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Here’s why you probably need way less sweetener in your coffee than you think

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Photo: Stocksy/Treasures & Travels

Do you curiously crave doughnuts (and not the healthy kind) to chase your morning cup of coffee? If so, it’s not you—it’s the caffeine.

You might depend on that nice jolt of energy to kick off your day, but according to a new study published in the Journal of Food Science, your love of caffeine can actually temporarily weaken your taste buds, making food and drinks taste less sweet—thus making you drool over sugary foods more than you otherwise might have.

“When you drink caffeinated coffee, it will change how you perceive taste.”

In the blind study, 107 participants were randomly separated into two groups: one drank caffeinated coffee while the other drank decaf, both with sugar added to their drinks. The participants who had the caffeinated coffee rated it as less sweet than those drinking decaf, even though the amount of sugar was the same in cup.

“When you drink caffeinated coffee, it will change how you perceive taste—for however long that effect lasts,” senior author Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science at Cornell University, said in a press release. “So if you eat food directly after drinking a caffeinated coffee or other caffeinated drinks, you’ll likely perceive food differently.”

Also surprising, neither group in the study could tell whether the coffee was caffeinated or decaf—participants in both claimed increased alertness, but didn’t show any improvement in reaction times, which kind of calls coffee’s purported awakening powers into question.

“We think there might be a placebo or a conditioning effect to the simple action of drinking coffee,” Dando said. “Think Pavlov’s dog. The act of drinking coffee—with the aroma and taste—is usually followed by alertness. So the panelists felt alert even if the caffeine wasn’t there.”

So, maybe you don’t need caffeine for a jolt of energy after all. (Just kidding! Enjoy your buzzy brew.) But feel free to ignore any java-induced sugar cravings your morning cup inspires.

This is the healthiest coffee order around, according to an expert. To supercharge your morning cup, use these four ways to give it a boost.