How to Build a Healthier Cup of Coffee

Jessica Migala
by Jessica Migala
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How to Build a Healthier Cup of Coffee

If you’re like the majority of Americans, you’re pouring yourself a cup (or three!) of coffee every day. Overall, a little java jolt does your body good — research shows the habit is associated with better blood sugar regulation, a healthier heart, a sharper brain and even a longer life.

At the same time, the mug can become a vessel for an overload of cream and sugar — and if you’re at a coffee shop — fancy syrups, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings, too — all in a supersized cup.

“Even 50 extra calories per day over the course of a year is about five pounds worth of calories,” says Molly Morgan, a registered dietician. That’s why knowing some tricks for building a better cup pays off. Sometimes, you can even keep the cream.

1

CHOOSE YOUR STRENGTH

Are you going decaf, half-caf or full caffeinated? Your choice might depend on what you’re dealing with health-wise. For example, those with digestive issues may want to choose decaf or half-caf coffee, Morgan points out; similarly, those with anxiety and depression may also want to cut back on caffeine, research suggests. If you’re sipping a brew late in the day, you may consider going decaf to avoid affecting your sleep later that night. Otherwise, the FDA says healthy adults can consume 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is the equivalent of about four or five cups (not ventis). If you’re pregnant, limit yourself to 200mg per day.

2

PICK YOUR BREW

Like sweet coffee? “Try a flavored coffee bean,” says Morgan. Think caramel or vanilla. “You can retrain your tastebuds a bit to adjust to a hint of sweetness without the added sugar or calories,” she says.

3

DETERMINE THE MILK

You have a lot of options: plant-based or dairy creamers or milk (almond, soy, oat, coconut, cow’s milk). These vary wildly in calories and fat. For instance, a single tablespoon of heavy whipping cream contains 51 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 3.5 grams of saturated fat. Contrast that with a 1/4 cup of unsweetened almond milk, which has 10 calories, about a half gram of fat and nearly no saturated fat. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. “Look at the context of everything you’re consuming in the day. If you love regular cream in your coffee and want to stick with it, then you can make adjustments to the rest of your day by consuming something lower in fat later,” says Morgan. (One caveat: If you have heart health issues, go for the low-fat or plant-based choice, she advises.) The important thing to remember here is opting for an unsweetened milk or creamer; you can add sweetness in step 4.

4

ADD SUGAR (OR DON’T)

Flavored creamers and milk, including plant-based versions, often have a lot of hidden sugar, says Morgan. Stay in control of how much sugar you add by sticking with unsweetened milk or creamer. When adding sugar on your own, keep in mind that all sugar — white, raw, brown, maple syrup or flavored syrups — is sugar. One teaspoon of sugar is equal to 4 grams of sugar and 16 calories, she explains. Here’s a great place to try to lighten things up. If you’re having 2 teaspoons regularly, cut that in half and try just one.

5

SPRINKLE IN SPICE

If you like the taste of cinnamon, now’s the time to shake some on top of your brew. (Bonus: The spice has been found to help regulate blood sugar levels.) Or, try cocoa powder for a chocolatey taste. Neither adds significant calories but they provide a give a zip of sweetness, Morgan says.

6

EXPLORE EXTRAS

There are a lot of things people are stirring into their java these days, from collagen to adaptogenic powders, protein powders, MCT oil and butter/ghee. “Any time someone wants to add in supplements, I remind them that these are intended as supplements and not a crutch for poor eating habits,” says Morgan. So, if you add a scoop of collagen powder for about 9 grams of extra protein or stir in a protein powder, you’ll still want to consume high-quality sources of protein throughout the day. Protein coffee — aka proffee — can make your cup more filling, especially if you’re not big on breakfast or it can be used as a pre-workout drink.

As for adding fats like MCT oil, some athletes like to use this option for quick energy, says Morgan. (It’s metabolized by the liver, making it readily available to the body for energy.) However, this is really beneficial when you need more calories in your diet, as 1 tablespoon is 130 calories and 14 grams of fat. It may be too big a calorie bomb to add to your day otherwise. Lastly, bulletproof coffee is also higher in calories and fat, and its promises just don’t make sense for the average person. Morgan doesn’t recommend it unless you are strictly following a ketogenic diet.

Last step: Just sip — and smile. It’s going to be a good (and healthy) day.

Ready to take the next step? Unlock MyFitnessPal Premium to access custom goal settings, quick-log recipes, and guided plans from a registered dietitian. Premium users are 65% more likely to reach their weight loss goals!

About the Author

Jessica Migala
Jessica Migala

Jessica Migala is a health and fitness freelancer based in the Chicago suburbs. She spends her days writing with her beagle mix by her side and her free time with her two young sons. Jessica also writes for O, The Oprah magazine, Woman’s Day, Real Simple and others. Find her at jessicamigala.com.

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