Why Does Coffee Cause Acid Reflux?

There’s nothing like the taste of coffee first thing in the morning…

That is unless you suffer from a condition shared by 20-30% of the population. If you experience acid reflux, your first taste of coffee will most likely sneak its way back to you a few hours later.

What exactly is acid reflux?

Coffee Cause Acid RefluxThis occurs when acid from the foods and beverages you ingest revisit you in the form of different types of uncomfortable symptoms.

A few of these symptoms may include:

  • Heartburn
  • Bitter taste in your mouth
  • Dry mouth
  • Throat irritation

Many coffee drinkers experience acid reflux due to the natural acidic properties of coffee. There are up to 30 types of acids in coffee that not only contribute to the health benefits of coffee, but to the taste and flavor zing that everyone knows and loves. However, the acids in coffee can also lead to some unpleasant results as well.

Today, we’ll explore this condition as well as ways you can avoid dealing with it’s side effects, while still being able to enjoy your coffee.

There’s ACID in my coffee?

When the word “acid” is mentioned, it can definitely be perceived in a positive or negative light. This is because there are good acids and bad acids too. However, in reality, acid is naturally present in many things that we use or ingest everyday from our own saliva to fruits, vegetables and coffee.

On a scale of 0-10, with 0 representing battery acid and 10 representing antacids, a fresh brewed cup of coffee falls right in the middle. That means it’s not the most acidic thing we may ingest, but its certainly not the least.

The most abundant acid in coffee — chlorogenic acid (also known as CGA) — is an antioxidant that may provide health benefits. This particular acid is more abundant in green coffee beans than roasted beans. Research shows that chlorogenic acid may reduce individual’s chances of heart disease, diabetes and reduce blood pressure.

Because the amount of CGA in coffee beans is inconsistent and hard to measure, people who like to enjoy its benefits in a more controlled method choose to take it in a supplement form. When controlled, it can help people with certain ailments. However, as with other supplements, there are definitely limits to how much people should take.

The side effects of taking in too much CGA include:
Rapid heart beat
Trouble breathing

Though CGA alone is not bad, too much can have some negative side effects.

Is acid bad?

Acid in general, in limited quantities is good for you, as your body needs both acidic and alkaline foods and beverages in order to maintain a healthy balance. However, if there is too much acidity present in the body, it can cause health issues.

Research shows that a diet high in acidic foods may cause your bones to deteriorate, and can also increase chances of heart disease, cancer and liver disease.

If you suffer from acid reflux after drinking coffee, chances are other acidic foods may cause this as well. The following are other substances that are higher in acid content than coffee, and may cause a reaction as well:

  • Lemon juice
  • Vinegar
  • Orange juice
  • Soda
  • Tomato juice
  • Beer

There are also foods that don’t start as acidic when ingested, but turn acidic through their digestion process. Avoiding these foods may have the same affect as cutting other acidic foods and beverages from your diet. These foods include:

    • Sugar
    • Grains
    • Processed meats
    • Certain dairy products

This doesn’t mean that we should stay away from sugars, grains and the others listed above, it simply means that limiting consumption and being mindful when ingesting them can lead to a healthy balance of acidic and alkaline foods.

Acid Levels in Dark Roast vs. Light Roast?

There is varying data to argue that dark roasted beans contain less acid than light roasted and vice versa. Naturally, there are multiple types of acids in coffee beans and those acids react differently depending on brewing times and roast level.

Due to multiple acids having different affects through processes such as roasting and brewing, it’s impossible to make a case for acid levels increasing or decreasing through the roasting process.

Here are the four most common types of acid found in coffee, and how their acid levels are affected due to roasting:

  • Citric: Heaviest concentration in green coffee beans
  • Chlorogenic: Heaviest concentration in green coffee beans
  • Phosphoric: Heaviest concentration the darker the roast
  • Acetic: Heaviest concentration the darker the roast

That said, there is no clear evidence that shows that roasting coffee to a certain level will create more or less acidity in the overall product. It could also be that the combination of the acidity and caffeine contribute to acid reflux.

Is caffeine to blame?

There have been arguments made that the caffeine in coffee is the culprit of acid reflux. Caffeine is naturally a stimulant and can irritate the esophagus.

However, because caffeine is only part of the coffee bean makeup, it is difficult to pin point it as the only factor contributing to acid reflux in coffee drinkers.

Ways to brew low acid coffee

Because coffee beans vary in their level of acidity before being brewed, there are ways to decrease the amount of acid in the finished product.

Cold brewing is a method to brewing coffee with cold water instead of hot water. The grounds are steeped in cold water for 24 hours, which extracts less acid from the beans than hot water does. On average, brewing coffee this way creates 70% less acidity in the finished product. As a result, it tends to have a smoother flavor as well, as it’s acidic “punch” is greatly reduced. The strength of the finished product depends on the grounds to water ratio. Cold brew (also know as “toddy”) can be brewed to a strength to give you either a drip quality brew or even an espresso strength.

Egg shells make a great accompaniment to coffee grounds before you brew, as they are mostly calcium carbonate, and will offset the level of acidity present. It is best to use this method when using a drip coffee machine. Place your coffee grounds in a filter in the brew basket, and add shells from a couple eggs to the grounds as well prior to brewing.

Calcium also offsets the acid levels in coffee due to the its neutralizing properties. This is a common reason why people like milk or cream in their coffee, or prefer drinks like a latte or cafe au lait. Not to mention, dairy products provide a creamy and tasty finish. On the other hand, these options are not a good choice for lactose intolerant folks, as this might have the adverse affect.

Preventative measures against acid reflux

There are a few things you can do in case you struggle with acid reflux after you consume coffee and other acidic foods.

  • Don’t lay down right after consuming coffee
  •  Don’t drink coffee on an empty stomach
  • Eat smaller meals
  • Avoid spicy foods
  • Avoid fatty foods
  • Avoid carbonated beverages
  • Consume coffee with alkaline heavy foods

How to balance out acidity in your body

Acidic foods are on one end of the pH spectrum, while foods heavy in alkaline are on the other end. That said, the two together have an effect that cancels out properties of the other when consumed together.

There are many alkalizing foods that will help neutralize the acidity in your body, which can help to alleviate the signs of acid reflux. Overall, it is a good idea to take in foods that are high in alkaline to contribute to both a balanced diet and because these foods generally tend to be healthier options.

Some alkaline heavier foods are as follows:

  • Fats such as olive oil or coconut oil
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Beans and lentils
  • Unsweetened yogurt
  • Fresh fruits & vegetables

In a short answer, yes, drinking coffee may contribute to acid reflux, as acidic properties naturally occur in the beans themselves. However, coffee may not be the only contributor.

It is best to eat a healthy and balanced diet, give your body time to digest, and to not to be overactive after you finish eating and drinking. Listening to your body and trying an elimination diet can sometimes help you figure out what is causing the issue.

Coffee Cause Acid RefluxAcid reflux is caused by the loosening of a circle of muscles in the lower esophagus called the LES, the LES acts like a valve letting food through to the acidic stomach, and preventing stomach acid from coming back up.

There are said to be many different possible causes for the condition and many aggravating factors, but the evidence on coffee and its impact on the condition is mixed to say the least.

What Does The Research Say?

While it is commonly believed that drinking coffee causes acid reflux, which particular property of coffee that might affect it is unclear. Caffeine was considered to be the culprit, but while some evidence was found to show that decaffeinated coffee was less of a factor in acid reflux, decaffeinated tea showed no improvement over tea that contains caffeine, so the evidence is conflicting.

While many foods are considered to be risk factors, fatty foods and alcohol to name a few, there is not much clear evidence that coffee should be included in the risk list.

It is probably fair to say that cutting out coffee is something that should be on a list of possible dietary changes that might work for someone with acid reflux, however, given that it is often advised by professionals. If you have acid reflux condition and drink a lot of coffee, try to cut down and see if there is any change for you. There may or may not be, but it’s got to be worth a try.

What Are The Options?

If the thought of giving up coffee, or even cutting down with a single serve coffee maker, fills you with horror then there are options open to you. It stands to reason that people who have problems keeping acid inside their stomach should probably not consume acidic substances.

Here’s a tip. You could also get a small Keurig sized mug and a single serve coffee maker and then brew only the low acid coffee k cups and use this as a test to see if your acid reflux improves.

Coffee is not as acidic as it is considered to be, we talk in terms of acid tastes and bitterness, but that is a flavor not a pH level. Coffee sits somewhere between saliva and fruit juice with a pH level of around 5 depending on what sort of coffee you drink. It’s not as bad as a lot of other everyday foods. If you suffer from acid reflux and find that regular coffee does bring you discomfort however, all is not lost.

Low Acid Coffee Options

There are low acid coffees available, sometimes this is advertised on the packaging, but sometimes not. Keeping in mind a few pointers can make a difference in how much acid you’re consuming, without cutting back on coffee at all.

The acid levels in coffee decrease the darker the roast. The roasting process seems to burn the acid out of the coffee, and the darker roasts have a significantly lower pH than lighter ones. Given that the coffees that usually use darker roasts are espressos, then switching to espresso is definitely going to reduce the amount of acid you consume per coffee.

Lattes and cappuccinos which are espresso based but contain large quantities of milk are also great if you like them, as they serve to dilute the coffee too, making the acid less potent.

If you’re concerned that drinking coffee is causing or aggravating any medical condition, serious thoughts must be given about whether continuing to drink it is the right choice for you. If you are going to drink coffee, we recommend trying to find a low acid version that works for you and keeps you healthy. There are plenty of options to try out, and experimenting with coffee is one of life’s pleasures.

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Brian Mounts

I have been working in the coffee industry since 2013 and have been a professional online publisher since 2009. I am the current owner of GGCCoffee.com and I love all forms of coffee. I roast my own green coffee beans, grind them, and usually make my own coffee daily in either a french press, moka pot, or a pour over coffee dripper. I am a nut for equipment so many of my articles are reviews and comparisons of best selling coffee brewing accessories.

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