What gets your morning started and keeps you energized throughout the day? For 54 percent of American adults, it’s coffee — we consume an average of 3.1 cups per day, fueling our early mornings and late nights. But is your daily caffeine fix putting a dent in your health and nutrition? With the right approach to consuming caffeine, your daily pick-me-up can actually benefit your health.
CAFFEINE: HARMFUL OR HELPFUL?
Caffeine is a drug that works to stimulate the brain and gives you that classic jolt of energy. Research has recently supported the idea that drinking coffee may serve to reduce inflammation and thus reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular and other inflammatory diseases. (I always love research that supports my caffeine fix … don’t you?) For adults who consume about three cups of coffee per day, there is little evidence of health risk and some evidence of health benefits associated with coffee consumption.
In general, the main risks associated with coffee consumption kick in at high amounts of caffeine per day — generally more than four or five cups depending on how strongly the coffee is brewed. Of course, some people are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of caffeine. If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or have another health concern, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your caffeine intake.
The Bottom Line: Everything in moderation. The caffeine content of coffee shouldn’t be a health concern unless you are drinking more than four or five cups per day, having trouble sleeping due to its effects or have a specific health concern. Note that sometimes generalized anxiety can be affected by caffeine intake.
READ MORE > SHOULD YOU DRINK COFFEE BEFORE WORKING OUT
COFFEE ADD-INS: SUGAR, CREAM, SYRUPS
A standard 8-ounce cup of black coffee checks in at just 2.7 calories with 0 grams of sugar. But the strong flavor and bitterness of coffee can make it tempting to pour in cream, sugar, syrups and other sweeteners; 65 percent of Americans take their coffee with sugar or cream. This is when the trouble kicks in: Anything added to your coffee tacks on extra calories.
The first thing to cut out of your morning cup of joe? Sugar. Too much sugar can be linked to health complications such as obesity and diabetes. Syrups and “flavor pumps” (Think: that hazelnut flavor that you love) are made with high amounts of sugar and added calories. If you can’t drink coffee without something sweet, try adding a small amount of Stevia or other natural sugar alternative that is calorie-free.
Buyer beware: Some coffee shops might add a syrup or sweetener without you explicitly ordering it. Starbucks’ iced coffee comes with Classic Syrup, consisting of sugar, water and natural flavors.
Cream (like half-and-half) can be a delicious, low-sugar add-in in but in small amounts because those tablespoons can add up calorie-wise (1 tablespoon of half-and-half = 20 calories). Milk and soy milk are great additions for a boost of protein without so many calories.
HOW TO ORDER A HEALTHIER CUP OF COFFEE
STIR IN CINNAMON
Looking to take the edge off your coffee without adding empty calories? Try adding a dash of cinnamon! Cinnamon consumption has been linked to improved glucose sensitivity and cholesterol for those with Type 2 diabetes.
If you just can’t live without your speciality latte or mocha, consider ordering a smaller size to eliminate at least some calories.
CHOOSE YOUR MILK WISELY
The default milk in most speciality drinks is 2% or whole milk. Consider substituting nonfat milk, almond milk, soy milk or coconut milk to shave calories on speciality drinks that use large amounts of dairy. Be careful though, many coffee shops will use milk substitutes that contain added sugar, so ask the barista to show you the ingredient label if you are trying to reduce sugar intake.
SPRINKLE ON COCOA POWDER
Another great low-calorie add-in is unsweetened cocoa powder — it adds a boost of aroma and flavor without any added sugars.
RECONSIDER WHIPPED CREAM
Many speciality drinks automatically come with whipped cream; order your favorite drink with no whip to save around 80 calories and cut back on sugar intake.
TRANSITION TOWARD BLACK COFFEE
In an ideal world, your coffee would be just that — coffee. With almost zero calories, drinking black coffee leaves extra room for more nutritious foods that fill you up and keep you energized. Take baby steps toward this goal by slowly cutting back on sugar, creamers and syrups. Your taste buds can adjust over time.
TEA: THE NON-COFFEE OPTION
Looking for an alternative to coffee that still allows you to get a caffeine fix or sip on something warm? Tea is an excellent substitute, ranging from non-caffeinated chamomile to caffeine-packed Earl Grey, you can pick and choose a tea variety for any time of the day. Black and green teas also comes packed with powerful antioxidants, such as flavonoids, that are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Herbal teas are great for more than just the morning — they offer calming, soothing effects for the afternoon and evenings.
Use these tips and tricks for ordering and drinking coffee to turn your favorite morning ritual into a healthy one.