Ever wonder how someone can drink an espresso after dinner and have no trouble sleeping? I’ve always considered myself sensitive to caffeine and have been a loyal decaf drinker, even earlier in the day. But this summer when we were in Costa Rica, we took a barista class and learned some interesting information about coffee. We used the same grounds and prepared it a variety of different ways which changed the level of acidity, amount of fat, and ultimately the taste. I also gained a little insight as to why the Italians, and other cultures, enjoy an espresso following their evening meal. A single shot of espresso only contains 40 mg of caffeine, compared to a 12 ounce cup of drip coffee which has 120 mg. While it varies for each individual, on average the energy stimulating effects of caffeine begin at 100 mg. The high pressure, quick extraction used when making espresso, brings a rich flavor but lower acidity too.
Although levels of caffeine and acid are lower, it still contains enough to aid digestion. During the digestive process our stomach secretes hydrochloric acid (HCl), which along with other enzymes, to break down our food for absorption in our small intestines. If we have insufficient levels of stomach acid (aka HCl) or digestive enzymes, it can take longer for our food to digest. If it takes too long, it can begin to feed opportunistic bacteria. As these bacteria are fed and multiply, it creates an imbalance of bacteria (i.e., an overgrowth of problematic ones) resulting in a variety of digestive symptoms. Not only do we produce less HCl as we age, but if we are experiencing compromised gut integrity, due to stress, poor diet, medications, etc., supplemental digestive support may be helpful. Even temporarily while healing the gut can be beneficial. Slowed digestion can manifest in a variety of symptoms – protein sits in your stomach like a rock, bloating, odorous gas, belching, or even heartburn. However, the low levels of caffeine and acid in an espresso may be just enough to aid the digestive process – break down food and keep things moving. Espresso, like all coffee, also contains antioxidants called polyphenols which help to reduce inflammation. The rich flavor of an espresso is best enjoyed when savored slowly. Slowing down and savoring an espresso, as well as our food, also supports digestion. So often we eat on the go, or while multitasking, making it more difficult to digest and absorb nutrients. Our autonomic nervous system can only be in rest and digest, or fight or flight (i.e., stress) mode. Eating in a state of stress hinders digestion. At your next meal, take a breath or two to prime your digestion, chew your food slowly and thoroughly, take time to enjoy the food and the company of those around you. You may even want to try finishing your meal with an espresso!