This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach

You might want to have a snack handy.

Waking up with a nice, steamy cup of coffee is a morning ritual beloved around the world. But is sipping caffeinated bean juice the best thing for your belly (and brain) first thing in the morning? If you’ve been consuming coffee as soon as you roll out of bed, i.e., on an empty stomach, you may want to reconsider the timing of your favorite beverage to help avoid tummy aches and extra stress. Because that pricey latte is only worth every sip when you feel your best, physically and mentally. 

“Coffee can stimulate the production of stomach acid, which might cause stomach upset or acid reflux [i.e. heartburn] symptoms,” says Christina Manian, RDN. “Coffee can also stimulate cortisol production, a stress hormone in the body. While some cortisol is important for regulation of blood sugar, blood pressure, and metabolism, excessive amounts over long periods of time can lead to hypertension, unregulated blood sugar levels potentially leading to diabetes, and loss of bone density." Not ideal, especially if the morning is already a stressful time for you.

Related:What's the Difference Between Cold Brew, Pour-Over, and More Types of Coffee?

<p>Jonathan Knowles/Getty Images</p>

Jonathan Knowles/Getty Images

Early birds may be relaxed at sunrise, but may also find that sipping coffee before eating can cause jitters. “However, many first-thing coffee drinkers don't experience jitteriness or GI symptoms, so it's important to listen to your body,” Manian assures. Still, although it’s a personal choice to decide how and when you want to consume that first cup of the day, she recommends having a small snack with your coffee, even if you're not quite ready for breakfast. This helps give the stomach acid created by coffee some food to digest. 

And while the taste and smell of coffee may be what lures you out of bed in the morning (along with that 9 a.m. Zoom meeting or way-too-early school bus pickup route), coffee can also help get your day started, regardless of what else is in your stomach. “Coffee has been shown to increase concentration levels, and, in the research, I haven't seen that be altered by whether or not you've eaten beforehand,” Manian says.

Related:What's the Difference Between an Espresso, Americano, and More Coffee Drinks?

The biggest impacting energy factor will be if you use sweetener in your coffee, which can spike your blood sugar, i.e. cause a sugar rush, that will eventually result in a crash and leave you feeling tired after your first cup (some may be familiar with the morning brew, sweeten, repeat cycle). However, the effects of that sweetener in your coffee can be mitigated by what you consume before or with your cup of java, Manian points out, especially if that meal or snack has fiber, protein, or healthy fats. She suggests a piece of fruit, a hard-boiled egg, toast with peanut butter or avocado, yogurt with fruit or granola, applesauce, a handful of nuts, or a handful of trail mix.

If you’re aiming for optimum health via your coffee routine, Manian says that “black [coffee] is preferable, but low-fat dairy or alt dairy is also totally fine. When it comes to sweeteners, honey or maple syrup will offer more benefits than cane sugar, as that is a well-known pro-inflammatory agent in the body. Still, all of those options will cause a blood sugar spike.” Alternative sweeteners also exist, such as aspartame, but have been correlated to negative health impacts, so Manian steers clear. If sweetness is your thing, you can also look for tasting notes on whole bean coffees. Beans described with notes of “caramel,” “chocolate,” or “honey” may be more to your liking than more acidic beans, and require less sweetener when brewed.

Related:How Much Sugar Is Too Much Sugar? Here's Where to Cap Your Daily Intake

Overall, Manian says that drinking coffee on an empty stomach is an individual choice, but if you were her client, she’d suggest that you have some food with that first cup, if possible. Try it and see how you feel!

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