Diet and Nutrition: The Healthiest Coffees

Coffee is rich in antioxidants that fight inflammation and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Free-Radical Fighter

You may be in it for the caffeine, but coffee is full of antioxidants. One cup has 200-550 milligrams of antioxidants, including chlorogenic acid, a compound that helps your body process fat and sugar. Antioxidants lower inflammation, reduce your risk of chronic disease, and stabilize free radicals. Robusta and Arabica beans have similar amounts of antioxidants after being roasted. Light roast has more than dark.

Hot brewed coffee is higher in antioxidants and cold brewed coffee is higher in caffeine.

Hot Brew vs. Cold Brew

If you're looking for antioxidants, stick with hot-brewed coffee. It has more because it takes a certain amount of heat to extract antioxidants from the bean. But if it's caffeine you're after, cold brew will give you a stronger jolt. Cold brew is also lower in acid, and a better choice if you have acid reflux.

Hot-brewed black coffee is the healthiest because it has almost no calories or carbs, no fat, and is low in sodium.

The Perfect Cup

The healthiest way to take your coffee is hot-brewed and black. One cup has virtually no calories or carbs, no fat, and is low in sodium. Black coffee also has micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, and niacin.

Adding sugar and flavorings to coffee is a bad idea because it adds extra calories.

Coffee Don’t: Excessive Sugar

Coffee starts out healthy, but sugar and flavored sweeteners add fat, calories, and a higher risk of heart disease. Aim for 1 teaspoon of sugar (or less) per cup, of the 6 (women) or 9 (men) teaspoons recommended per day by the American Heart Association. At coffee shops, one pump of flavoring has about one teaspoon of sugar. At home, flavor your coffee with vanilla or almond extract.

Use whole milk, fat-free milk or unsweetened almond or soy milk instead of sweetened condensed milk or heavy whipping cream to keep fat and calorie intake lower.

Coffee Don’t: Overdoing Dairy

Milky coffee drinks contain either sweetened condensed milk, heavy whipping cream, or whole milk, often with whipped cream on top. That's a lot of fat and calories in every sip. For example, an ounce of heavy whipping cream adds more than 100 calories. Sub with whole milk (19 calories per ounce), fat-free milk (10 calories per ounce), or unsweetened almond or soy milk.

If you do enjoy a flavored latte or a sweetened seasonal drink, make it a small size so you don't overdo the fat and calories.

Coffee Don’t: Bigger Is Better

If you go big on fat and calories, opt for the small cup instead of the large. It's OK to indulge in a flavored latte or sweetened seasonal drink once in a while, especially if you save yourself a lot of extra calories, sugar, and fat by ordering the smallest size.

Opt for organic coffee so you can keep your pesticide intake low.

Opt for Organic

Coffee beans are one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world. Many pesticides are removed through the washing or roasting process, but not all. Look for an organic certification seal on the packaging of coffee you buy in a store, and for the word "organic" on menu choices in your coffee shop.

Add turmeric to your coffee because it has positive effects on diabetes and cancer as an anti-inflammatory compound.

Healthy or Hype: Turmeric Coffee

Healthy. Turmeric has curcuminoids, or anti-inflammatory compounds that may have a positive effect on diabetes and cancer. Add it to hot black coffee, but steer clear of sugar, syrups, or heavy creamers that add fat and calories.

Skip egg coffee because it may give you salmonella poisoning.

Healthy or Hype: Egg Coffee

Hype. Also called Vietnamese or Swedish coffee, egg coffee is made by beating an egg yolk with sweetened condensed milk, then adding it to espresso or iced coffee. Sweetened condensed milk is high in sugar, and raw eggs can contain the bacteria salmonella that causes 1.35 million infections every year.

Coffee with mushroom extract is lower in caffeine and higher in antioxidants compared to traditional coffee.

Healthy or Hype: Mushroom Coffee

Healthy. Mushroom coffee isn't made of mushrooms -- it's coffee plus mushroom extract, typically from lion's mane, chaga, cordyceps, or reishi mushrooms. It has less caffeine and doubles down on the inflammation-reducing antioxidants, so it's good for you as long as you don't load it down with sugar and cream. There's not enough research to back up all the health claims yet, such as an immune system boost.

Nootropic coffee may increase memory, creativity, motivation and attention, but be careful if you are sensitive to stimulants.

Healthy or Hype: Nootropic Coffee

Healthy, unless you're sensitive to stimulants. Also called smart drugs, nootropics are compounds that increase your memory, creativity, motivation, and attention. Caffeine is one, so coffee is naturally nootropic. Any nootropic coffee you order may have stimulants -- natural or manufactured -- beyond caffeine. The FDA doesn't regulate nootropics, so it's impossible to prove their claim

Coffee inhibits the absorption of minerals and it acts like a diuretic so you may lose added vitamins through increased urination.

Healthy or Hype: Vitamin Coffee

Hype. Adding vitamins to coffee sounds like a good idea, but coffee's diuretic properties make you pee at a faster rate than normal. You'll lose any water-soluble nutrients you take in before you can absorb them. Coffee also blunts absorption of minerals like zinc, calcium, and iron. Plan to take your vitamins an hour before or after you drink coffee.

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REFERENCES:

  • U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health: "Antioxidant and Antiradical Activity of Coffee," "Roles of Chlorogenic Acid on Regulating Glucose and Lipids Metabolism: A Review."
  • Danielle Feinberg, registered dietitian nutritionist, Jersey City, NJ.
  • Mayo Clinic: "I'm trying to lose weight. Should I cut back on coffee?"
  • Coffee & Health: "Compounds in Coffee."
  • Harvard Health Publishing: "The Sweet Danger of Sugar."
  • Northwestern Medicine: "How to Make Your Coffee Shop Order Healthier."
  • Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Effect of Household Coffee Processing on Pesticide Residues as a Means of Ensuring Consumers' Safety."
  • Center for Ecogenetics & Environmental Health: "Health Risks of Pesticides in Food."
  • National Coffee Association of U.S.A.: "Organic-Certified Coffee in the U.S."
  • Mayo Clinic News Network: "Home Remedies: Are There Health Benefits of Turmeric?"
  • NutritionalValue.org: "Sweetened Condensed Milk, sweetened by Best Choice."
  • CDC: "Salmonella."
  • Cleveland Clinic: "Mushroom Coffee: Should You Be Drinking It?"
  • Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Establishing Natural Nootropics: Recent Molecular Enhancement Influenced by Natural Nootropic."
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Milk, whole, 3.25% milkfat, with added vitamin D."
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