Is It OK to Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach?

If coffee is your first priority every morning, here's what you need to know.

July 06, 2022

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Photo by: juanma hache/Getty Images

juanma hache/Getty Images

Coffee is the simplest of beverages. Dried, roasted and ground coffee beans are steeped and strained in hot water, leaving you with a fresh brewed cup. According to the National Coffee Association, 62 percent of Americans drink coffee daily, with the average American sipping an average of 3 (8 fluid oz) cups per day. And how you drink your coffee can impact the effect it has on your body. A popular myth is that it’s not healthy to drink coffee on an empty stomach, however, experts say that theory has now been debunked. So, what’s the best way to drink your coffee? We asked digestion experts to find out.

Is Coffee Healthy?

One eight-ounce cup of brewed black coffee contains less than 5 calories. Coffee naturally contains caffeine, a stimulant that impacts the neurological, cardiovascular and digestive system. A cup of coffee averages about 80 to 100 milligrams per 8 fl oz serving. According to data published in 2017, caffeine is absorbed within 45 minutes of consumption and in healthy in individuals, it takes 3 to 4 hours for the caffeine in the blood to reduce by half. Coffee also contains polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that protect cells and help ward off diseases. Despite what you may think, because coffee consists of a large amount of water, it helps contribute to hydration.

The health benefits of both caffeinated and decaf coffee have been widely studied and been linked to protection against type 2 diabetes, liver disease and several inflammatory conditions. Excess amounts of caffeine can be harmful, leading to sleep disruptions, headaches, nervousness, increased heart rate and increased urination. The effects of vary significantly based on personal tolerance, but up to 400 milligrams a day has been deemed safe for healthy adults.

Is It OK to Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach?

The stimulant effect of coffee has been known to speed up digestion, contributing to the belief that drinking it without food can be harmful. Rumors have swirled about the damage drinking coffee can have on an empty stomach, including ulcers and stomach irritation. Benjamin Lebwohl, Director of Clinical Research, at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University points out the concerns are outdated: “It is not hazardous to drink coffee on an empty stomach. Decades ago there was concern that coffee could be irritating to the lining of the stomach and intestine, but it was subsequently shown that this is not the case, and coffee consumption has not been linked to the development of ulcers.” But this doesn’t leave coffee lovers totally in the clear according to Lebwohl.

“One thing to keep in mind is that drinking coffee on an empty stomach can result in more rapid absorption, and thus a greater biological effect of your cup of coffee, such as alertness (which is desirable) and jitteriness (which may not be).” And as far as the increased digestion time, there is some truth to that. “Some people also get the urge to have a bowel movement after drinking coffee (which could be desirable or undesirable depending on the circumstances), though it is not clear that an empty stomach affects this.”

What’s the Best Time to Drink Coffee?

Coffee lovers can strategize to prevent these effects. Jessica Lebovits, registered dietitian at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University recommends customizing your coffee drinking to best suit your schedule. “How you drink your coffee needs to be individualized based on your schedule, lifestyle, and sensitivity to coffee,” she says. Ultimately coffee drinkers need to listen to their bodies and act accordingly. “We also need to take into account your appetite, speed of digestion, and bathroom access” adds Lebovits.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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