For many of us, there are few things more enjoyable than a steaming hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning, or a cold brew in the warmer months. And while the smell alone is enough to make many of us feel more alert and motivate us to get out of bed, when it comes to actually drinking it, you'd be hard-pressed to find too many people who prefer their coffee black.
"Adding milk or creamer to coffee is a practice done by most coffee drinkers to enhance the flavor and creamy nature of the often bitter and acidic drink," says Lisa Richards, nutritionist and founder of The Candida Diet. "While it is common, adding creamer is also a way refined sugar sneaks into our coffee."
If you can't stand to drink you coffee black, that's OK—you're in good company. But what are the healthiest additions, both from a creamer and sweetener perspective? Here's what nutritionists have to say.
Meet the Expert
Lisa Richards is a nutritionist, published author, and creator of the Candida Diet. She has been researching and writing on Candida overgrowth and the Candida diet for over 20 years. Through her website, thecandidadiet.com, she has reached a total audience of over 20 million people.
To Make Your Coffee "Creamy"
Those fancy creamers in their colorful packaging may be calling your name, but they're likely packed with sugar and chemicals. According to Richards, your best bet is to go with unflavored, plant-based creamers. "This will help to avoid saturated fat and excess added sugar," she explains.
Certified nutritionist Alena Schowalter echoes this, saying her absolute favorite creamer is Oatly Barista Edition oat milk. "It has a neutral taste, silky texture and is made with omega-3 rich canola oil," she says. "I also love that they fortified it with some potentially critical nutrients on a vegan diet, namely iodine, vitamin D and vitamin B12."
And if you love dairy and aren't sensitive to it, there are a few solid dairy options out there. "I would stick with organic whole milk, cream or half and half—but make sure it's certified organic and free from hormones and antibiotics," suggests Dawn Jarvis, Garden of Life's nutritionist.
To Make Your Coffee Sweet(er)
For those who like their coffee sweetened up, there are a few solid options out there. "Honey is a natural sweetener, which can help reduce the amount of added sugar you have in your coffee," says Richardson. Another option she suggests? Monk fruit extract. "Monk fruit extract contains some incredible compounds that are 300-400 times sweeter than cane sugar. And here's the real kicker, it’s virtually calorie-free. That means it won’t affect blood sugar levels, and it won’t rot your teeth."
Schowalter notes that a pinch of sugar here isn't something to feel bad about, so if you add a tiny bit to your coffee, don't sweat it. But you can also try stevia. "I sometimes like to sweeten my coffee with some vanilla-flavored stevia which is calorie-free," she says.
To Avoid Altogether
When it comes to adding to your coffee, there are a ton of options out there. So which ones should you avoid full stop? We will never demonize calories, fat, or sugar—and doing so adds shame to an otherwise healthy eating experience. That said, often these options contain very little (if any) nutritional value. Health is top of mind, not calories. But, here's the gist: "The Almond Joy contains five grams of sugar and 35 calories per tablespoon. This may not sound like a lot, but who has less than 1 tablespoon of creamer?" says Richards. "Dunkin Donuts has a creamer available on retail shelves called Extra Extra, and just a tablespoon of it is 40 calories and 6 grams of sugar. These creamers are void of any nutritional value and contain a large amount of sugar and calories for such a small serving."
Jarvis says that in general you should probably avoid traditional coffee creamers. "Although ingredients vary by brand, most coffee creamers are made from a combination of water, sugar, and vegetable oil," she says. "Vegetable oils are typically used to offer that creamy look, feel, and flavor." But, they're refined.
In the end, it's all up to you. A drop here or there of anything isn't bad and shouldn't send your mind spinning. Remember, it's about health above all else. The rest is just noise.