Indeed, there are dozens of different ways to drink coffee. However, as much as drinking a cup of joe is vital to our daily routines, it doesn't agree with everyone. (Read: Cue the indigestion.)
It’s no secret that coffee is synonymous with stomach irritation and a bout of digestive issues for some folks. But does that mean those with a sensitive stomach should go cold turkey on one of the best drinks of all time? Registered dietitians and coffee experts agree: Absolutely not. That’s because, according to them, there are easy ways to brew coffee so it doesn’t irritate your gut with such intensity. Ahead, a coffee expert’s rules of thumb for deciphering the type of coffee least likely to disrupt your sensitive stomach.
The best type of coffee for a sensitive stomach
According to Genevieve Kappler, a coffee expert, roasting technologist, and the director of coffee and brewing at Roasting Plant Coffee, the types of (hot) coffee that are more likely to cause irritation have one thing in common: Longer brewing times.
“The general rule is that the shorter the brewing time, the more stomach-friendly the coffee is,” Kappler says. As such, espresso will likely be your best bet, as it uses more pressure and temperature to brew a shot quickly. However, Kappler is quick to point out that this rule of thumb isn’t as foolproof as one may think.
While caffeine levels and the amount of acid in the beans themselves are generally the two main causes of coffee-related stomach irritation, Kappler says there's more to the story. “Yes, there is slightly less caffeine in espresso than drip coffee, but caffeine is not the only element that can cause acid reflux, discomfort, or irritation—it’s also certain oils,” she says.
Kappler explains that the process of making espresso—high pressure plus high temperature—can lead to higher extraction of oils (about 2 milligrams of oil per milliliter of espresso), which can also cause digestive discomfort in some folks. Conversely, drip coffee made using a filter might retain oils in the paper better and perhaps be even more digestible than espresso. This is where the type of bean used to make coffee (and not just the method) comes into play. “Fat is acid-forming, meaning it will trigger discomfort in some people and can be more difficult to digest, as the body has to create acid to break down those fats in the digestive process,” Kappler says.
The expert shares that darker roast coffee tends to be lower in acid but higher in these oil compounds than lighter roasts, so it's really a matter of your own personal body and what works for you. (Just keep in mind that the darker roasts tend to become rancid more quickly. “Once the oil oxidizes in coffee, it becomes even harder to digest and can lead to higher levels of acid reflux,” Kappler says.)
And a quick word to the wise before we all start downing copious espressos: “According to some data, espresso may be your best bet when it comes to supporting digestive health—but this does not mean that a quadruple shot of espresso is any better than a regular cup of joe,” says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT, a registered dietitian based in Charleston.
Like most things, moderation is key. “One espresso shot along with other gut health-friendly ingredients may be a great choice,” Manaker says. Also, she encourages everyone to pay attention to the way their gut responds to various types of coffee, including espresso as well as add-ins. "Ingredients like spices, chocolate, and artificial sweeteners that may be irritating for some."
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