These are the milks and antioxidant-rich add-ins a nutritionist recommends.
Coffee lovers have happily embraced the headlines about the health perks of java: Aside from supplying a significant dose of antioxidants, a daily coffee habit may also help ward off a host of ailments, including type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's, and colon and breast cancers. To max out the benefits of your beloved cup of joe, give these six tips a whirl. You might find you enjoy your a.m. ritual even more.
Drink a glass of water first
Research has shown that although caffeine is a diuretic (meaning it triggers fluid loss), your body can adjust to a consistent intake of caffeine, which negates the dehydrating effect. However, many people who start the day with coffee find that they don’t drink enough plain water by the end of the day. If you’re one of them, try downing at least one cup or eight ounces of H2O (plain or infused) when you wake up. And aim for a target of four 16-ounce servings of water throughout the day to stay well-hydrated.
Ditch the artificial sweeteners
They may be calorie-free, but research shows that artificial sweeteners spur cravings, and are linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. If you’ve been a fake sugar fanatic, ween yourself off. Try adjusting to unsweetened coffee, or use a small amount (see below) of real sugar instead.
Cut back to one packet of sugar
The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of six teaspoons of added sugar per day for women. That does leave some room for sugar in your coffee, but be mindful of much you use. Rather than pouring it in from a larger container, use packets or a measuring spoon to keep track of your intake. And try to use just one packet, or one teaspoon. If you use a pre-sweetened milk or creamer, skip granulated sugar altogether.
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Use grass-fed dairy or plant-based milk
If you’re a dairy fan, opt for grass-fed and organic milk or cream in your coffee. Dairy produced this way contains more nutrients, as well as anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
Alternatively, opt for “milks” and creamers made from almond, coconut, cashew, and other plant sources. They can be much lower in calories than traditional creamers; and they're often produced with all-natural ingredients (read: no high-fructose corn syrup) and provide heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. If you prefer a flavored or sweetened version, check the grams of sugar on the Nutrition Facts panel. Four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon.
Add cinnamon or other spices
One of the best tricks for slashing your sugar intake is to reach for “sweet” spices, like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. In addition to boosting flavor and aroma, spices seriously up your antioxidant intake. (Cinnamon has the added perk of helping with blood sugar and insulin regulation.) You could also try a spice combo, like pumpkin or apple pie spice, or sprinkle in raw (non-Dutched) cocoa powder, another antioxidant-rich add-in.
Try a "coffee nap"
You probably think of coffee as a pick-me-up. But its effects don’t kick in for about 30 minutes. That means if you enjoy a cup of coffee just before taking a 20-30 minute nap, you may wake up feeling extra-energized. Just be sure you don't try this hack too late in the afternoon; it's best to stop consuming caffeine six hours before you hit the hay.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.