If you love your coffee, you’re far from alone. Most Americans enjoy their daily cuppa joe at an average of three cups a day.
Sure, we brew our java at home, but we clearly give in to the pull of a grab-and-go coffee drink from the corner coffeehouse. And why not? Coffee is a great pick-me-up that studies show may have health benefits. Add a talented barista (whom you may know by name) and you’ve got indulgence in a cup.
But unless your go-to is basic black, it’s likely your coffee concoction is loaded with as much sweeteners, fat, and calories as flavor. Not to worry! A small shift or two is all it takes to order a healthier and still satisfying cup.
Coffee is bitter and sweeteners take off that edge. Yet, a flavored coffee drink can be packed with sugar, typically more than 40 grams (10 teaspoons) in a medium 16-ounce serving. That’s more than the recommended sugar intake for an entire day, plus an extra 160 calories. Sugar-free drinks that contain artificial sweeteners cut sugar and calories, but research is still out on the way the body and brain respond to these chemicals. Natural sweeteners, like honey, agave or stevia, are options, but they’re not calorie-free and the body processes them just like sugar. And, in such small amounts, any nutrient benefits are negligible.
Try this: Lessen your sugar intake by asking the barista to add fewer “pumps” of syrup and skipping whipped cream on top. Or sweeten your drink by adding a splash of naturally sweet almond milk or other nut milk, a few drops of vanilla or maple extract, or a dash of cinnamon.
Whether you prefer a cappuccino, latte, mocha or macchiato, it’s probably made with whole milk, perhaps sweetened condensed milk, and even the option for whipped cream. While dairy milk is a good source of calcium, protein and vitamin D, choosing low or nonfat varieties means less fat, saturated fat and calories. Plant-based milks, like almond, soy, coconut and oat milk (ask for unsweetened) are common substitutions, but they won’t necessarily be lower in fat and calories, and, unless they’re fortified, they’re probably not rich in nutrients, compared with dairy milk.
Try this: Ask for a low or skim milk variety, sometimes called a “skinny” that is unsweetened and fortified. Skip (or cut back) the whip.
There’s no denying the power of the coffeehouse — the menu, the aromas, your companions — that can lead to an over-the-top splurge. Avoid it by deciding what you’ll have before you get there, or ordering ahead online. The major shops have online menus with nutrition information and an array of options, from size, sweetener and milk type, to add-ins, like cocoa and nutmeg, and toppings.
Try this: Go to your coffeehouse’s website or app, browse the menu, and scroll through the options to personalize your order. If you do choose to splurge, opt for the smallest size. Looking for a healthier fix? Scan the “light” menu for inspiration.
We all deserve to treat ourselves to our favorite coffee drink. Giving it a healthier boost with a few small shifts makes it all the more satisfying.
Environmental Nutrition is an independent newsletter written by nutrition experts.
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