• Cody Fergusson

How to Drink Coffee When You Have IBS or are Lactose Deficient

As someone who has IBS, it is hard on my stomach to drink coffee, especially when it is my job to constantly be tasting and sampling different roast profiles. My whole life, I always thought it was normal to go the entire day with an upset stomach. I finally got so fed up with how crappy I was feeling that I decided to see a Gastroenterologist in 2012. After running a few tests, told me that I shouldn’t have diary, eat gluten or consume caffeine any longer. Ever since that day, it has been my goal to find a way to still enjoy my morning coffee but also make sure I don’t have an irritated stomach throughout the day.

Your Gut is Connected to Your Brain

While estimates vary, there are somewhere between 10 trillion and 100 trillion microorganisms inhabiting your gut at any given time[1]. Recent studies[2] have shown that your stomach is highly connected to your brain and mental health. Because of this, it is important for those who love coffee to understand what they can do to balance their love of coffee versus their health. The health of your gut often times comes from the balance of microbes in your stomach.

What I have come to find is that there are two main factors which can irritate your stomach when drinking coffee; acidity and caffeine. Each one of these affect your stomach differently. Your stomach is mostly made up of hydrochloric acid that works to kill harmful bacteria in the stomach. When introducing coffee to your body, which is acidic in nature, it can throw your stomach into imbalance very quickly should you not introduce something into it first. This can irritate your gastrointestinal lining, causing you to have an upset stomach and making you feel like you need to have a bowel movement. On top of that, caffeine is a natural diuretic that causes increased blood flow to your kidney’s, causing you to have the sensation of urination. In conclusion, there are a few things working against your stomach when drinking coffee. The good news is that there are specific things you can do to make sure you don’t get an irritated gut when drinking coffee.

Eating Before You Drink

For the most part, people drink coffee in the morning to get their day started. I am no different.

Espresso is my drink of choice. In my opinion, there is nothing that can replace a good shot in the morning. After living in Italy for four years, I developed a love for the art of making espresso. I have two or three shots (or four ;)) every day. To ease the stress on my stomach, in the past, I have mixed my espresso shots with coconut butter, chocolate coconut butter, coconut oil, ghee or other natural fats. The idea is that adding those fats helps absorb the caffeine in one’s stomach, lessening the irritation one may feel. While this is great, as a roaster, it is my job to taste the natural flavors in the coffee bean that I am trying to optimize for so this is unsustainable in the long run.

Normally, when I would wake up, I would take a shower, have my morning espresso shots, then go straight to work or school. For years, I would substitute a few extra minutes of sleep rather than make breakfast in the morning. This would lead to an irritated gut throughout the day, making it unpleasant to be in the office.

After doing a bunch of research, I came to find out that this was not the best way to start the day. First things first, one should always have a full glass of water to rehydrate what you sweat out the night before. The second is eating a big breakfast. My personal choice is a banana and three eggs’ over easy cooked in coconut oil. I love the early morning protein, fat, iron and vitamins that eggs give me and I’ll refuse to drink coffee without it. I have met people that will do a morning workout, then gobble down purple yam’s, plantains, oatmeal or other forms of carbohydrates, then drink their coffee and that works too. What is important is to find something that you enjoy, don’t get bored with and can balance your system before slamming coffee. No matter your choice of food, it is imperative to get a decent meal in your stomach to reboot your metabolism and line your stomach with nutrients.

Adding Fat to Your Coffee

As I mentioned earlier, adding fats to my coffee has also helped in the digestive process but not something that is sustainable as a roaster. Originally popularized by Bulletproof, adding certain fats to your beverage, like MCT oil or butter, will help trigger ketosis which will make you burn fat quicker by kicking your system into overdrive, stops cravings and boosts cognitive functions. While the idea of writing about how great you feel after consuming this product you created, then putting certain health claims behind it seems nice, but it is, in my opinion incredibly self-servient.

One example of a false claim was that green coffee contains high levels of mycotoxins, a form of mold, that is prevalent in most agriculture products. Yes, there are mycotoxins in coffee, but a study in 1980 stopped studying the effect of the toxin on the coffee seed because of the extremely low frequency of findings. In fact, 70%-80% is destroyed through the roasting process. However, if you position yourself as a thought leader because you have a degree in something, then claim you developed a product that helps kill something that doesn’t exist, it is only self-serving.

There is truth that plant-based fats can help break down nutrients in the digestion process. Vitamins A, E, D and K are fat-soluble which means your body can only absorb these nutrients from the digestive system if you consume them along with fats. I’ve had coffee with coconut butter, coconut oil, ghee, grass-fed butter and I did notice a minimization in irritation. I did not lose weight because of the mixture of the two and there is no evidence to support the idea that combining plant-based fats with your coffee will help you burn more calories faster.

Nutritional Value in Nut Milk

We don’t serve any product that contains dairy in it. This isn’t because of some high and mighty mission to only make vegan product, we do this because of the nutritional value one receives when drinking milk made from nuts.

We typically use two types of nuts; almonds and hazelnuts. US law requires the pasteurization of all almonds grown in the US so we soak them in water to release their full nutritional value. The skin of an almond is insoluble which doesn’t get digested in the stomach, so we blanch our almonds, also taking the bitterness out of the taste. When submerging almonds in water for 10-24 hours, naturally occurring antioxidants like phytic acid and tannins leach from the nut, into the water. A study in 1976 found that your body can absorb 60% more magnesium and 20% more zinc when the phytic acid is removed.

Hazelnuts are another beast altogether. Unlike almonds, there is more nutritional value in the skin which is high in antioxidants. High in manganese, copper, Vitamin E, thiamine, magnesium and Vitamin B-6, Hazelnuts help with your digestive tract, decreases cholesterol and promote heart and joint health.

I have been to coffee shops across Europe, Asia, Australia and North America and the main ingredient in a latte or cappuccino is pasteurized milk. Knowing that 65%-75% of the human population is lactose deficient and 10%-15% of the population has IBS, it makes absolutely no sense that milk is served to people as commonly as it is.

Stressing Out Your System

When consuming coffee, it stimulates your adrenal glands that trigger fight-or-flight responses in humans when stressed out. Additionally one, can easily over consume coffee and burn out your adrenal glands leading to fatigue. That fatigue can lead to low levels of cortisol which helps regulate your metabolism and aldosterone. All of this can play into your overall health and make it even harder for you to live a healthy life. In conclusion, drinking coffee can have significant effects on your health over time which is why we advocate for it in moderation.

[1] https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/gut-week-gut-brain-axis-can-fixing-my-stomach-fix-me/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410136/

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