If you’re a coffee drinker, you know there’s nothing more blissful than that first sip of hot (or iced) coffee in the morning. Sure, it tastes delicious, but that’s the least of it: With coffee running through your veins, you suddenly feel energized enough to take on the day ahead.
Most studies have found that coffee is also pretty good for your health. As long as you’re not overdoing it (by that we mean more than six cups per day), coffee has been correlated with decreased risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. And some research has found it could even decrease your risk of depression.
So we know — thankfully — that most of us don’t have to give up coffee. But most coffee drinkers have tipped over into uncomfortable territory at one point or another, whether that means the jitters, spikes in anxiety or a stomachache. And it never feels great.
If you’re on a mission to enjoy your favorite comforting, steaming-hot beverage without the negative side effects, read on — because we may just have some answers for you.
Let’s Talk About Caffeine
First and foremost, everybody’s body is different, and we all metabolize caffeine differently. So while one person may be able to drink four cups of coffee after lunch, feel great and get an excellent night of sleep, another person might drink a smaller amount first thing in the morning, suffer a massive case of the jitters and stay up all night.
There’s no way to figure out exactly how you react to coffee until you try it, but most people can experience some not-so-great side effects from the caffeine ― like the jitters, insomnia, a racing heart or even a full-blown panic attack.
“Caffeine has several physiological effects on the body, one of the most potent being its ability to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system to produce adrenaline from your adrenal glands,” nutritionist Tamar Samuels told HuffPost. “Adrenaline is a powerful hormone that is part of the ‘fight or flight’ response. The release of adrenaline into the bloodstream increases blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate, all of which may contribute to the jittery feeling some get when they consume too much coffee.”
As a general rule, the higher the caffeine content in your coffee, the more likely you are to experience these symptoms. Interestingly, while we may associate espresso shots with a jolt of caffeine, two shots (which is a standard serving for many coffee shops) actually has significantly less caffeine (about 150 mg) than a 16-ounce cup of Starbucks coffee (at 330 mg).
If you’re a cold brew fan, you’re getting 200 mg of caffeine from Starbucks’ standard 16-ounce cup. If you’ve hopped on the nitro brew train, you’re looking at caffeine content that’s similar to that of drip coffee: 325 mg for a 16-ounce cup.
What About Acidity?
While the biggest indicator of how coffee will make your body and brain feel is caffeine, if you’ve ever struggled with stomach problems while drinking coffee, acid content could be the culprit.
“People with inflamed esophageal, stomach and/or intestinal tissues may be especially sensitive to higher acid drinks like coffee because the acidity from coffee drinks can cause a burning sensation upon exposure to sensitive tissue,” Samuels said.
If that sounds like you, consider opting for coffee drinks that are less acidic.
“One study found that espresso, French roast and other dark-roasted coffees may be less irritating because they contain a compound — N-methylpyridium, which is only produced during roasting — that inhibits stomach acid production,” said Samuels.
That Triple-Shot Caramel Coffee Thing …
Another thing that complicates coffee? All the stuff we add to it. For example, pouring a lot of milk into your coffee could increase its acidity.
We’re also adding sugar, artificial sugar, butter, MCT oil — and all of that is affecting our bodies and brains in one way or another.
“In the case of Bulletproof coffee [which is supposed to be made with butter and MCT oil], MCTs may increase metabolism and improve mental clarity, but can also cause indigestion,” Samuels explained.
“Coffee drinks with added sugars can cause weight gain and potentially increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes,” she said. “It really all comes down to the individual and what works for their body.”
Coffee Alternatives To Try
If you find that coffee simply doesn’t jibe with your body, that’s OK — there are tons of options out there that are just as delicious and can provide a little caffeine jolt without the side effects. Matcha, for example, delivers caffeine and a compound called L-theanine, which produces a feeling of “calm alertness” in the body.
If you like the taste of coffee but don’t do well with caffeine, nutritionist Stacy Leung suggests trying chicory root. “Chicory root is an herb that tastes similar to coffee when brewed and is naturally caffeine free,” she told HuffPost.
For many people, drinking coffee is also an important part of their morning ritual. You don’t have to lose that even if you’re sensitive to caffeine, acid or both. Find yourself another coffee-like (or not) beverage that can energize your day.