Coffee drinking is a habit scientific studies have repeatedly shown to be good for health. (Unless you're uber sensitive to the caffeine and it makes you anxious or leads to tummy troubles—in that case, best to stick with tea.) Coffee is full of brain-healthy antioxidants, vitamin B5 (which makes red blood cells), magnesium (good for your muscles and bones), and potassium (which lowers blood pressure).
- Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and nutritionist
But here's the thing: Depending on how you make your coffee, you could be limiting its full wellness-boosting potential. When it comes to making healthy coffee, there are a few common mistakes to avoid if you want to reap the maximum nutritional benefits as possible. Keep reading to find out what they are.
Watch the video below to learn more about the health benefits of coffee:
Wondering how to make healthy coffee? Here are 4 mistakes to avoid:
Mistake 1: Adding sugar.
Let's start with one you probably knew was coming: Sweetening that cup of coffee with sugar. To caveat, there is nothing wrong with wanting a little sweet to balance out the flavor of your bitter cup of coffee. That being said, all forms of added sugar have zero actual health benefits to offer, and going ham on them is so common that it's worth calling out. "When many people order a standard morning coffee beverage, they tend to order it with high-sugared flavored syrups that have no nutritional benefit," registered dietitian Keri Gans, RD, says. We're not talking about your once-a-year Pumpkin Spice Latte habit; we're talking about starting every single morning with a drink that far exceeds the American Heart Association's daily recommended limit of six teaspoons.
Some health experts also say using Splenda, or other artificial sweeteners, isn't exactly a great substitution either. A study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health found that mice who were fed sucralose (the main ingredient in Splenda) daily throughout their lives eventually developed leukemia and other blood cancers. While the Food and Drug Administration has deemed artificial sweeteners as safe, it's still something to be mindful of.
So what's a sweet coffee lover to do? Gans suggests reaching for something you likely have in your pantry. "Cinnamon is a great way to sweeten coffee and is actually known to have health benefits because of its antioxidant properties, such as may decrease the risk for heart disease and certain cancers and may help to balance our immune system," she says. Unsweetened versions of soy, almond, and oat milk all have a naturally sweet taste that will cut through the bitterness of coffee, too. Feeling extra daring? Try hot sauce.
Mistake 2: Using creamers high in saturated fat.
There is also nothing wrong with adding creamer to your coffee, but Gans says the type of creamer you use does matter. In terms of nutrient density, they certainly aren't all created equal. "If an individual uses a little, no big deal, however, the more heavy-handed they are the more they need to choose wisely," Gans says. When you do your creamer shopping, she says it's a good idea to eye the nutritional panel as some creamers are high in saturated fat, which can negatively affect heart health.
"Since saturated fats are associated with an increased risk for heart disease, a person who likes their cup of coffee on the very light side may consider holding back on the regular creamers and swapping them for a plant-based creamer. Plant-based creamers are mostly higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats," Gans says. There's certainly no shortage of plant-based creamers on the market these days, so if you can't find one at your local supermarket, you'll easily be able to order one online.
Mistake 3: Sipping unfiltered coffee
It's not just what you put in your coffee that matters; how you brew it plays a role, too. "Research [shows] that drinking unfiltered coffee is associated with a higher mortality rate than filtered coffee," Gans says, referring to a study of 508,747 people published in the journal European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The findings were based on 18 years of data and according to the results of the study, unfiltered coffee was worse for health because not using a filter can allow chemicals and oils that contain LDL cholesterol that negatively impact the heart to get into coffee.
Moreover, the researchers found that even though using a French press may be popular, this method of brewing doesn't do as well of a job as a good old paper filter when it came to keeping cafestol and kahweol (the specific coffee oils containing LDL cholesterol) out of the mug. Ditto Turkish-style brewing; this brewing method also filters out less cafestol and kahweol, which means more in the resulting cup of coffee. The takeaway here: Make sure your coffee is filtered if you're sipping it with heart health in mind.
Mistake 4: Using contaminated beans
Last but certainly not least is the fact that the quality of your coffee beans matters. "Some coffee beans may have mycotoxins, which are formed by mold," Gans says. While she explains that in small amounts this is harmless and the amount of mold is way below what's considered unsafe, if you want your cup to be as full of health benefits as it can be, it's worth the effort to ensure what you're buying has been tested for the absence of harmful compounds such as aflatoxin (toxins produced by mold). Coffee brands that have their beans tested by a third party will indicate so on their website. Do your research before shelling out for those beans—but chances are, this is not something you ever need to lose sleep over.
It bears repeating that on its own, coffee is one beverage that's full of benefits. But if you want to make sure it's as healthy as possible, keeping the aforementioned tips in mind will come in handy. Your healthy morning habit just got even healthier.
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