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Is It Bad To Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach?

You may want to eat a balanced breakfast before indulging in your favorite cup of coffee.
FACT CHECKED BY Samantha Boesch

If you're rolling out of bed and heading straight to your coffee pot, you're not alone. Many people rely on the jolt of caffeine that the first cup of coffee gives them to get the day started. For some, it may even be less about the caffeine, and more about the comforting routine of waking up to a piping hot cup of Joe. Coffee can even provide some amazing health benefits, but lovers of this beverage may want to avoid drinking coffee on an empty stomach.

Coffee tastes amazing and gives you that burst of energy you need before a busy day, but it also has many health benefits like helping to boost metabolism and burn fat, improving cognitive health, and potentially even helping you live longer. When it comes to your coffee, old habits are hard to break, but prolonging that first cup until after you've eaten breakfast (or enjoying it with your meal) could make this drink even better for your health.

Here's what you need to know about drinking coffee on an empty stomach and whether or not you should try switching up your morning caffeine routine. Then, for more healthy drink tips, check out The Best Drinking Habits To Shrink Visceral Fat After 50.

Coffee and cortisol levels

drinking coffee

One common argument for avoiding coffee first thing in the morning relates to its effect on cortisol production, AKA stress hormones. Cortisol levels in the body ebb and flow in a natural cycle throughout the day, with levels peaking right around the time you wake up. Caffeine can possibly cause an increase in cortisol, so drinking it when cortisol is already high may potentially lead to unhealthy levels of the stress hormone.

However, researchers found that people who regularly drink coffee experience a much smaller rise in cortisol from caffeine, with the time of day making little to no difference. Plus, this small increase is only temporary and unlikely to lead to any long-term health effects.

Drinking coffee on an empty stomach may cause acid reflux

drinking coffee

The biggest reason you may want to wait until after breakfast to drink your cup of coffee has to do with your stomach.

While that comforting cup of coffee tastes delicious, most of us are really looking forward to the jolt of caffeine it gives us. "Caffeine stimulates a hormone called gastrin, which tells your stomach to release hydrochloric acid (stomach acid)," says Andrew Akhaphong, MS, RD, LD, registered dietitian at Mackenthun's Fine Foods.

While coffee may increase the acid your stomach produces, it can also lower the pressure of your lower esophageal sphincter (the sphincter in between your stomach and esophagus). Reducing the pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter can lead to acid reflux as the acid from the stomach travels back up into the esophagus. Symptoms of acid reflux include a burning sensation in the chest, acidic or bitter taste, trouble swallowing, or regurgitating small amounts of food or fluids.

Even if you're sticking to decaf, you still may not be in the clear, depending on the sensitivity of your stomach. During the removal of caffeine, some of the acids are removed from the coffee, reducing the amount of acid your stomach produces. But for people who are highly sensitive or have more severe acid reflux, drinking even decaf coffee before eating could increase the risk of stomach pains.

Eating a meal rich in fiber before indulging in your coffee can help absorb any excess hydrochloric acid, protecting your stomach from heartburn and reducing the risk of ulcers, explains Akhaphong. So, if you need inspiration, try one of these high-fiber breakfasts to fill up before drinking that first cup of coffee.

This isn't to say that you can never have coffee on an empty stomach. In fact, these effects may not show up in everyone. But it's important to pay attention to how your body feels after drinking coffee on an empty stomach, and if you feel any of these stomach pains or symptoms of acid reflux, it may be a good idea to eat a balanced breakfast before indulging in your morning cup of Joe.

Kelsey Kunik, RDN
Kelsey Kunik is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, nutrition consultant, and sustainable food blogger. Read more about Kelsey
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