The relationship between coffee and the stomach is still not entirely understood. While some get heartburn or other digestive problems from a cup of coffee on an empty stomach, for others, it becomes a cup of joy before they can eat or drink something, and really brings health benefits. In fact, there is a common misconception that black coffee irritates the stomach, according to a well-known doctor. According to cardiac surgeon and founder of the GundryMD clinic, Dr. Stephen Gundry, many people add milk, cream and even butter to the drink, believing that this will help “calm down” the stomach. But it could also undermine many of the scientifically proven health benefits of black coffee.
What happens when you add milk to coffee?
Anthony DiMarino, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinical Nutrition Center (USA), explains that adding dairy ingredients to coffee makes the end result much more complex than other mixed drinks and meals. “Such a drink consists of several food groups that the body breaks down into simpler parts,” he says.
Coffee mainly contains caffeine, antioxidants, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals. Whereas low-fat dairy products (skim and 2%) contain small amounts of calories, calcium and protein. High-fat dairy products contain the same nutrients, just in a different ratio of fat to protein. In addition, do not forget that high-fat cream and butter do not always provide the desired excess calories.
Much of the misconception about the relationship between milk and caffeine stems from a 2014 test-tube study, according to Gundry. His results were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. It claimed that milk can improve the antioxidant effect of coffee. However, “what happens in a test tube is not what happens in the gut, let alone the rest of the body,” Dr. Gundry emphasizes.
When you drink coffee or tea (or eat blueberries), you get polyphenols, which are not antioxidants at all, but are prebiotics that the gut microbiome needs to function properly,” he explains. “In the body, they are converted into biologically active compounds that improve mitochondrial health and even increase lifespan.” What happens when dairy products are included in the equation? Dr. Gundry explains that they "bind strongly to these polyphenols, which makes them unavailable for consumption by our fellow beneficial micro-organisms from the gut." Numerous studies, according to the specialist, show that blueberries mixed with yogurt are useless as polyphenols due to this bond.
“This effect shows why, among cultures where tea or coffee is drunk, only those who drink it black (or green) experience health benefits,” he explains. Another polyphenol-rich food, like chocolate, has the same effect. Its dairy version renders the polyphenols found in cocoa beans useless. Even butter has the same effect on the absorption of tea polyphenols,” he adds.
DiMarino is taking a more low-key stance - it's not clear yet whether the addition of a dairy ingredient actually negates the health benefits of coffee. However, he also says that the drink's cancer-fighting antioxidant effects may be disrupted by high-fat dairy products. “In my opinion, black is the best color. This is how we reap the benefits of coffee and limit our excess calories,” he notes.
How can coffee taste better without sacrificing health benefits?
If black is not your favorite morning color, then you can add milk or cream with a small percentage of fat to your coffee. This will not bring much harm to health, experts say. Or you can use an alternative milk base, such as coconut, almond or hazelnut. But here you should be careful, 4% oat milk is a completely different story. In addition, do not forget about natural spices, which can also add a touch of spice or reduce the bitterness of black coffee. For example, the classic ingredient for a morning drink is cinnamon, or vanilla, or even coconut flakes. “They will provide a new taste without limiting the beneficial properties of the coffee,” says DiMarino.