Every person has been asked at some point what he or she would bring along if indefinitely trapped on a desert island. Over the years, I have given this question a lot of thought and have responded to it with a variety of answers, naming everything from my favorite book to a family photo.
Now 25 years old, I think I have finally come up with the answer to the question: Coffee.
It’s the one thing, not including writing or my family and friends, that I really feel as though I can’t live without. Call me pathetic, but the best part of my day is undoubtedly when I brew my first cup of joe. Because I consume coffee every day, I have had to be careful with how I prepare or order it so that I don’t end up drinking all of my calories before 10:00 in the morning.
While drinking a black cup of coffee is calorie-free, let’s be honest: It’s really quite boring, and most of us like a little bit of sweetness to our morning brew.
Over the years, I have learned that there are many small things you can do to make sure that your daily latte or coffee is a healthier choice:
- Skip the toppings. It may seem like common sense, but simply asking a barista to withhold the sugary drizzle or whipped cream on your favorite drink can save you loads of calories. I’ll be the first one to tell you that indulging in that grande mocha once in a while isn’t something that should make you hang your head in shame, but eliminating the whipped cream and chocolate shavings is a small gesture that can take away some of the fat, calories, and sugar.
- Change up the milk. If you don’t request a different kind of milk, many coffeehouses will automatically serve your milk-based espresso drink with 2% or whole milk. However, simply switching from 2% to skim milk when ordering a Starbucks Cafe Latte will save you 7 grams of fat and 60 calories, while not doing much to change the taste. If your diet requires it or you simply prefer it, remember that you can also ask for dairy milk alternatives when ordering out. While mainstream chains like Caribou Coffee and Starbucks typically only offer soy milk, local coffeehouses and health-conscious grocery stores like Whole Foods also offer alternatives like rice milk, almond milk, or hemp milk.
- Ask for just one shot of flavored syrup. When you order a flavored latte at Starbucks in their medium size, your drink will be given FOUR pumps of sugary syrup. Not only will your drink be more affordable, they will still have a hint of the taste you love with far fewer calories and sugar grams if you simply order a latte with ONE shot of your favorite flavor.
- Sugar-free is NOT necessarily the way to be. There are a lot of dangers involved with regularly consuming chemicals like aspartame that are frequently used in “skinny” or “sugar-free” coffee drinks. While you can choose healthier sugar alternatives at home, ordering a vanilla latte with sugar-free syrup is not a great idea when you’re out and about. The drink may be lower in calories and sugar content, but it doesn’t mean that it is actually healthier. There are other ways that you can add flavor to your drinks that I will detail below.
- Flavor your drink with chai tea. I had a roommate when I was in college who worked at Starbucks and first suggested to me that I add a chai tea bag to the nonfat latte that I consumed on almost a daily basis. Ordering your latte with one bag of chai tea adds a delicious blend of spices to the drink without adding sugar. If you’re making your drink at home, you could even use a pumpkin or vanilla-flavored chai tea bag like those sold by C.O. Bigelow, which are naturally flavored with spices and herbs. Just be careful that you don’t simply order a “Chai Tea Latte” at Starbucks, or you may end up with a latte containing their sugary chai tea concentrate, which is just as high in calories and sugar content as the flavored syrups you are trying to avoid.
- Flavor your drinks with spices or extracts. Back when I was in college and getting coffee from a local shop in Asheville, NC, I overheard an older man suggesting to his son that adding a sprinkle of nutmeg, cinnamon, or pumpkin pie spice to his coffee or latte would add a hint of natural flavor. This man had an artsy, aesthetically lovely look about him, so I just assumed that he would be a coffee expert. After he walked out of the shop with his son, I shook some cinnamon and nutmeg into my plain latte and was officially changed forever; he definitely knew what he was talking about. Another trick I adore is to add 1-2 teaspoons of any pure extract to your coffee or latte for a yummy infusion of flavor. While vanilla extract is yummy, my personal favorite is the almond variety.
- Choose another way to cool off. Here in the Carolinas, summers are sweltering. Needless to say, sipping on a hot latte when the parking lot cement is melting your flip-flops doesn’t sound appetizing to most people from June-August around here. I myself have ordered Frappuccinos or sugary blended drinks simply because I can’t fathom drinking a hot drink in such weather. Any espresso drink, from a traditional coffee to a latte, can be ordered on ice, offering you a healthier way to cool off.
- If you don’t like coffee, don’t drink it. Okay, this sounds obvious, but hear me out on this one. Over the years, I have had so many friends who have added tons of sugar, cream, and flavoring to coffee because they simply hate the taste of it but desire the caffeine in the morning. What many people don’t realize is that varieties of black and green teas can have almost as much caffeine as a cup of black coffee. So if you don’t like coffee, consider ordering a cup of Earl Grey or English Breakfast tea the next time you’re out for a coffee date. Not only is unsweetened tea calorie-free, you may find that you actually enjoy its taste and will no longer have to suffer through drinking coffee that you detest.
- Order only organic blends. Just like any other crop, coffee beans are often sprayed with harmful pesticides and chemicals that you certainly don’t want to pump into your body. In fact, as scary as this sounds, coffee is one of the most chemically treated food products in the world. While some coffee shops only use fair trade, organic coffee beans, others may have one or two particular blends that are certifiably organic. While organic blends are sometimes more expensive in the grocery store, one of my favorites is Newman’s Own, which is the same price as more affordable blends and is also just as delicious as other varieties.
- Sweeten your cup with honey or molasses. Apparently the city of Asheville has taught me a lot about coffee over the years; I also learned this last tip on a trip to the mountains. I honestly can’t remember which coffee shop I was visiting because it was back in 2007 or 2008, but the girl behind the counter whipped up drinks for us that contained honey and molasses as natural sweeteners. She claimed this was the only way she knew coffee to taste when her family first introduced her to it as a teen.
I know I must have forgotten something! What are your favorite tips for making your daily coffee drink healthier?
If you don’t like coffee, what do you drink as a healthy alternative?
This entry was posted in Wellness and tagged are flavored syrups in coffee bad for you?, chai tea ideas, Charlotte bloggers, healthy coffee drinks, healthy living, healthy Starbucks options, how to avoid ordering a drink filled with calories, how to naturally sweeten coffee drinks, how to reduce calories in your coffee drinks, how to still drink coffee and be on a diet, is coffee too bad for me to drink?, natural alternatives to flavored coffee syrups, the best types of lattes, why to drink organic coffee.