One of the hardest parts of losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is building healthy habits. Part of that is determining which of your existing habits are unhealthy, and figuring out how to change them. We've put a lot of work into identifying some of the more common habits out there, and helping friends, family, customers, and strangers adjust them to be healthier.
The habit we're targeting today is coffee. Now, coffee can be a great beverage!
- The caffeine content gives you the energy to get up and go in the morning or push past the mid-day doldrums.
- The flavor can be rich and complex, not just the dark and bitter brew you see everywhere.
- It has a range of health benefits, including mood-boosting, improved physical performance, and potential protection from brain issues.
The trouble comes from the overly broad definition of coffee. When some of us refer to coffee, we're talking about plain black coffee, brewed fresh and strong. When others talk about coffee, they mean the Starbucks monstrosities full of sugar, syrup, cream, and so many other components that there's barely any room for the coffee.
Needless to say, this kind of coffee beverage is going to be absolutely terrible for your health.
Luckily, there are a few ways you can make coffee – even iced coffee – with low or no sugar, low or no calories, and plenty of flavor and all the same health benefits of a good cup.
Start with a Base
The first choice you have to make is how you want to formulate a base for your iced coffees. There are several options you can try. To be honest, we recommend trying all of them, to decide which one you like most.
Option 1: Leftover coffee. A lot of us brew coffee by the pot, and we don't always use the full pot before it "goes bad." In an office setting, that means the stagnant old coffee is tossed out and a fresh pot set to brew. At home, though, it means a partial pot of coffee sitting around at room temperature most of the day.
There's nothing wrong with this leftover coffee. Tea can get over-brewed if you leave the tea itself on too long, but coffee? Coffee just cools down. Sure, it might not taste quite right when you reheat it, but we're not reheating it, are we? You don't need hot coffee to make iced coffee.
So, at the end of the day, if you have any coffee leftover in the pot, you can simply set it aside in the fridge and use it as a base for iced coffee later.
This option is fine unless you like to finish your pots, or you're inconsistent about it. It also might not be the best option if you have factors that might make your at-home coffee not usable at the end of the day, like a child or pet who could do who knows what to it.
Option 2: Cold Brew. Cold brew coffee is coffee that hasn't seen the heat since the beans were roasted, and as such, avoids the watery and bitter components that so often plague using leftover coffee for the task. Making it is easy:
- Buy your favorite coffee beans.
- Grind your beans coarsely, either when you buy them or using a grinder at home.
- Put any amount of ground beans into a container and fill it with cold water.
- Let the coffee steep for 12 hours, typically over-night.
- Strain the coffee and use it for your iced brews.
This is a highly adjustable recipe, which is why we didn't give you any quantities. More coffee and less water make it a stronger brew, while more water and less coffee make it thinner and more watery. Adjust it to your preferences.
The key to a great cold brew is the freshness of the beans. We highly recommend investing in a coffee grinder and grinding your beans at home. It's easy to do, grinders are cheap (you can find them for $30, easy) and it keeps the maximum freshness of the beans trapped inside until you're ready to use them.
You can also use a cold brew concentrate instead if you prefer. It's a little more intensive to make at home (though not much), but it lasts longer. You can, of course, also just buy cold brew concentrate, but we don't recommend it. Since you're getting coffee that is who knows how old, it's not going to taste as good as if you brewed the coffee fresh yourself.
Personally, we'd recommend the cold brew method over the leftover coffee method, but sometimes you just don't want to spend the time preparing coffee the night before. That's fine! Just use what works best for you.
Considerations for Healthy Iced Coffee
Making an iced coffee beverage in the morning really only requires two things: coffee and ice. In fact, the cold brew recipe we gave you above can be mixed into a glass of ice and give you a great iced coffee in the morning with nothing else added.
That said, you might want some other flavors in your iced coffee, and that's fine. There are nearly infinite options available to you. You just need to follow a few guidelines if you want to keep it healthy.
- Don't add too much excess sugar. There are a lot of natural ways you can use to sweeten coffee. Pure sugar is just about the worst thing you can add. Instead, consider an artificial sweetener like Stevia, or a natural alternative like honey or dates.
- Avoid adding too much milk. Whole milk is full of sugar itself, and if you're adding too much creamer or milk to your coffee, you're adding a ton of calories.
- Avoid dairy entirely. Various kinds of dairy milk are high in lactose, and thus calories. A range of other kinds of milk are healthier for you, and can still add creaminess to your coffee. Hemp milk, cashew or almond milk, and rice milk are all potential choices as well. Coconut milk is worse than the alternatives, but better than dairy, and is full of healthy fats.
- Grind your own beans. You can buy pre-ground beans, but you lose a lot of the aromatics from the coffee once the beans are ground. The longer they've been ground, the more bitter they're going to taste.
- Avoid store-bought cold brew. We mentioned it as an option up above, but to be honest, we don't recommend it. For one thing, you never know how old it's going to be, so you never know what quality the coffee will have. For another, it's probably full of preservatives and other nonsense that you really don't need in your body.
As long as you can follow those guidelines, you should be able to make a great, healthy iced coffee beverage that won't ruin your diet or hurt your weight loss journey.
For a great low-calorie iced coffee blend, be sure to check out our Skinny Iced Coffee! It comes with all the flavors of a delicious iced coffee without the unnecessary sugars and calories!
Recipes for Low-Sugar, Low-Calorie Iced Coffee
There are dozens of iced coffee recipes out there, so we're going to curate some of our favorites here for you. Feel free to give them a try, adapt them to your own recipes, or swap out ingredients at your convenience, according to the guidelines.
Oh, and if you have a favorite iced coffee recipe, please leave it in the comments. Even if nothing on our list appeals to you, something in the comments might.
Thai Iced Coffee from Joyful Healthy Eats – This recipe uses coconut milk as a base, which hurts the caloric content, but makes up for it in health benefits. From there, it adds on a bundle of spices, including cinnamon, clove, cardamom, and nutmeg. Added flavor comes from almond, vanilla, and maple syrup. It's incredibly delicious and the spices mix extremely well with coffee.
Keto Almond Joy Coffee from Castle in the Mountains – Almond Joys are a great coconut candy, but they're basically made out of sugar, so they're really bad for you. This coffee does a great job of mimicking the taste using coconut milk, almond butter, and cocoa powder. It's low sugar, but not low calorie, so keep that in mind.
Skinny Vanilla Latte from Everything Pretty – This is a low-calorie, low-sugar version of a vanilla latte with a whole lot of different variations listed on the site, all options for swapping out different kinds of creamer, different sweeteners, and even making your own simple syrup at home.
The Speed Dater from Design Love Fest – This post has three great shakes on it, but only one of them is focused on the coffee. It uses almond milk for cream and chopped dates for sweetness, and a pinch of salt to make the flavors really pop. If you're skeptical, don't be; salt is an incredible flavor enhancer, and you don't need much of it. Even if you're watching your sodium intake, this is still fine.
Bubble Coffee from Hummingbird High – This is a simple iced coffee drink turned into a bubble tea with the use of some boba pearls. They still use a sugar-based simple syrup, but you can swap that out for a different, low-sugar sweetener of your choice. There are a ton of options out there.
Like we said; feel free to add your own twists to any of these recipes. You can add MCT oil to make them more keto-friendly, you can add various mushroom-based supplements for an earthy spin, or you can even add a green supplement to give it a plant-based taste. The world is your oyster, and given how cheap all of the ingredients are, there's no reason not to experiment.
Add-Ons and Extras
There's a lot you can do to spice up your iced coffee that doesn't center around the coffee itself. We've come up with a bunch of ideas below if you want to experiment.
Make your ice out of coffee! When you cold brew your coffee, why not go one step further and freeze some of it? This is a great tip for those of you who really don't like watered-down coffee, and who hate those last few sips of an iced coffee when the coffee is running out and the ice is all that's left. If the ice is, itself, coffee, you avoid that problem entirely!
Spice your ice! Using a coffee or a cream base (not dairy, of course!) you can add extra ingredients to the ice cubes before you freeze them. One of the simplest options is to add a dusting of cinnamon to each cube before you toss them in the freezer. You can mix up any spice mix you want.
Mix in some tea! Believe it or not, a lot of people are mixing up green tea with coffee. If you want an iced beverage, green tea might not seem like your thing, but give it a try. Add coffee ice cubes to green tea, or freeze some green tea to infuse your coffee. Or, just mix the two!
Chocolate ice cubes rock. Mix up some water with a bit of sweetener and some cocoa powder, and freeze it. Now you can add some chocolate infusion to your coffee in the morning, and no one will be the wiser. What's not to love?
Experiment with alternative creamers. If you're one of those people who don't like black coffee, creamers are the way to go. Avoiding dairy is easy, but there are a lot of creamers out there that aren't really that much better. Coconut milk is tasty but not low-calorie. Almond milk gives your coffee a hint of nuttiness, and cashew milk gives it an incredible richness, but it's often harder to find. Hemp and rice milk are both fine, but they don't have quite as much of a flavor to add to the coffee.
Feel free to leave us your suggestions. Have you ever tried adding a fruit extract to your iced coffee? What about mixing it into a smoothie instead? There are tons of options, and we're sure you're creative enough to have come up with something we never would. Let us know!