If you actually pay attention to such things, it seems like every week doctors, washed-up celebrities, and loud TV pitchmen are telling us about something to avoid in our diet. The most recent culprit is gluten. It seems like gluten-free products and diets are everywhere these days.
Gluten is a protein found in “cereal grasses” like wheat. While the health effects of gluten on the average person are still being explored, there are definite dangers for people with certain medical conditions if they eat gluten. Knowing that most alcoholic drinks are made from cereal grasses and grains, it begs the question: “Can I get blitzed on a gluten-free diet?” Can alcohol be gluten-free?
Why would gluten in alcohol matter to you?
Regardless of what some quacks and celebrity spokespeople would have you believe, a gluten-free diet is not some kind of weight-loss fad or cure-all. It is a specific diet designed for people who have celiac disease, gluten allergies, or gluten sensitivities; conditions that will cause people to experience varying levels of discomfort or even severe health problems if they eat gluten.
For people like this, a gluten-free diet is the only way to stay healthy and have a good quality of life. Drinking alcohol with gluten in it could cause a very negative reaction for people with any kind of gluten sensitivity.
What about those of us who don’t have a problem with gluten?
An article in U.S News & World Report suggests that some people who have no gluten sensitivity still choose to avoid it because it makes it easier to avoid sugary snack foods that often contain gluten. That is rather like saying that nuclear weapons contain some plastic parts, therefore you’re going to avoid plastic so that you don’t suffer radiation poisoning.
There are others who just enjoy the taste of gluten-free food, preferring the taste of rice or corn to wheat.
What are some gluten-free drinks with alcohol?
Alcohol, as a general rule, is made from fermenting plant material. This material might contain gluten, as in the case of a beer made from barley or a whiskey made from grains. The good news is that, just because the source material contains gluten, the finished product doesn’t have to.
An article on Livestrong.com explains that all hard liquors like whiskey, rum, and tequila are distilled. Gluten does not survive the process of distillation, so these drinks are generally gluten-free.
There is still a chance of gluten contamination if the drink comes into contact with gluten after distillation, but this is not likely. A bigger problem occurs in flavored liquors, when the flavors added after distillation might include gluten.
Wine is made from fruit and it is generally gluten-free, but some wine coolers are not because they may contain malt extract. Sake is made from rice and should be gluten-free unless a flavoring is added that contains gluten. The same is true of hard ciders, which are made from fermented fruit, but could have malt extract containing gluten added for flavor.
Welcome to the world of the gluten sensitive—even when somebody makes a naturally gluten-free product, they go sprinkling extra gluten into it just to tick you off.
A relatively recent addition to gluten-free drinking options is gluten-free beer. Celiac.com lists more than 20 beers that are said to either not contain gluten or contain less gluten than the magic number of 20 parts per million. Some of these beers are brewed from gluten-free grains like rice or sorghum, but others just have the gluten filtered out of them.
Besides gluten, what other substances in alcohol could cause problems?
Probably the most dangerous substance in an alcoholic drink is, well, alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant that can impair your judgment, destroy your liver, increase your risk of various diseases and disorders including certain types of cancer, and seriously impact memory and brain function. On the plus side, it makes you feel really good for an hour or two and might help you to get laid.
According to AlcoholAddict.info, the distillation and fermentation processes have by-products known as congeners that show up in most alcoholic drinks. These evil little substances contribute to the toxic effects of a hangover. Do you hate them yet? Different types of alcohol have different amounts of congeners—for instance, vodka has very few, but bourbon and dark rum have more congeners.
Some mixed drinks will include flavors that are high in sugar and fat content. Anything mixed with soda gives you the negative effects of alcohol on your brain and the negative effects of soda on your hips, stomach, or butt, so you might not want to knock back too many of those in an evening.
Alcohol is often gluten-free, depending on what material it is created from and what process is used to create it. Some alcoholic beverages, like wine and distilled liquor, are almost always gluten-free while other types of drinks, like beer, are rarely gluten-free.
If you have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive, it will pay to do your homework and find drinks that do not have gluten—a hangover can be bad enough without adding whole new levels of gastrointestinal distress.