Coffee, IBS & the Low Fodmap Diet – Your Ultimate Guide

Published on: 02/26/2024

Coffee is one of the most beloved beverages on earth. There is nothing like the smell of hot coffee on a cold winter morning. Or meeting a friend at a local cafe while sipping on your favorite coffee drink. Sadly, for some people with IBS, coffee can cause cramps and rush you to the bathroom. If you are on a low FODMAP diet, you might wonder whether you may have coffee at all. 

Is Coffee Low FODMAP?

First of all, black coffee, caffeinated or decaf, is low FODMAP. It’s what you add to it that may make it high in FODMAPs. If you are adding milk or having a cappuccino, you will need to switch to low FODMAP options. For example, lactose-free or an alternative low-FODMAP milk. Or use a lactase enzyme.

Coffee is a Gut Irritant

The reason why many people experience gut symptoms after drinking coffee has nothing to do with FODMAPs. It’s because it contains caffeine and other substances that irritate the gut.

Caffeine and chlorogenic acid, for example, stimulate gut motility. This can be a positive side effect if you have a slow gut and suffer from constipation. But if you tend to have urgency or diarrhea, coffee may not be your friend.

Moreover, caffeine and other chemicals in coffee stimulate stomach acid secretion. This may trigger acid reflux or heartburn, especially on an empty stomach.

Coffee is a Stimulant 

Coffee is also a known stimulant. Besides its taste, this is one of the most common reasons why we like to drink it. It helps us be alert and focused. However, depending on how fast or slow you are at metabolizing coffee (which depends on your genetics), you may notice that it makes you jittery or prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep. 

Although this doesn’t directly affect the gut, it does so indirectly. We know from research that too little or poor quality sleep is correlated with increased gut symptoms. So, if your coffee is keeping you up at night, you may need to limit it to early in the day or avoid it altogether. 


Coffee is Beneficial to the Gut

It may surprise you coffee is not all bad! It has several health benefits. One of them is that it can directly impact the population of our gut bacteria. Recent research has shown that people who drank more than 1 cup of coffee per day had more beneficial gut bacteria as well as greater diversity.

That’s because coffee contains phenolic compounds that are prebiotics. This means they literally feed our gut bacteria (similarly to what some fibers do).  

How to Test Your Tolerance

If you are following a low FODMAP diet you don’t need to outright avoid coffee or all caffeine sources. But you do want to find out your level of tolerance.

You may avoid it for a few days and notice if your symptoms improve. Then try it again, starting with a small amount and increasing it slowly to find out your tolerance level. You may not need to avoid it altogether but just limit it. Or you may find that switching to decaf or black or green tea is helpful.

Final Thought

Coffee is a pleasure in life for many people. In addition to helping us feel alert and “energized”, it contains beneficial compounds that may boost our gut health long term.

However, it is a gut irritant and a stimulant, and knowing your tolerance can help you understand whether and how much you can enjoy without experiencing painful gut symptoms.

Still struggling to find what is triggering your IBS symptoms?

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I’m a registered dietitian with a passion for helping women with IBS find their way back to eating without fear of painful gut symptoms and without unnecessary diet restrictions.

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