and should never consume products with natural or artificial flavorings we aren’t sure of. Never. (I sure hope I learned my lesson!)
This experience also led me to a question I am now researching for you: How much gluten is too much gluten?
We cannot say “any gluten is too much” because the truth is, even on the most strict gluten-free diet, we ingest some gluten. (Yes, we really do. I’m going to show you how and how much, too!)
However, the question of “how much gluten is safe for those of us with celiac disease?” is an important, and highly debated one. (Note: according to the FDA gluten labeling law products labeled gluten-free must contain less than 20 ppm gluten. You can read more about that ruling and why I say it is not nearly enough for the celiac community in my article, “FDA Guidelines for Gluten-Free Labeling are Frightening for Celiacs“.
Meantime, I have good news about sipping flavored coffees on our gluten-free diet!
Because I don’t want you to have the same experience I had, I have found a few brands of flavored coffees we can safely enjoy! For your convenience and further research, I provide links to the allergen FAQ pages for the producers below.
Gluten-Free Flavored Coffees
I receive absolutely no compensation (monetary or product) for sharing these products with you. I am simply providing information found during my personal investigation that I feel may benefit some of you.
Godiva (all coffees)
Barnie’s (all coffees)
Keurig K-Cups (all coffee and tea K-Cup packs are gluten and gluten by-product free, as well as egg and dairy free; Note: The Café Escapes French Vanilla Café-au-Lait K-Cup® pack contains small amounts of wheat. The Timothy’s Lemon Blueberry Tea K-Cup® pack contains malted oats, which are not gluten-free.)
I contacted several other companies directly, but received no responses. When I do, I will update this page for you.
Finally, remember, while coffee is naturally gluten-free, even some regular (unflavored) coffees are not safe on our gluten-free diet. This is usually due to cross-contamination during processing, as mentioned above in the email reply I received regarding Dunkin’ Donuts and Millstone coffees.
Always read the label, check the company website for an allergen statement (usually found on the FAQ page) and if you’re still in doubt, give them a call to ask direct questions.
For more on gluten and specific brands of regular (unflavored) coffees like Folgers, Starbucks and Eight O’Clock coffee, read my article, “Is Coffee Gluten-Free?“
Be well, and be informed.