Around 15 million Americans experience heartburn daily, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. If you're among them, rest assured that you don't have to nix coffee to find relief from the acidic pH of coffee.
Keep Caffeine in Check
The pH of coffee is 5 on a scale of 0 to 14 — with 0 being the most acidic and 14 the most basic — which means coffee is acidic. However, it's not as acidic as many other beverages you might drink throughout the day. Most fruit juices and sodas are significantly more acidic than coffee — so why doesn't a glass of apple juice require you to down a sleeve of antacids?
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It's not actually the acid in your morning java that's setting your esophagus on fire; it's the caffeine. MedlinePlus notes that caffeine increases the natural acid levels in your stomach, which in turn causes heartburn.
While most people can handle a fair amount of caffeine — the Food and Drug Administration recommends no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day — caffeine consumption is a matter of personal sensitivity, so if you're feeling ill-effects from your morning mug, it may be time to consider a less-caffeinated blend.
Brewing Methods Matter
Changing how you brew your coffee could make a difference in the acidity. An October 2018 study in Scientific Reports found that a cold-brewing method is an effective way to lower total coffee acidity measures of your favorite bean blend.
You can make your own cold brew at home simply by mixing coarsely ground coffee with water and letting it steep in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve, paper filter, cheese cloth, or with a French press for a lower-acid beverage.
Brewer beware, though — while cold brewing may seem like the obvious choice for those looking to reduce acid in their diet, researchers at Thomas Jefferson University also found that the hot-brewed coffees have higher antioxidant activity than their cold-brewed counterparts. If you're going to opt for cold brew to counter coffee's acidity, you may be losing out on some of the antioxidant properties.
Better Coffee Through Chemistry
Consider the creation of your perfect cup of joe a science experiment of sorts. To neutralize an acid, you need to add a base, so calming your cup of coffee is about finding the perfect mixer. Unfortunately, milk is just left of neutral on the pH scale, making it slightly acidic and not an optimal neutralizer.
So you'll have to head to your pantry. A sprinkle of good old-fashioned baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in your cup can help neutralize the acidic pH of coffee. Sodium bicarbonate is flavorless and an active ingredient in many antacids.
If baking soda isn't your thing, almond milk may be right up your alley. Unlike cow's milk and other nut- and legume-based milk-alternatives, almonds are alkaline and can help neutralize the acidity level of your coffee. As an added bonus, almond milk is a low-calorie food, with just 45 calories per cup — which makes having that second latte seem pretty appetizing.
Choose a Dark Roast
When it comes to choosing a low-acid bean for your brew, it's all about the roasting process. All coffee beans start out the same little green bean; it's the roasting process that determines the color and just how much acidity is retained. Light, fruitier flavored roasts may taste mild, but they retain a high amount of the the coffee bean's natural acidity. While it seems counterintuitive, a darker bean is your best bet for a happy tummy.
It's not just the acid in the coffee you have to worry about. Digestion requires your own body to secrete acid, and the roast of your coffee actually has an impact on how much stomach acid you produce. A February 2014 study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that volunteers who drank a dark roast blend experienced lower levels of gastric acid secretion than those who drank a medium roast. The darker the roast, the lower the acid profile.
- Journal of the American Dental Association: "The pH of Beverages in the United States"
- MedlinePlus: "Caffeine"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?"
- Scientific Reports: "Acidity and Antioxidant Activity of Cold Brew Coffee"
- MedlinePlus: "Sodium Bicarbonate"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "The Nutrition Source — Coffee"
- American College of Gastroenterology: "Acid Reflux"
- Alkalife: "Acid-Alkaline: The Ultimate Acid-Alkaline Food and Drink Chart"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: "Almond Milk"
- Molecular Nutrition & Food Research: "A Dark Brown Roast Coffee Blend Is Less Effective at Stimulating Gastric Acid Secretion in Healthy Volunteers Compared to a Medium Roast Market Blend"