Healthy Drinks

Why You Should Add a Pinch of Baking Soda to Your Coffee if You Have a Sensitive Stomach

Photo: Stocksy/Eyes on Asia
Ahhh… coffee. Even the mere thought of it is enough to boost your mood and add some pep to your step. But while there are folks who can guzzle mug after mug without worry, coffee can, unfortunately, cause bodily issues for some—especially when it comes to digestion.

If you love coffee as much as we do (in other words, a lot) but your sensitive stomach has other thoughts, here's some good news for you: You don’t have to skip your morning cuppa for the sake of digestive ease. Instead, adding a pinch of baking soda to your blend may do the trick to keep your tummy *and* taste buds happy and harmonized. Ahead, you’ll discover the simple reason why this hack actually works. But first: a few FYIs on how coffee can influence your digestion, for better or worse.

Why coffee and sensitive stomachs don’t exactly mix

As Brooklyn–based dietitian Maddie Pasquariello, MS, RDN, founder of East Coast Health and Nutrition with Maddie, begins, a few things can happen when coffee enters your system. “It can speed digestion by stimulating the production of stomach acid, exerting a laxative-like effect that can result in an upset stomach or diarrhea if you have a sensitive stomach,” says Pasquariello. Moreover, she adds that drinking coffee in excess can potentially damage the lining of the colon, which can lead to inflammation, and in severe cases, even stomach ulcers.

However, before you swear off coffee thinking it’s leading you straight to harm’s way, Pasquariello says that such cases are relatively rare. “This is not something most of us have to worry about, of course, but if you have Crohn's disease, IBS, or ulcerative colitis, it's worth speaking with your doctor or dietitian about what type of coffee and how much might be best for you,” she shares. (For reference, the FDA advises staying under the 400 milligram upper limit for daily caffeine intake, which amounts to about four or five standard cups of coffee. Just note that this amount applies to healthy adults who can tolerate coffee and caffeine well.)

In addition, Pasquariello notes that sensitivity to coffee can depend on a number of factors beyond your overall GI health and caffeine tolerance—including diet, time of intake, and genetics, but also how acidic your coffee is itself. “Coffee contains malic acid, citric acid, and acetic acid (among others), and these compounds are released from beans when you brew them,” she continues. “In turn, this results in elevated levels of stomach acid and can also lead to an upset stomach and symptoms of acid reflux, such as chest pain and nausea.” In such cases, this is when her handy baking soda hack comes in handy.

On the flip side, if the factors above don’t pertain to you, you may already know that coffee can be beneficial for your digestion—especially if you’re backed up. “Coffee can also help move things along if you've been experiencing constipation,” Pasquariello adds, which may even be one of the main reasons why you opt for a morning brew in the first place.

How baking soda in coffee can help you avoid digestive discomfort

In essence, it all comes down to basic chemistry. “Coffee is mildly acidic with a pH of around five, which can contribute to feelings of nausea and abdominal discomfort for those who are sensitive to it,” says Pasquariello. “Because baking soda is alkaline with a pH of eight, it can help bring the overall pH of your coffee up to a more neutral level [of seven], as well as help neutralize stomach acid in general.” In other words, this multitasking pantry staple could be the saving grace your mornings (and tummy) need to enjoy the many benefits of coffee, sans discomfort.

With that said, a little dab'll do you. As Pasquariello notes, a tiny pinch per cup—think: even less than a quarter teaspoon—will get the job done without compromising the taste of your coffee. (When in doubt, start small, do a taste test, and see how you fare.) “If you're brewing more than a few cups, you can consider adding a few pinches, and even up to a half teaspoon of baking soda for a full pot of coffee,” she adds.

More RD-approved tips to enjoy coffee on a sensitive stomach

From one coffee lover to the next, I truly hope this dietitian-vetted baking soda hack will do the trick to sidestep digestive distress. But in case you need some extra assistance to make your coffee intake work for and not against you, be sure to heed Pasquariello’s additional tips:

1. Don’t sip on an empty stomach. “Drinking your coffee with or after breakfast will slow its absorption in your GI system,” Pasquariello says, which can help lower the potential for discomfort.

2. Choose the right roast and brewing method. Pasquariello says that dark roast beans are less acidic than lighter varieties, thus making the former more suitable for people who experience digestive issues. “Making espresso will also result in a less acidic final cup than regular coffee beans, as will brewing your beans with cold water for cold brew,” she shares.

3. Dilute your coffee. Pasquariello says that adding a splash of creamer to your cup can also help to reduce its acidity. However, if you prefer to stick to black coffee, she mentions that diluting it with more hot water after brewing may also help.

4. Buy high-quality coffee beans. Using quality, fresh-roasted coffee beans can make a significant difference both in terms of flavor and in keeping any unfortunate digestive distress at bay. If you're on the hunt for fresh beans, look no further than the top-notch offerings from Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co.'s. In addition to making high-quality coffee, the brand is working with The Sato Project, a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing abused and abandoned dogs from Puerto Rico, as their Rescue Roast program partner during this month. This means that during the duration of October, Grounds & Hounds will be donating 100 percent of their profits from the sale of their Rescue Roast blend to The Sato Project in order to help them with their animal rescue efforts on the ground in Puerto Rico following the devastating impact of Hurricane Fiona in mid-September.

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