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Is Low Acid Coffee Better for a Sensitive Stomach?

While a spot of tea is a morning habit for many across the pond, coffee is the “fresh part of waking up” for Americans. We drink three times as much coffee than tea, in fact!

Besides the pep in your step the caffeine in your coffee gives you, there are plenty of health benefits too – it can lower your risk for heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes and infections. But coffee, namely the caffeine in it, can also cause some problems for those with sensitive stomachs.

For one, caffeine is a stimulant, so it can have a stimulating effect on your stomach, which may lead to loose stools or diarrhea and contribute to dehydration. Caffeine has been shown as a possible trigger for heartburn and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) as well.

If you like coffee, but can’t stomach it lately, you may have considered a new, trendy type of brew known as low acid coffee. But is this coffee really better on your stomach or is it just a marketing tactic? Before we delve into that, however, it helps to understand acids, or pH scale, first.

Can you stomach the acid? Why, yes!

When companies tout lower acid coffees, they are referencing pH levels—the lower the number (0-7) the more acidic and the higher the number (7 to 14) the more alkaline or “basic” it is.

Most parts of our body are neutral (a 7 on the pH scale), while our stomach, specifically the gastric acid in our stomachs is between 1 and 3. Hot brewed coffee ranges around a 5 pH value, and many soft drinks and orange juice are closer to 2 or 3.

“Really, the acidity of food and drink aren’t an issue, because much of what we ingest goes through our stomachs and is broken down with gastric acids,” said Cindy Penaranda, a registered dietitian at Banner Health in Arizona. “There really is no good evidence that acidity is the problem people have with coffee.”

Low acid coffee: Marketing tactic or the real deal?

But what about when it comes to low acid coffee? Is it worth a try? Not really, said Penaranda.

“Low acid coffees and cold brew coffees touted for having a higher PH levels (meaning less acidic) are not actually that much different than your standard coffee brews,” Penaranda said. “There’s only a slight difference, with black coffee around 5.2, low acid coffee around 5.7 and cold brew around 5.1.”

While we definitely can’t tell you what coffee to drink, just remember everything in moderation. “High consumption of coffee, soft drinks, sports drinks and caffeinated drinks can have an acidic reaction on your teeth—not to mention other effects on your health,” Penaranda cautioned. “Make sure you drink in moderation, and if you can, rinse out your mouth with water after you consume them.”

Make coffee more palatable to your stomach

You don’t have to pay extra for any “fancy” low acid coffees. Whether you don’t like the taste or the side effects, here are some tips for reducing acidity:

  • Add a dash of milk or plant-based milks to help balance out the PH level.
  • Try darker roast coffees, which are slightly less acidic than lighter roast coffees.
  • Brew coffee with a paper filter, which can absorb some of the acid.
  • Add a small amount of baking soda (1/4 teaspoon) to your brew to help neutralize acidity.
  • Stick to a diet rich in lean meats, fruits and vegetables, and try to steer clear of soft drinks and sports drinks.

“I always say, ‘Eat food, but not too much and mostly plants,’” Penaranda said. “Eat foods with natural shapes and color versus anything that comes out of a factory. Do this and your body will find healthy ways to adjust its pH.”

Check with your doctor first

If you’re having stomach issues like acid reflux or GERD, before you forgo your Joe altogether, check with your doctor to identify the underlying causes for your troubles. Your coffee could be making your symptoms worse, but there might be another underlying cause. In addition, if your doctor has said no coffee, just don’t do it. Your doctor knows what’s best for your condition.

To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.

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