Coffee is rich in antioxidants like polyphenols that prevent free radical damage and lower your risk of some chronic diseases. Drinking antioxidant-rich coffee moderately can help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and Type 2 diabetes.
Why does coffee cause gut issues?
Healthy coffee lovers report that the drink sometimes worsens acid reflux, heartburn, and stomach pain.
This occurs because coffee beans contain natural acids that become more concentrated as the beans are roasted and brewed. Your stomach can handle the acidity of coffee, but too much acid can cause problems, particularly once it leaks into your esophagus.
Coffee also loosens the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscles that separate your stomach from your esophagus. This can make stomach juices that contain hydrochloric acid splash up into your esophagus, which then results in acid reflux and heartburn symptoms.
Hydrochloric acid also causes chest pain, coughing, or a sore throat.
The beverage causes diarrhea since caffeine makes your digestive tract muscles contract and spasm. This pushes out the contents of your large intestine.
Coffee’s acidity can cause problems like flare-ups and symptoms like cramping and diarrhea in individuals with gut conditions like Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or ulcerative colitis. If you have gastrointestinal (GI) conditions like IBS and Crohn’s, it’s better to avoid coffee altogether.
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If you’re generally healthy and can’t bear the thought of abstaining from coffee, here are eight ways to make a gut-friendly cup of joe.
Drink low-acid coffee.
Coffee beans grown in areas with lower altitudes like Brazil, Peru, Sumatra, and Venezuela produce coffees that are naturally lower in acid. When buying coffee, check the label and look for beans marked “low acid.”
Another option is to brew beans with alkaline water to produce coffee with lower acidity.
Drink coffee without sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Sugar feeds “bad” gut microbes. If you have dysbiosis, or not enough “good” microbes and too many bad bugs, sweetened coffee can aggravate your condition.
Artificial sweeteners like erythritol, mannitol, and xylitol can’t be digested. These sugar alcohols are fermented by gut bacteria, which produce gases that distend the intestines and draw water in. This then results in symptoms like bloating or stomach pain.
Start slow and decrease the amount of sugar you add, until you can bear drinking coffee with only a bit of sugar.
Drink cold brew coffee.
Cold-brewed coffee is usually 65 percent less acidic than regular hot-brewed coffee.
Cold brewing extracts less acid and bitter compounds from the beans, making the final product easier to tolerate. If you prefer hot coffee, reheat cold-brewed coffee in a small pot.
Follow the steps below to make cold-brewed coffee:
- Mix low-acid, coarsely ground coffee beans with cold or room-temperature water in a glass jar. Cover, then mix well.
- Let the mixture steep in the fridge for about 12 hours or up to 48 hours. Shake the container several times as the mixture steeps to make sure it’s combined.
- Since you’re using cold water, this method requires a longer processing time to extract the flavors from the beans.
- After you’re done steeping, filter the coffee using a cheesecloth or paper filter.
- The filtered liquid is concentrated coffee, so mix it with additional hot water, milk, or non-dairy milk alternative. Cold-brewed coffee can be stored in the fridge for about two weeks.
Drink half-decaf coffee.
Coffee contains ingredients that can cause digestive irritation, such as caffeine.
Caffeine increases the production of stomach acid, and while this is essential for improved digestion, it can have adverse effects on those with loose LES muscles. Switch to decaf coffee and see if you can tolerate it. (Related: Coffee without the jitters: Here’s all you need to know about decaffeinated coffee.)
Add eggshells to coffee grounds.
Bases neutralize acids. Eggshells are made of calcium carbonate that is basic or alkaline.
Eggshells added to ground coffee helps absorb and neutralize the acids and other bitter compounds that can cause stomach irritation. Use shells from an organic egg.
Break an egg and wash the shell thoroughly. Let the eggshells dry, then break it into smaller pieces.
Mix the shells with ground coffee in a coffeemaker or French press. Use one eggshell for every four cups of coffee.
Replace milk with non-dairy alternatives.
If the coffee itself isn’t causing gut problems, it’s probably the dairy. If you have lactose intolerance, use lactose-free or plant-based milk.
However, if you have a dairy allergy, use dairy alternatives like almond, cashew, flax, or rice milks instead. Drinking dairy-free coffee means you’re using alternatives that may contain gums.
Guns help keep the liquid emulsified, so it doesn’t separate. While gums are natural food fiber components, they can be fermented by gut bacteria and cause digestive issues in some people. To avoid this, choose nut milks that don’t contain gums and sweeteners.
Drink coffee with hydrolyzed collagen.
Hydrolyzed collagen (collagen peptides) contains amino acids like glutamine and glycine. These amino acids strengthen your immune system, helps in detoxification, and repairs the gut lining.
Hydrolyzed collagen powder can be dissolved in hot or cold fluids. Add at least a heaping tablespoon of unflavored collagen peptides for every eight ounces of coffee.
Drink chicory coffee instead.
If your stomach is too sensitive for the other alternatives detailed above, drink chicory coffee instead.
Chicory root contains inulin. This prebiotic fiber feeds bacteria in your gut. If you have a healthy microbiome, the fiber in chicory can help “fertilize” your gut and promote bacterial diversity.
But if you’re experiencing bloating, burping, constipation, diarrhea, gas or stomach pain, chicory can aggravate your symptoms as it feeds the wrong bugs. Consult a digestive health dietitian to determine other food and beverage options.
Make gut-friendly coffee by using non-dairy milk and using less sugar. Your stomach will thank you for it.