Coffee dilemma for people with IBS

Coffee is a very popular drink around the world. Are you one of those people who enjoys a cup of freshly brewed coffee in the morning? That is definitely me.  Coffee makes me up and going, think clearly and be alert with my everyday decisions. In general, coffee makes me feel good and be active throughout the day. In addition, coffee contains antioxidants that are beneficial for our health. In fact, coffee is the only source of antioxidants for some Americans. But, coffee is not for everyone!


When people with IBS ask me if they can drink coffee, the answer is “it depends’’. Coffee is considered to be a low FODMAP and doesn’t have to be eliminated in the diet unless you have adverse symptoms after drinking it. Caffeine stimulates gastrointestinal tract and increases colonic motor activity. For people with IBS-C it may provide a relief with a bowel movement, but for people with IBS-D it can speed up the colonic transit time attracting water to the colon and cause diarrhea and abdominal pain. Thus, my answer to the question if you should stay away from coffee when you have IBS is that you need to find your own individual limit. In some cases, small amounts of caffeine can be tolerated. You can check your tolerance to coffee by eliminating it for 2 weeks and then reintroducing slowly by drinking small amounts. Start with 2oz of coffee a day and increase by 2oz until you are unable tolerate it. If 8oz of coffee a day doesn’t give you any problems, but 10oz makes you feel distressed, then 8oz is your limit.


You should also pay attention to your daily caffeine intake. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, pre-workout supplements and cocoa (think chocolate), and including caffeinated foods and drinks in large amounts may trigger your symptoms.  For example, if your morning routine is to drink a cup of coffee with a piece of chocolate, you may be having too much of the caffeine at once. If this makes you run to the bathroom, choose either coffee or chocolate, don’t pair it up; or eat a piece of chocolate at a different time, several hours after drinking a cup of coffee, and see how you feel.  


If you can’t give up your coffee but need the caffeine to keep your going,  try drinking beverages that have less caffeine, such as instant coffee, espresso or tea. If it doesn’t help, try switching to decaffeinated coffee and monitor your symptoms. In some cases, people are not sensitive to caffeine at all but to other components in coffee. If you are one of those, then you would have to eliminate coffee completely.  Here is the list of common drinks that contain caffeine according to USDA:

·         Coffee 96mg in 8oz

·         Decaffeinated coffee 2mg in 8oz

·         Espresso 64mg in 1oz

·         Instant coffee 31mg in 8oz

·         Brewed black tea 47mg in 8oz

·         Brewed green tea 28mg in 8 oz

·         Cola 22mg in 8 oz

·         Energy drink 29mg in 8oz

Also, caffeine amount in foods and drinks can be affected by farming techniques, factory processing and brewing. So, if you have symptoms after drinking coffee, choose a different brand and see if it makes you feel better.  According to USDA 8oz of coffee contains 96mg of caffeine, however 16oz Americano at Starbucks has 225mg of caffeine. Noticed the difference? Recommended amount of caffeine for adults that can be safely consumed is 400mg daily. It may be lower for people with IBS.


Do you drink your coffee black or with milk and sugar?  If you are adding cow’s milk to your coffee and have GI disturbance with abdominal pain and diarrhea, don’t rush to blame it on coffee. You may be sensitive to dairy. Try switching cow’s milk for other non-dairy sources, such as soy, coconut, almond and other nut milks and monitor your symptoms. Same goes for the sweetener. Some artificial sweeteners are high in sugar alcohols which may attract water to the colon causing abdominal pain and diarrhea. So, try different sweeteners, whichever works with your body, such as agave.

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