Coffee… if you were like me and came to the autoimmune protocol from a paleo or gluten-free diet but were still drinking coffee, this elimination probably gave you a moment or more of hesitation. Wine is one thing, chocolate is a little painful, but ok. But Coffee?!
Coffee is eliminated on the autoimmune protocol for a variety of complex reasons some of which include the stress that caffeine puts on the HPA-axis, the risk for gluten cross-reaction, and the inflammatory impact it can have on certain autoimmune diseases (More Info).
My experience of giving up and reintroducing coffee has been a long one. Before I started on the autoimmune protocol I drank a lot of coffee. At home, I made cheap, often flavored, drip coffee and when I went out I went to Starbucks. When I made the switch, I switched first to green and black tea and eventually to mostly herbal tea with a cup of black tea as a treat some mornings. What I came to find though, was that coffee for me wasn’t the same as the other foods that I eliminated. As I healed and saw the benefits of eliminating things like nightshades and egg whites from my diet I didn’t miss them because life without them was better. I still really missed coffee though. Not because I wanted the caffeine but because I had a really strong emotional connection to it. I love the taste of coffee and I love the way it made me feel warm and happy when I drank it. I loved sitting in coffee shops and I loved the way it smelled.
This may sound weird if you aren’t a coffee drinker, but my guess is that we all have that one food that we have a pretty strong emotional pull towards.
My first attempt at coffee reintroduction was after about 9 months of elimination stage AIP. I got a high quality, organic, iced coffee from whole foods and I drank half one day and half the next. I waited for three days and had no reaction. I was very happy! So the next time that my coffee craving snuck in I made my way to Starbucks and got an iced latte. The next day I was sick as could be. I got a migraine that lasted for days, my stomach was sick and there was no denying that it was the coffee. I honestly didn’t understand. So, I eliminated coffee again and figured that it was just a reality I was going to have to get used to.
Somewhere along the way, I stumbled across the idea that many coffees, especially cheaper brands, and flavored coffee were sometimes cut with gluten-containing fillers like barley that were not listed on the packaging. I’m not sure why this surprised me, but it definitely did. It was just not something I had ever considered. So I learned my first lesson, the quality and the source of the coffee matters!
Then about a year ago I found myself the mom of two kids (way) under two. While I’m not an advocate for emotional eating, I was in need of some warm and happy feelings on occasion. I started doing some research on the best ways to minimize the reaction of coffee on the digestive system and I learned my second lesson: the preparation method of the coffee also matters. Coffee that is prepared hot like drip or pour-over has a much higher level of acidity than cold brewed coffee and this acid can be hard for a lot of people to digest. Similarly, espresso tends to be less acidic than drip coffee too since the beans are only coming into contact with the water for a very short amount of time. Cold brewed coffee and espresso have also been found to contain less caffeine per serving, on average, than the standard cup of drip coffee.
So, armed with that knowledge, I decided to give coffee another try and I made my first batch of organic, fair trade, cold brewed coffee. No reaction. Then a local coffee shop opened up that served high-quality coffee that they roast themselves and I tried some espresso and again no reaction! It has been about a year now since I reintroduced coffee and I am happy to say that I can tolerate both cold brewed coffee and espresso just fine in moderation and I am a happy woman because of it. Also, a word to anyone who would rather have hot coffee instead of cold coffee you can heat up cold brewed coffee once you have filtered the grounds out of it without it impacting the digestive benefits. It is heat while brewing that is the issue.
Obviously, my experience will not be the same as yours and you should follow the prescribed method of AIP reintroductions to see how you will react to coffee or any other eliminated food. However, learn from my previous lack of knowledge, not all coffee is created equal. So, if reintroducing coffee is important to you don’t start out with a cup of vanilla flavored Folgers!