If you are a coffee or tea lover you might wonder whether you can have caffeine on a low FODMAP diet. The short answer is: yes, you certainly can! There is a “but”, however. As it turns out, both FODMAPs and caffeine have a potential role in triggering IBS symptoms. Let’s find out how caffeine and FODMAPs can affect gut symptoms and which hot drinks are best tolerated.
Caffeine, gut symptoms, and the low FODMAP diet
Caffeine is a gut irritant. That’s because it is a stimulant and it affects gut motility. Translation: it may make you run to the bathroom! For some people with IBS, caffeine may trigger symptoms. Research has shown that 26-40% of IBS sufferers identify coffee as a cause of their symptoms. And about a third of those who re-introduce it after improving their symptoms with an elimination diet experience a recurrence of symptoms, mostly diarrhea.
On the other hand, if you suffer from IBS with constipation, you may take advantage of the effect of caffeine on gut motility. In fact, it may be especially useful to have some caffeine when on a low FODMAP diet, when many people have trouble eating enough fiber.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of clinical data on the effect of caffeine on IBS. The data we have is observational or anecdotal and cannot establish cause and effect. For this reason, Monash University has not given specific recommendations on the use of caffeine for people with IBS. Rather, they recommend each individual work with a dietitian to determine whether their symptoms may be related to caffeine intake.
Low FODMAP Hot Drinks (with or without caffeine)
Regardless of the caffeine content of hot drinks, we need to consider the FODMAP content of coffee, teas (caffeinated or herbal), and other hot beverages. Here is a quick guide:
To start with, let’s look at coffee: both espresso and instant coffee (caffeinated or decaf) are low in FODMAPs. The FODMAP status of American-style brewed, drip coffee is less certain and may develop some FODMAPs during the brewing process. Stay away from most coffee substitutes as they usually contain chicory or inulin (high in FODMAPs).
When it comes to tea, choose green or white tea and lightly steeped black tea. Steeping the tea for a shorter amount of time (less than 2 minutes) will make the tea less concentrated in FODMAPs, which are soluble in water. Matcha powder is also low in FODMAPs at the 1 tsp serving size, which is enough for a nice cup of matcha tea or latte.
Yerba-mate has not been tested, so it’s best to stay away from it. After you have moved on to your personalized low FODMAP diet, you may test small amounts and see how you react.
Among herbal teas, choose mint, ginger, lemon, or rooibos. Make sure to avoid teas that have chicory root fillers and high-FODMAP teas like chamomile, oolong, strong dandelion, and fennel.
Avoid pre-mixed cocoa mixes as they are made with dry milk (a source of lactose). You can make your own hot cocoa with 2-3 teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa, 12 ounces of lactose-free or almond milk, and a splash of vanilla. Sweeten to taste with sugar. Or try my Italian Hot Chocolate.
For the most comprehensive and up-to-date list, check out the Monash FODMAP App.
In conclusion, caffeine, coffee, and other hot drinks can be part of a low FODMAP diet. Whether and how much you can have, depends on your symptom profile, caffeine tolerance, and personal preference.
Finally, whether you drink coffee or tea, be careful about what you put in it. Avoid milk or coffee creamers (as they are high in the FODMAP lactose) and opt for lactose-free milk, almond milk, or small amounts of half-and-half (virtually lactose-free). If you like to sweeten your beverage, choose regular sugar, maple syrup, or stevia, and avoid high-FODMAP sweeteners like honey and agave.