Healthy Drinks

What’s the Best Type of Coffee for Gut Health? We Asked an RD

Photo: Stocksy/Jeff Wasserman
Individuals who suffer from digestive issues such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or gastric ulcers are often advised to eliminate coffee from their dietes—a hard ask of even the most health-conscious coffee lover—because the acidity and caffeine content of this ubiquitous beverage may exacerbate these conditions in some people. There is a common belief that switching to cold brew can give these individuals some relief, but can it?

Not to be confused with iced coffee, which consists of hot coffee served over ice, cold brew is made by steeping coffee grounds in water with temperatures between 68°F and 77°F for eight to 24 hours. According to registered dietitian and gut expert Amanda Sauceda, RD, there is “conflicting information” with regards to the acidity of cold brew vs. hot coffee and its effects on the digestive system. Some studies have found that cold-brewed coffee has a lower concentration of certain acids than hot coffee, but there is also research that suggests that the pH levels of cold-brewed and hot coffee are similar.

Sauceda says that anyone experiencing digestive discomfort may want to give cold brew a try to see if it makes a difference. “For somebody who has acid reflux, I would totally suggest trying out cold brew to see if they tolerate it better, because chances are they might.”

However, Sauceda notes that whether or not someone finds cold brew easier on the gut will depend on the individual’s sensitivities. For example, someone whose gastrointestinal issues are caused by the caffeine in coffee rather than the acidity may not benefit from switching to cold brew coffee, as it does tend to be more highly-concentrated (and therefore higher in caffeine) compared to coffee that was brewed with hot water. The same is true if the extra ingredients you're using to doctor up your morning beverage (such as sugar, sweeteners, spices, or milk) rather than the coffee itself could be what is be causing your digestive woes.

“[Cold brew] can be lower in acidity due to the brewing process,” says Sauceda. “So cold brew can be gentler for people to drink versus a hot brew coffee. But I do say that with a caveat: It can be easier on people who have acid reflux or for those that just find that acidic food bothers them. But if you're someone who can tolerate acidic foods and beverages well, then cold brew may not be any different on your gut than hot brew.”

It is also worth noting that there are many variables when it comes to making coffee, such as the size of the beans, the number of beans used, and the length of brewing time, and therefore the brewing method is not the only factor that affects the acidity or caffeine content of a particular cup o’ joe. The roast of the beans can also play a factor: Research suggests that the darker the roast, the less acidic the coffee is.

Sauceda also notes that for coffee devotees, cold brew can be a preferable alternative to hot coffee during the summer months regardless of the acidity, and that that alone is a good reason to reach for it. And she has good news for cold brew fans: Like hot coffee, cold brew contains beneficial compounds like antioxidants and polyphenols. “If you just prefer cold brew, you're still going to be getting some of the good antioxidants that you would find in a regular cup of hot coffee,” Sauceda says.

TL; DR? Cold brew may be easier on your gut compared to hot coffee if you're sensitive to highly acidic foods and drinks. If not, keep caffeinating with whatever form of coffee your own stomach (and palette) prefers most.

Ready to chill? Try this genius gadget for making cold brew at home:

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