The Best and Worst Things to Add to Your Coffee, According to Dietitians
Make the most of your morning mug by adding these 5 health- or flavor-boosting items. Plus a few you'd be better off skipping.
Bored by black coffee but sick of the sugar roller coaster that follows after that double-shot, triple-syrup, whipped cream-topped coffee shop secret menu item?
We've got your back with these dietitian-approved one-ingredient java mix-ins. They allow you to enjoy all of the serious health benefits of coffee with a bonus flavor boost. So brew a mug (here are 9 rules for how to make a perfect cup of coffee) and get to mixing!
Just remember to start your day with a glass of water first, suggests Ashley Reaver, RD, an Oakland, California-based registered dietitian and the creator of the Lower Cholesterol Longer Life Method.
"Coffee should not be the first thing in your body each day," Reaver says. "If it's difficult to remember to start by hydrating, fill your coffee mug with water before bed to force you to drink it before it gets filled with coffee."
And even if you do add a protein-rich ingredient, remember that coffee also doesn't count as breakfast, Reaver adds.
The 5 Best Mix-Ins to Add to Your Coffee
1. ¼ cup whole milk or oat milk
Whole milk is actually the #1 pick for the best coffee mix-in if you ask Rachel Fine, RD, a registered dietitian and owner of the nutrition counseling firm To The Pointe Nutrition in New York City. That's because if you haven't already, there's no better time than now to change your tune about thinking low- and non-fat is always best.
"A splash of whole milk proves to me that we can enjoy the 'real deal' and benefit physically, mentally and emotionally from it," Fine says, since it doesn't make her feel like she's restricting or choosing the "diet culture"-promoted option she doesn't truly love. Since vitamin D (which is found in whole milk, but not skim) is a fat-soluble vitamin, your body benefits from the fat that the milk offers. Plus, "fat helps to satisfy us! When we feel satisfied, we're more likely to cultivate a more mindful experience around food and beverages, even our coffee breaks," Fine says.
Reaver is fond of adding the oat-based milk Oatly (buy it: $4.99 for ½ gallon, Target) to her coffee. "It has all the creamy goodness of half and half without the saturated fat," she says, and is a great option for those who don't do dairy.
2. ½ cup protein shake or 1 scoop of protein powder
For even more protein than either of the dairy "dos" above, try ½ cup of a premade protein shake, such as OWYN Protein Shake (buy it: $7.99 for four 11.15-ounce shakes, Target). A half-cup pour will add about 7 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of sugar to your coffee. Or try adding a scoop of chocolate protein powder like Vega Protein and Greens Chocolate (buy it: $25.61 for 1.8 pounds, Amazon) to your iced coffee. "This much will also add a lot of creaminess to your drink without relying on high-fat creamers," Reaver says. As an added bonus, that more-than-an-egg-amount-of-protein will help you stay fuller longer after breakfast. (Because you're eating a healthy one of those too, right?) "When we feel satisfied, we're less likely to struggle with overwhelming cravings and obsessive thoughts around food," Fine says.
3. 1 teaspoon sugar
If you're in the mood for a hint of sweet to balance out the bitter notes in the coffee, add a small spoonful of sugar. Mary Poppins and dietitians approve of real sugar, in moderation.
"There's a misconception about sugar in our culture," Fine says. "But when used in ways to enhance flavor, a little can go a long way!"
A squeeze of honey or maple syrup would also do the job nicely.
4. 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
This is a cool weather seasonal favorite of Reaver, who says it's a dreamy, antioxidant-rich way to stir up a makeshift mocha. Whether you enjoy it in your hot or iced coffee, you can rest easy knowing that this coffee mix-in can help lower your stress levels—research stands behind this!
5. 1 teaspoon cinnamon
On a similar note, you can crank up the antioxidants and add a warm, pumpkin spice latte-like note to your coffee by sprinkling on or stirring in a small spoon of cinnamon. Reaver enjoys this when she's in the mood for a hot mug.
The 6 Worst Mix-Ins to Add to Your Coffee
Fine advises her clients to steer clear of any "fake foods" that are "products of diet culture and promote an overall less satisfying experience around coffee." These include:
1. Skim milk
2. Artificial sweeteners
3. Fiber powders
Both artificial sweeteners and fiber supplement powders "can cause stomach discomfort, gas, bloat and pain," Fine adds, and skim milk is a less-flavorful, watery-tasting trade for whole milk.
Reaver councils her clients that "coffee should be a morning drink not a morning milkshake!" Just because the bulletproof trend that made waves in the early 2010s doesn't mean it's a nutrition-smart choice. So Reaver ranks her top three worst mix-ins as:
6. Coconut oil
"Adding these three types of fats to your morning coffee may seem insignificant, but can add up to significant increases in your cholesterol levels. All three are high in saturated fats. Get this: Just 2 tablespoons of half-and-half in your coffee daily for one week is the equivalent in saturated fat to a full hamburger each week," Reaver says.
Butter and coconut oil are both primarily the same saturated fats that can increase LDL, or "bad" cholesterol levels.
"These are easy things to skip with your coffee to reduce your risk of heart disease—the number one cause of death for Americans," she says.