Whether you brew coffee at home, grab a cup from the communal pot at the office, enjoy an environmentally questionable Keurrig, or pop by your local Starbucks for your morning pick-me-up, chances are high that you’re regularly stirring a bunch of extra stuff into your daily cup of joe — and some of these tasty additions may be damaging to your health.
Different studies have shown different results regarding whether coffee itself is bad for you or not. Some respected medical professionals hold the opinion that coffee is damaging, while others believe that while you shouldn’t overdo it on the caffeine, some research suggests that coffee isn’t bad for you and may actually have some benefits. Dr. Rob van Dam of the Harvard School of Public Health, for instance, notes that "research over the past few years suggests that coffee consumption may protect against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, and liver cirrhosis."
But even if coffee does prove itself good for you, that doesn’t mean that all of the extras you’re pouring into it are. Just as your salad becomes significantly less nutritious when you top it with a dozen buttery croutons and drown it in creamy dressing, your coffee becomes much less healthful when you pour in a metric tonne of sugar and milk.
“Don't load your coffee with sugar. Sugar is perhaps the worst ingredient in our diets today, accountable for a range of medical problems from diabetes to heart disease to obesity to ADD,” says Dr. Deepa Verma of Synergistiq Integrative Health. And the answer isn’t to turn to Sweet ‘n’ Low for a quick sweetness fix, either. “Artificial sweeteners are not a healthier alternative to sugar,” Dr. Verma tells us. “Contrary to what you may think, these calorie-free devils are deceiving: Artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, and sucralose may be described as healthy, but ironically cause many health problems such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.”
So what should you be putting in your coffee? Well, coffee itself is pretty great on its own, but if you like a little additional flavor, consider opting for a tiny dash of vanilla extract and cinnamon. One teaspoon of vanilla extract has only 12 calories and half a gram of sugar, and cinnamon may help reduce inflammation and have antioxidant effects.
Other delicious, healthy options include honey, which has antibacterial properties and is often considered healthier form of sweetener. Instead of high-sugar syrups, try adding a little extra dark cocoa powder, which may help reduce blood pressure and assist with weight loss.
Take Coffee Mate powdered creamer or “whitener,” for instance. Corn syrup solids and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are the first and second ingredients, respectively. These ingredients recreate the mouthfeel of cream, but may be very bad for you. Corn syrup has been questioned as a source of sugar that your body doesn’t necessarily metabolize well, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil contains trans fats, which can raise your “bad” cholesterol.
Adding a shot of caramel syrup to your latte may: just one ounce of Torani caramel syrup contains 19 grams of sugar and 80 calories. At Starbucks, a Grande latte gets 4 pumps of syrup – which is approximately one ounce – and a Trenta contains 7!
Jess Novak is the Drink Editor of The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @jesstothenovak