To many of us, the thought of starting the day without a cup of coffee is unbearable. But for others, a few sips of a good brew is enough to set off unbearable stomach pain, or, at least, some moderate discomfort.
Food intolerances can surface at any time, too. So, despite years of thirst-quenching, eye-opening, mentally stimulating, and discomfort-free cups of your favourite brew, you could suddenly find yourself keeled over with vicious stomach cramps after your first cup of the day, and asking “why does coffee make my stomach hurt?”
If coffee makes your stomach hurt, should you cut back on the espresso or, worse still, switch to drinking tea? Fortunately, while you will need to take some steps to eradicate the pain, you may not need to take action as drastic as tea drinking.
Caffeine causes an increase in contractions in the digestive tract. It has a laxative effect on the body, which is why some experts advise drinking coffee to counteract constipation, and why a lot of regular drinkers find themselves on the toilet after their first cup of the day.
There are some natural ways to counteract caffeine’s laxative effects. You can try drinking decaf blends. Long gone are the days of limited decaffeinated variety and poor-quality decaf. In fact, there’s a huge range of decaffeinated beans and ground coffee to choose from.
Be aware, however, that while decaffeinated coffee does not contain caffeine, it still has similar levels of acidity, so ditching caffeine will only work if your stomach pain is caused by a caffeine sensitivity.
Drink Less Coffee
You can also try drinking less coffee. If you currently drink 6 cups a day, try limiting your intake to just three. Also, sip the coffee. Taking small mouthfuls of a cup of joe helps minimise a lot of the potentially negative effects because it gives you stomach the chance to digest each mouthful before you pour more in.
Although caffeine intolerance is a possibility, it could be the acid in coffee that you’re struggling to stomach. Although a single cup of coffee is not as acidic as a glass of Cola, it still falls on the acidic side of the pH scale.
Chlorogenic acid, which is found in coffee, is not only acidic itself but also increases stomach acid production. This means that you’re consuming an acidic drink and your gut is producing more stomach acid than usual.
Choose A Dark Roast
Acidity levels vary according to the type of coffee, and especially the darkness of the roast. Dark roasts stimulate stomach acids less than medium and light roasts, so if you find that coffee affects your stomach more than espresso, stick to the dark blends.
The caffeine content is similar, regardless of the depth of roast, and dark blends may cause less gastric acid and less stomach discomfort.
Look For Low Acidity Coffee Blends
Alternatively, low acidity coffees are also available. Look for those labelled as being low acidity coffee. Alternatively, Arabica beans are known to have much less acid than Robusta. Brazilian coffee, which is primarily grown in low altitude plantations, are dark roasted Arabica beans and should have a much lower concentration of compounds like chlorogenic acid and N-alkanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide, which are the acids known to enhance gastric acid production.
Make Cold Brew Coffee
Cold brew coffee could offer relief from the painful symptoms you’re experiencing. Cold brew coffee not only tastes smoother, but it offers a smoother experience for the gut, too. It usually contains around a third of the acid found in hot brew, but the cold brew process also extracts a lot less caffeine so you shouldn’t expect the same caffeine kick as you would get from your usual morning coffee.
Many people love the taste of cold brew coffee – it is creamy, smooth, and very aromatic.
It’s also easy to make, although you will have to prepare it ahead of time. Simply mix coarse coffee grounds with room temperature water and allow it to sit for 12 to 16 hours, strain the grounds out, and you have a cold brew coffee. This is considered a coffee concentrate and is usually mixed with water at a ratio of 1-part coffee concentrate to two parts water. You can even use hot water, so that you get the warmth you’re used to.
Line Your Stomach with Food
Coffee is acidic, full of caffeine, and can irritate the stomach. The best way to protect against this irritation is to provide a cushion, in the form of food. Avoid drinking coffee on an empty stomach, wherever possible.
If you’re in a rush, eat a banana before downing your coffee. Not only does this give your stomach a little protection, but the alkalinity of the banana can also help to neutralize the acidity of the coffee. There are plenty of healthy benefits of consuming an alkaline breakfast. There are plenty of breakfast options and alkaline recipes. Consider adding these to your breakfast meal or early morning smoothie:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Irritant Coffee Additives
Your stomach pain may be caused by the additives in your coffee, rather than the coffee itself. Sugar is highly acidic, so try reducing the amount of sugar you have.
But, if you prefer your coffee white, rather than black, this could be the root cause of stomach pain. Lactose intolerance is more common in Asian communities, but more than 60% of all people suffer.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance include flatulence, nausea, and stomach pain and the symptoms surface after consuming lactose-based products like cow’s milk. Although the problem is most evident in milk-based drinks like latte, even a dash of milk could be enough to trigger painful symptoms.
Choose Lactose Free Milk Alternatives
The obvious solution to combat lactose intolerance is to cut lactose from your diet. Fortunately, there are plenty of lactose-free milks on the market, including lactose-free cow’s milk as well as plant-based milks like coconut milk, almond milk, and soya milk. What’s more, these milk alternatives are either neutral or slightly alkaline: another way that they can help reduce gut pain caused by consuming coffee.
Why Does Coffee Make My Stomach Hurt?
Acidity is the likely culprit of stomach pain, but this is one of only a few potential causes of your discomfort. It could be that you’re sensitive to caffeine or the extra ingredients in your coffee, like sugar and milk, are causing the pain. Rather than eliminating coffee from your diet completely, try to first identify and then eliminate the specific cause of the pain.
And What Can I Do About It?
First, ensure that you’ve eaten before you drink coffee. If you’re short on time, reach for a banana or grapefruit, because the alkaline fruit can help eliminate acidity.
If that doesn’t work, opt for low acidity coffees and dark-roasted Arabica blends, because these are less acidic.
Replace your dairy milk with lactose-free or plant-based alternatives.
Whip up a cold brew.
You could even try a good decaf blend. Or, if all else fails and you’re still in desperate need of caffeine, try a cup of green tea!