We get it - you love your morning (and perhaps, afternoon) coffee. Below are our top tips to improve tolerance if you have IBS
You’re not alone if starting the day with a warm cup of coffee is a non-negotiable in your morning routine. You’re also not alone if you’ve ever felt like coffee may be contributing to your IBS symptoms. While coffee does boast several health benefits, it can also be what we call a “non-FODMAP dietary trigger” for many with IBS, meaning it’s low in FODMAPs but can still cause symptoms. Coffee can be particularity problematic for those with IBS-D or IBS-M as it revs up gut motility and increases colon movement (in other words, it makes you poop). This can exacerbate symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, urgency and loose stool in those with IBS, who tend to experience visceral hypersensitivity (although individuals with constipation predominant IBS may find that coffee’s laxative effect can actually improve symptoms).
The good news? You may not need to choose between your morning cup of Joe and avoiding caffeine-powered flare-ups. Sometimes, making small tweaks to when or how you drink coffee can make all the difference. Below are our top strategies for tolerating coffee better when you have IBS, so you may be able to continue to enjoy it!
1. Avoid Drinking Coffee on an Empty Stomach
If you find yourself downing a cup of coffee first thing every morning, there’s a good chance this may be the culprit of your coffee-related stomach troubles. Drinking coffee on an empty stomach (at least two hours before food) can be quite harsh on your digestive tract. Not only is coffee largely acidic, but consumption may also stimulate your stomach to produce even more gastric acid. For some, this can lead to digestive issues including stomach pains, indigestion, and heartburn. Not to mention, drinking coffee on an empty stomach can also increase the speed of caffeine absorption, which can cause jitters, anxiety, and may even increase your coffee-to-bathroom timeline. Luckily, the fix here is simple—drink your coffee alongside food! It may also be beneficial to experiment with the types and amounts of foods you’re eating with your coffee to see which makes the biggest difference for you.
2. Opt for a Low-Acid Brew
If you suspect the acid content of coffee is worsening your IBS symptoms, it may be time to try a low-acid brew. Many individuals with IBS find these options gentler on the GI tract and better tolerated. One of our favorite low-acid coffee is Puroast, which has 70% less acid compared to regular coffee - and yes, it tastes delicious (in our coffee snob opinion)! If you’re hesitant about trying a low-acid coffee or prefer to order coffee on-the-go, you can also opt for a dark roast or a cold brew which are both naturally lower in acid.
3. Reach for Decaf
For some, caffeine can be the main component of coffee that triggers IBS symptoms. As a diuretic, caffeine stimulates urine production, but it also stimulates digestion and speeds up gut motility. While this can be particularly useful for those with constipation or IBS-C, it can be rather detrimental to those with diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D) or IBS-M. In this case, switching to (gasp!) decaf may be beneficial for managing your symptoms. If the thought of doing so is already making you yawn, try first switching to half-calf before pulling the plug on your beloved caffeine-filled latte.
4. Stick to One Cup per Day
We’re sure you’ve heard the phrase “everything in moderation”, and yes, this (unfortunately) applies to your coffee consumption - especially when you have IBS. You may find you can tolerate one cup in the morning, but it’s the second or third that brings you into the IBS danger zone. If pulling back to one cup per day feels daunting, try slowly reducing your consumption or swapping out that second or third cup for an herbal tea—we love peppermint or ginger!
Of course, some people may be more sensitive than others and there is a chance that coffee doesn't sit well for you - even with these modifications. However, we aim to keep your diet as liberalized as possible and help you to find foods that you enjoy and feel good eating - so consider trying out these strategies and see if they're helpful for you!
This blog post was written with the help of Lauren Pappalardo, a dietetic intern completing her MS/DI at Pace University.