A morning cup of joe is a commonplace sight at tables, in cupholders, and in our offices and cubicles the world over. Whether you're going after the caffeine for energy, or you're making a bulletproof blend for a keto boost in the morning, there's one thing we're all concerned about: sugar.
Plain black coffee, especially the mediocre coffee many of us buy from the grocery store, is a harsh and bitter drink. Millions of us add sugar to the beverage to liven it up and make it more palatable, but as we all know, sugar is extremely unhealthy for our bodies. It's converted into fat, it's a poor source of energy due to how quickly it spikes and fades, and it can contribute to insulin resistance and the long-term disease caused by said resistance, diabetes.
It's no wonder that an increasing number of people around the world are looking for sugar alternatives. Coffee is difficult to drink without some kind of sweetener (unless that's your thing) but sugar is bad, so what's the alternative? Luckily, there are a lot of different things you can add instead, all of which will be much healthier than plain old cane sugar.
Raw, natural honey is a sugar replacement in a lot of different health foods these days. While honey itself is somewhat synonymous with sugar, it's a lot healthier. It includes sugar, but it's also packed with minerals, B vitamins, and even a bunch of antioxidant, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Amazing what being digested by bees will do, eh?
The important part is that you get raw honey, not processed honey. Skip the stuff you find on the shelves at the grocery store. Processed honey removes a lot of the nutrients and vitamins as "impurities" and leaves you with something that is much more concentrated than sugar.
Instead, go to a local farmer's market, a local grocery store, or even a local beekeeper directly and talk to them about getting raw honey. It might be cheaper, it will be supporting a local business, and more importantly, it's much more delicious!
2: Maple Syrup
Another more natural alternative to sugar is that good old boiled tree sap known as maple syrup.
Maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees, specifically a species called the sugar maple. It is tapped, carried to a syrup processing shack, and boiled into a concentrate. While the primary component of maple syrup is, again, sugar, the concentration process also focuses on accumulating all of the nutrients that come from the plant. After all, the sap of a tree is what carries nutrients from the soil throughout the tree, so it's packed with all the things that help to keep a tree healthy.
Maple syrup is also a much healthier option if you can get it locally, though sugar maples don't grow everywhere so it won't always be available. Depending on where you live, it might be as easy as going to a local market or syrup producer, or it might require a little importing. Again, don't get the stuff with a brand name sitting on your grocery store shelves, you want something much closer to raw.
If you aren't inclined to go with something based on actual sugar, you can always try one of the various sugar alternatives. No, we're not talking about those nasty chemicals like aspartame or sucralose.
Stevia is one of a few healthy sugar alternatives. It's zero calories because the body doesn't really break it down or use it for energy the way it does sugar. Stevia comes from a plant and is all-natural, not a chemical like some of the other alternatives you find out in the wild. It's also used as a medicinal herb in South America.
Stevia is much, much sweeter than sugar, so you only need a little of it to make your coffee sweet enough to drink. It does, however, have a bit of an aftertaste, and it might not be the kind of taste you want from your coffee. Some people don't like it, others don't mind it. It's an acquired taste, so give it a shot and see if you can handle it.
Don't be put off by the name. Erythritol is the chemical name for a kind of sugar alcohol made by fermenting a mixture of sugar and corn starch. It's all-natural (sugar and corn starch are the only ingredients in it) and, despite being alcohol, it's not actually alcoholic. You aren't going to get drunk off your morning coffee if this is the sweetener you're adding to it. It's not quite as sweet as sugar – only about 70% as sweet – but it's much lower calorie, only about 5% as much.
For some people, one of the more important factors is that erythritol tastes more or less the same as sugar. Unlike stevia, there's no strange aftertaste to get used to. The only strange part is adding something labeled as alcohol to your morning coffee.
The one thing to be cautious of is that some people find that erythritol causes digestive distress. This is because you don't digest it. Instead, bacteria in your gut ferment it, which causes gas. This probably won't be a problem unless you're adding a lot of it to your coffee, though.
If you wondered about the name having some similarity to the previous item on our list, you're right! Xylitol is another variety of sugar alcohol. However, where erythritol is made out of traditional fructose/glucose, the sugars you find in fruits, xylitol is made from xylose, a wood sugar found more in trees. In fact, it's generally made from birch trees.
Xylitol is sweeter than erythritol, and higher calorie. Specifically, it's about 95% as sweet as sugar, and about 60% as many calories (2.4 calories per gram, as opposed to 4 calories per gram of sugar.)
The real power of xylitol is that it's actually healthy. It's sort of like the inverse of sugar; rather than promoting the bacteria that cause tooth decay and other issues, it actually inhibits them. This makes xylitol a good sweetener to replace sugar for health reasons.
Xylitol does have some problems; namely, that it can be more expensive and slightly difficult to find on its own for use in something like coffee. It's also toxic to dogs, so keep it out of reach of your friendly neighborhood canine.
Getting away from pure sweeteners, let's talk about flavor enhancements. After all, the main reason people add sugar to coffee is that coffee has a strong, bitter, difficult-to-acquire taste. If you can augment, accentuate, or alter that taste, without having to resort to sweeteners and sugar, would you give it a try?
One of the best go-to options is a combination of cinnamon and nutmeg. Cinnamon is an excellent spice we've all had all over the place. Nutmeg is a slightly different flavor, and it's great at accentuating all manner of different flavors. It's used in everything from baking sweet dishes to a core component of pumpkin spice, to a spice that adds depth to cheese sauces for alfredo dishes.
You can also add some similar ingredients, like clove, to your coffee to further spice it up. All of these spices have great health benefits as well, and they have zero calories, so it's perfectly safe to add them to your coffee to give it a unique and enhanced flavor profile.
Another spice you can add to your coffee is cardamom. Cardamom is not commonly used in the west, but it's common in the middle east and India. It's one of the flavor components of Chai and other black tea blends and has a taste similar to ginger. In fact, you can mix it with ginger to give it an even stronger kick.
Cardamom has a bit of a spicy, intense flavor that takes a little getting used to, especially in coffee. It may even accentuate the bitterness of the drink, so be careful about how much you add. Give it a try a couple of times before you write it off.
Adding mint to coffee might not seem like a flavor combination you would like, but it's surprisingly good. Peppermint oil in particular is a good additive. The strong mint flavor helps cover up and tone down the bitterness of black coffee and gives it an almost chocolate-like flavor. You'll think you're drinking mint chocolate instead of coffee if you do it just right.
Peppermint has a lot of health benefits. In addition to helping perk you up in the morning, it's great at helping to settle the stomach. Stomach distress is common amongst coffee drinkers, especially early in the morning, so peppermint is a great additive for a variety of reasons.
One caution is to make sure you're getting food-grade peppermint oil. If you get the wrong kind of peppermint oil, it won't mix well with your coffee, and it might have inedible oils as a carrier. Also, make sure not to use too much of the oil; it can be very strong, and if you add too much, it can burn when you drink it.
9: Nut Milk
Milk, as in the milk you get from a cow and see on your grocery store shelves, is packed full of fats, lactose sugars, and other compounds that don't quite get along with a healthy lifestyle. Fortunately, there are a variety of milk alternatives you can use today, which give you the sweetness of milk without all of the sugars and lactose issues of cow milk.
In this post, we discuss a variety of milk alternatives specifically for coffee, including almond, rice, oat, hemp, cashew, and a handful of others. They all have a similar range of benefits and drawbacks, with a few outliers like banana milk and coconut milk adding different flavor profiles or sugar levels to the mix.
10: Coconut Cream
Coconut milk, coconut cream, or coconut water are all options for sweetening coffee. They are all more or less the same ingredient – the liquid that comes from coconuts – but with slightly different processing methods and different consistencies. Coconut water is thin, coconut milk is thicker, and coconut cream is the thickest of all.
Coconut creams are very sweet and excellent for flavoring coffee. Add a little coconut cream and a pinch of cocoa powder, and you'll think you're drinking a candy bar, that's how solid they are as additives.
There are two downsides to coconut-based sweeteners for your coffee. The first is that coconut is relatively sweet naturally, which means it has a decent amount of sugar in it. It's healthier sugar than plain processed table sugar, but it's still sugar. The second is that it has a strong coconut flavor. Some people, as it turns out, aren't really fans of coconut as a flavor, so this won't work as an option if you don't like it.
While adding fruit to coffee might not seem like a good idea, dates are one of the few that work very well as a healthy sweetener. All fruits are delicious, of course, but many of them are packed with sugar. Dates are naturally sweet and work great in coffee with their earthy taste.
Dates are sticky preserved fruit, so how do you add them to your coffee? You have a couple of options. The most common is blending the coffee and the dates in a blender, to create something thicker like a smoothie. These often add additional ingredients or spice blends, and maybe even ice to make an iced coffee.
The other option is to use a processed date product, such as date syrup or date sugar. These are a little less healthy than raw dates, but they're much, much easier to mix into a basic cup of hot coffee.
12: Better Coffee
The last option on this list is, why not just make better coffee?
The primary reason black coffee is bitter and astringent is that it's heavily roasted, poorly dried, and ground way too early. All of these cause the loss of the natural flavors and aromatics (not to mention healthy nutrients) in the coffee. The coffee you buy pre-ground or as instant crystals is essentially the bottom of the barrel as far as coffee goes.
Getting high-quality coffee may require you to buy beans that are freshly and lightly roasted, and grind them yourself. Make sure not to brew too hot, either, as that can draw out more of the bitterness. Either that or find a high-quality coffee like our Skinny Iced Coffee that can suit your needs!
We don't have space here to get into the intricacies of coffee but trust us, there are thousands of dedicated coffee blogs out there that can give you a great place to start. Give it a try! You might be impressed by what you find.