In part one of the WellBe Guide to Coffee, we dove into the environmental and health reasons to choose organic coffee over conventional coffee. But now that you’ve got your toxin-free organic cup of joe in hand, you should be good to go, right? Not so fast. No matter how healthy the coffee itself is, what you put in it — plus how you make and serve it — has a huge impact on your health. In part two of our healthy coffee guide, we look at the four unhealthiest things to put in your coffee, and offer some healthy alternatives, plus give you the scoop on the healthiest ways to brew and serve your favorite morning beverage.
The 4 Unhealthiest Things to Add to Coffee
If you don’t drink your coffee black, you’ve got an array of options for what to put in your coffee. Here are some of the four most common coffee additions, why they might not be the best choice for your health, and a healthier alternative for each.
Why They’re Bad: It’s probably no surprise to hear that these powdered creamers aren’t exactly “natural.” They’re full of all sorts of weird and unhealthy stuff, including trans fats, which raise your risk of heart disease, and corn syrup, which is loaded with sugar.
What to Have Instead: Luckily, the options for non-dairy creaminess have exploded in the past few years. Choose among coconut, hemp, cashew, oat or almond milk rather than the weird powdery stuff (and make sure to go organic, since even non-dairy milks can contain GMOs, carrageenan fillers, or pesticides).
Non-Organic Cow’s Milk
Why It’s Bad: If you see a pitcher of milk at a café, odds are good that it’s not organic. The production of non-organic dairy involves feeding and injecting cows with antibiotics, which carry a ton of negative health consequences, and pesticides (because the cows eat grass containing pesticide residue), which expose your body to harmful toxins.
What to Have Instead: This one’s easy — choosing organic milk solves these problems. If your local coffee shop doesn’t offer organic milk, just bring a little thermos of your own. It’s good for the environment too!
Why They’re Bad: Vanilla, hazelnut, or pumpkin spice may sound tempting, but they come with consequences. These flavored syrups fill you up with sugar (4 pumps of the Torani brand, used at Starbucks, has 19 grams! That’s as much as a Cookies & Creme Pop-Tart!) as well as artificial colors or food dye, which have been linked to many health risks, including cancer. In our interview with Dr Joel Gator, he talked about the evidence-backed connection between food dye and ADHD in children.
Why They’re Bad: Low and zero-calorie sweeteners might seem like the “healthier” option, but they really just replace one unhealthy thing with another. They’ve been linked to a greater risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, and they can mess with your gut microbiome, leading to weight gain. Plus, some studies suggest they might be addictive! When we interviewed Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Dr. Gerry Mullin, he talked about how they destroy the gut microbiome.
What to Have Instead: Though they have calories and sugar, more natural sweeteners like agave, honey, and maple syrup are better options (we especially like manuka honey for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties). Or for a sugar-free option, try unsweetened cacao powder! In general we try to add no sweeteners (even natural ones!), since we know sugar is a major contributor to chronic disease.
How You Brew & Serve Your Coffee Matters
One last thing to consider when it comes to coffee is how you brew and serve it. First off, those super convenient K-cups you see everywhere? We hate to break it to you, but they’re pretty destructive to both your health and the environment. Though the plastic is BPA-free, it can still be harmful when heated, throwing your hormones out of whack. On the “ew” front, you should also consider that single-serve plastic coffee makers often harbor bacteria like e.coli. Keep yourself safe by brewing your coffee in a glass or stainless steel coffee maker.
Then there’s those ubiquitous to-go cups you get at the coffee shop. While very convenient, they’re usually made from polystyrene, which has been found to release estrogen-like chemicals in your body. Avoid any hormone disruption (and do the environment a solid) by bringing your own stainless steel or ceramic cup, or a to-go thermos.
Okay! Now you have all the knowledge you need to enjoy your coffee and take on the world — while keeping your body safe.