QUESTION: I have acid reflux, but I don’t want to give up coffee. What if I switched to decaf? Is decaf coffee better for acid reflux than caffeinated coffee? — Robert W.
ANSWER: Your question isn’t one that has a cut-and-dried answer, unfortunately. Science is still working through the question of whether decaffeinated coffee is better for acid reflux than caffeinated coffee. It comes down to whether your acid reflux is aggravated by the caffeine in your coffee or the acidity.
Decaf Coffee and Acid Reflux
If you’re not sure whether caffeine makes your acid reflux worse, you can try keeping a diary of your symptoms as well as your caffeine intake. Then you can review what you’ve written, looking for a connection between your caffeine consumption and acid reflux symptoms.
Some coffee drinkers experience heartburn, acid reflux, or symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) when they drink fully caffeinated coffee but not when they drink decaf. This happens because the caffeine content of regular coffee can increase how much acid your stomach produces.
If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you can adjust the roast level of your decaf coffee beans to get the smallest amount of caffeine possible. Dark roast coffee beans tend to have the lowest amount of caffeine, while light roast options contain more caffeine. If you’re one of the many people whose acid reflux comes from caffeine, dark roast beans may be better for you. However, some coffee drinkers with acid reflux go for light roasts since they are not as acidic. Cold brew coffee both has less caffeine and is less acidic than other coffee, making it a great choice for individuals with acid reflux.
How Much Caffeine Is In Decaf Coffee?
Even decaffeinated coffee does contain some caffeine. For some decaf coffee, the coffee beans go through a process called the Swiss Water extraction method. Other decaf coffees use organic chemical solvents to remove the majority of the caffeine. The best coffee for low acidity is decaffeinated coffee that has been through a mountain water process. Decaf beans that have been through a mountain water process have the caffeine removed completely, with no side effects or chemicals.
The Food and Drug Administration has specified that decaffeinated coffee on store shelves must have had at least 97 percent of its caffeine removed. That means compared to an eight-ounce cup of caffeinated black coffee at 95 to 165 mg of caffeine, a cup of decaf coffee only contains 3 to 12 mg of caffeine.
Other Health Benefits of Decaf Coffee
- Diabetes: A 2014 meta-analysis published in Diabetes Care [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24459154/] showed that each cup of decaf coffee consumed in a day lowered the risk of Type 2 diabetes by six percent. In 2018, a study from the British Journal of Nutrition [https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/decaffeinated-coffee-improves-insulin-sensitivity-in-healthy-men/FF6A1D153511C0266A7ECE7E66E7D3B3] showed that men who consumed decaffeinated coffee experienced improved insulin sensitivity.
- All-Cause Mortality: A 2019 meta-analysis of 21 studies involving coffee [https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jhn.12633] determined that three cups of decaf or caffeinated coffee each day was associated with a 13 percent reduction in all-cause mortality.
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A 2019 study on mice from Redox Biology [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30605883/] showed that consuming decaffeinated coffee protected the mice against NAFLD.
- Although decaf coffee does have conflicting reports surrounding it, as an article in Gastroenterology and Hepatology states, no large or well-designed studies show that getting rid of caffeine or coffee altogether improves GERD symptoms. Previously standard routine dietary changes are no longer recommended in the guidelines from American College of Gastroentereology to treat acid reflux or GERD. However, a study in Alimentary Phramacology & Therapeutics [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7918922/] found that regular coffee caused acid reflux while decaf coffee did not.
Because both caffeine and acidity have been factors that determine whether you get acid reflux, it’s hard to know whether you need to avoid the caffeine present in your coffee by using decaf. However, if you aren’t sure, the best thing you can do is try drinking decaffeinated coffee instead. If you still experience symptoms of GERD or acid reflux, consider talking to your gastroenterologist.