My Barista Is Making Me Sick
By: Maggie Cooper
I think that my barista is making me sick. I’m not talking about the holes in his earlobes that are big enough to throw a baseball through, or the fact that he really should put a hair net over his bushy beard.
I’m talking about the latte that he has been making for me every morning. I can’t wait to get to the front of the drive-thru and feel that warm cup in my hands. It may actually be the only reason that I get out of bed in the morning. By the time I get to work, however, the latte is gone, and I am left feeling very nauseous, gassy and racing for the bathroom.
Even though I feel sick every morning, I refuse to even imagine beginning my day without one cup of coffee. I am not a morning person, and coffee may be the only way that I have been able to maintain my “never killed anyone streak”.
However, since I was getting really tired of my stomach feeling horrible every morning, I decided to do some research to see if I could determine what aspect of my coffee makes me feel so bad. I was hoping that I could just change my latte a bit, rather than give it up altogether.
Coffee has several types of acid in it including, quinic acid, citric acid, chlorogenic acid and phosphoric acid. Despite the presence of acid, coffee isn’t all that acidic. On average, black coffee has a pH of about 5, which is the same as carrots. The most acidic coffees have a pH of around 4.7, or about as much as a banana.
Answer: Clearly it is not the inherent acid content of coffee that was causing my stomach problems.
There are a couple of ways that caffeine could be triggering my symptoms. Caffeine is actually a base, not an acid. When you drink coffee, the caffeine triggers the production of HCl, hydrochloric acid, in the stomach. HCl, or gastric acid, is necessary to digest food. However, excess HCl in the stomach can cause gas, bloating, heartburn and acid reflux.
Caffeine also stimulates the intestinal muscles to begin relaxing and contracting. This is known as peristalsis. This wavelike action occurs before a bowel movement. If peristalsis occurs too rapidly, your body doesn’t have time to absorb the water out of the stool so you end up with diarrhea.
Answer: If it is caffeine which is causing my diarrhea and nausea, I will simply switch to decaffeinated coffee.
I don’t drink my coffee black. I always add milk. After a quick online search, I found lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is “the inability to digest lactose, a component of milk and some other dairy products. The basis for lactose intolerance is the lack of an enzyme called lactase in the small intestine”. People who are lactose intolerant have symptoms similar to mine, which include cramps, diarrhea, nausea and gas.
Answer: If milk is what is making me sick, I can still drink coffee. But I will have to use a milk substitute, such as non-dairy creamer, soy milk or almond milk.
I like the real stuff. I rip open an embarrassing number of those little white packets at the coffee house condiment bar. I began to wonder if there is such a thing as sugar intolerance. I typed it into Google, and the first thing that came up was, “Sugar Intolerance Is Common – More Common Than You Think”. There was a link for the website sucroseintolerance.com. On that website I learned that sucrose intolerance, also known as GSID (aka CSID), is the absence or low level of two enzymes, sucrase and isomaltase. These enzymes are necessary in order to digest sugar. So if you have GSID, then your body has a tough time digesting sugar. The symptoms range from moderate to severe, and the symptoms are gas, nausea, diarrhea and bloating.
Answer: The good news is that there are some sugar substitutes that are tolerated by people with GSID. If sugar is the culprit, then I might be able to sweeten my coffee with Sweet’N Low or Equal and feel fine.
Basically everything about my morning coffee, except the cup, could be triggering my symptoms. Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to experiment. First, I will switch from regular coffee to decaf. If that does not help, I will stop using real milk and try a lactose-free alternative. If, after all of that, I still have diarrhea, gas and nausea, then I will try sugar substitutes. I am also going to take the quiz that is offered on the sucroseintolerance.com website. It will help me determine whether I might have GSID so that I can talk to my doctor about possible treatments.
The bottom line is that I am willing to do whatever it takes to stop my stomach issues. Whatever sacrifices I have to make will be worth it, as long as I can continue to experience the comfort of holding that warm paper cup in my hands and inhaling the delicious aroma of my morning coffee.