Low-acid coffee is said to be easier on the stomach. But the acidity of the coffee is probably not the problem. Learn what to look for in a stomach-friendly brew.
I've written before about the health benefits enjoyed by coffee drinkers. But some people find that coffee hurts their stomachs. There are a lot of brands of coffee that are promoted as being lower in acid and good for people with sensitive stomachs.
For example, Trücup coffee recently sent me some samples of their low acid coffee to try. I definitely noticed the difference in the acidity; the Trücup brand coffee is very smooth and mild tasting. In fact, I sort of missed the acidity, which gives coffee some of the characteristic brightness and edge that I find enjoyable.
I can’t offer an opinion on whether or not Trücup is easier on the stomach because regular coffee doesn’t bother my stomach. But that would have been nothing more than anecdotal evidence, anyway.
It's Not About the Acid
The whole thing got me wondering about what it is in coffee that bothers some people. I had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t the acidity of the coffee. For one thing, coffee isn’t all that acidic. On average, black coffee has a pH of about 5, which is the same as carrots. Trücup reports a pH of close to 6, or about the same as potatoes. And the most acidic coffees have a pH of around 4.7, or about the same as a banana. We're hardly talking battery acid here.
Sure enough, when I started researching coffee and stomach irritation, I discovered that it’s not the acidity of the coffee itself that hurts your stomach; it’s the gastric acid secreted by the cells in your stomach in response to the coffee.
Certain compounds in coffee, including chlorogenic acid and caffeine, stimulate the secretion of gastric acid. Others, such as N-methylpyridinium (NMP), suppress the release of gastric acid, protecting against stomach irritation.
If you’re looking for coffee that’s easier on the stomach, the pH of the coffee probably doesn’t matter all that much. (That's good news for those who enjoy the flavor of higher acid coffees.) Instead you’re looking for coffee that’s higher in NMP and lower in chlorogenic acid.
Unfortunately, you’re not going to find any information about NMP or chlorogenic acid on the package. So here are some tips on how to find stomach-friendly coffee.