The 5 Worst Things You Could Put In Your Coffee

Drinking coffee is more than a morning habit; it's a ritual. For many people, there's something almost sacred about that morning cup that wakes you up and gets you going. Everything from the sound of coffee brewing to the scent that fills the house, contribute to that grounding and comforting feeling that coffee provides. 

And as is true for most rituals, everyone has a specific way in which they like their coffee prepared. You may keep it simple and take your coffee black, or perhaps you like to add a sweetener or some cream. While some ingredients can enhance the quality and health aspects of drinking coffee, others can turn this morning elixir into potentially toxic sludge. 

In this article, we'll cover:

  • The five worst things you could add to your coffee
  • How these ingredients contribute to health concerns like diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, inflammation, and much more
  • The health-promoting alternatives that will make your coffee taste great while enhancing your health and performance

The 5 Worst Things You Could Put In Your Coffee


#1 Sugar

If you've gotten into the habit of adding sugar to your coffee, it may seem downright offensive to ask you to go without this sweet ingredient. In fact, many people do an excellent job of removing sugar from their diet, only to hold on to this one simple pleasure -- sugar in their coffee. 

With that being said, sugar is one of the most detrimental additions you could add to your morning cup. Sugar promotes inflammation in your body and sets you up for a host of concerning health conditions. 

In fact, research shows that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with a range of health concerns, including weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, tooth decay, arthritis, and more[1]

While the above conditions typically result from long-term sugar consumption, a more short-term effect is the impact it has on your blood sugar. When you start your day off with sugar in your coffee, it puts you on a "sugar rollercoaster." 

While caffeine and sugar give you a jump start to your day, you likely notice a crash a couple of hours later. This is due to the interplay between blood sugar and the hormone insulin. When your body senses an incoming cascade of sugar, it releases insulin to help manage the onslaught. Insulin dutifully shuttles the sugar out of your blood and into your cells for safekeeping (and to be used as fuel -- which is why you get that burst of energy).

The problem is, once all that blood sugar has been taken care of, you're left with a sharp energy dip that leaves you craving more sugar. Due to the impact that sugar has on your physiology and your brain, some researchers even liken this craving and reward cycle to that of cocaine addiction[2][3]

Does this mean you can't have sweetened coffee? Absolutely not. 

In fact, there are some excellent sugar alternatives that not only cut the calories in your coffee but add health benefits as well. Stevia and monk fruit are excellent examples. 

You could also use a small amount of raw honey to sweeten your coffee; just be sure that when you add it that your coffee isn't piping hot, or you'll lose some of the benefits that raw honey has to offer. 

#2 Flavored/ Traditional Creamers

Traditional creamers often come with a host of artificial or low-quality ingredients that either preserve freshness, add a thickening quality, or create a more creamy texture. And once you start adding flavors like vanilla, cinnamon, or mocha, things can start to get really muddy. 

Hydrogenated fats are of particular concern in coffee creamers as they are often added to improve texture while simultaneously acting as a preservative. You'll see them on the label as "partially hydrogenated oil" or "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil." 

These fats have been chemically modified in a lab, and research shows that consuming trans fat can increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, infertility, impaired fetal development, neurological problems, liver dysfunction, and cardiovascular disease[4][5].

Another common ingredient that's added to creamers is carrageenan, which is used to create a thicker, creamier texture. Consuming carrageenan may lead to digestive issues like colonic ulcers, and in animal models, it's been associated with cancerous growths in the gastrointestinal tract. 

While clinical studies are still underway, the International Agency for Research on Cancer identified sufficient evidence from animal models to label carrageenan as a potential carcinogen to humans[6]

Added artificial flavors may also contain chemical preservatives, emulsifiers, and synthetic solvents like propylene glycol (an ingredient in antifreeze). Legally, these additives don't need to be labeled, so you truly never know what you're getting. Furthermore, even if these flavors are labeled as "natural", they can still be GMO (coming from genetically modified sources)[7]

And, of course, most traditional creamers add a hefty dose of good old sugar, which is just the cherry on top of the chemical-laden sundae.

#3 Shelf-Stable Creamers 

Shelf-stable creamers, which you may find in the non-refrigerated section of the grocery store or in a small ramekin on the table at your favorite diner, offer unique issues as these creamers are meant to last for a very, very long time.  

In addition to all the chemicals that you would find in traditional creamers, shelf-stable creamers come with an unhealthy dose of preservatives. Preservatives can have a wide range of side effects, ranging from allergic skin reactions to potentially life-threatening conditions like kidney disease and cardiovascular disease[8][9]

#4 Half & Half

For some people, half & half or a full-fat creamer will work fine. 

However, many people find that they have sensitivities to dairy, even if they aren't lactose intolerant. Digestive upset, skin issues, and other health problems are not uncommon for those that consume dairy, especially as you get older. 

This is due to the fact that as you age, your production of lactase may naturally decline. Therefore, if you've had no problem digesting dairy your whole life, you may find that suddenly it doesn't move through your system quite as well[10][11][12].

Dairy also contains potentially inflammatory proteins, which explains why even those that aren't lactose intolerant have difficulty digesting it[13].

If you've been adding half and half to your coffee for years, it may be worthwhile to remove it for a couple of weeks to see if you notice any positive changes. When a food is embedded into your diet, it can be easy to overlook the potentially harmful impact it's having on your health. 

#5 Artificial Sweeteners 

Those pink, blue, and yellow packets that add calorie-free sweetness to your coffee are just as detrimental to your health as sugar itself. If you've been using Sweet N' Low, Equal, or Splenda -- this section is for you. 

Aspartame, the primary ingredient in Sweet N' Low, has been found in animal studies to be a potent neurotoxin. Due to its breakdown and reaction with brain chemicals, aspartame poses a significant threat to the health of your brain cells and central nervous system. 

Mice models show that aspartame can disrupt the synthesis of neurotransmitters and lead to seizures. In addition, anecdotal evidence shows that some people report neurological and behavioral reactions when consuming aspartame regularly[14]

Acesulfame potassium, the primary ingredient in Equal, is another chemical sweetener to avoid at all costs. Animal research shows that Acesulfame potassium may impair cognitive memory function, lead to weight gain, and create an imbalance in your gut bacteria[15][16].

The healthy balance of your gut bacteria (microbiome) is crucial not only for digestive health but also for neurological health. While research into the gut-brain connection is ongoing, there is already significant evidence linking imbalanced gut bacteria to neurological diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease[17]

Another artificial sweetener that can disturb your microbiome is saccharine. Saccharine not only threatens the health of your gut-brain axis, but research shows it is also correlated with impaired liver and kidney function and increases the risk for obesity and diabetes[18][19]


What To Add Instead

At this point, you may be wondering what exactly you can add to your coffee. Is it boring old black coffee from now on? Certainly not. 

In fact, there are a handful of health-promoting ingredients that you absolutely should add to your coffee each day. These include: 

#1 Collagen

Collagen is the primary protein that makes up your connective tissues. Therefore, having healthy levels of collagen in your body is crucial for the health of your skin, bones, joints, muscles, and digestive tract[20]21][22][23].

When you add this protein source to your morning ritual, it not only helps to ensure that you get this vital nutrient each day, but also assists in balancing your blood sugar. 

Remember how sugar consumption can send you on a blood sugar roller coaster? Protein has the opposite effect. Instead of spiking your blood sugar and creating an inevitable crash, protein offers a slow and steady source of nutrients that keep you satisfied and help to steady your energy[24].

Collagen in your coffee also lends a creamy consistency, acting as a perfect stand-in for traditional creamers.

#2 Natural Sugar Substitutes

While sugar and artificial chemical sweeteners are just about the worst things you can put in your body, natural sweeteners like monk fruit and stevia have the opposite effect. 

These two sweeteners come from nature and have been used for thousands of years in ancient cultures to not only add sweetness, but also as healing plants. 

Both stevia and monk fruit are sources of antioxidants that can help your body balance out the day-to-day oxidative stress that it goes through[25][26]

And while sugar is known to stimulate inflammatory processes in your body, monk fruit and stevia possess anti-inflammatory properties[27][28]

By removing sugar and adding in stevia or monk fruit, you're truly hitting two birds with one stone. 

#3 MCTs 

If you really want to boost your morning performance, add some MCTs to your coffee. 

MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) are a type of fat that goes through a unique digestion process, which allows them to be delivered straight to your liver for processing. Once they reach your liver, MCTs are converted to ketones, which supply immediate fuel to your cells and your brain[29]

While other forms of fat need to travel through your lymphatic system upon absorption, MCTs are your quick and easy fuel source to get you up and going in the morning. Whether you're about to hop on a work call or do your morning workout, MCTs can offer an energy boost that will kick your performance up a notch. 

Research even shows that consuming MCTs may be beneficial for those with neurological disease due to their unique ability to drive fuel to your brain[30].

Adding MCTs to your coffee will also increase the creaminess and mouthfeel exponentially, making your morning cup that much more satisfying. 

Takeaway 

What you put in your coffee each day can make a significant impact on your overall health. If you've been avoiding a health-conscious coffee overhaul for fear that you'll lose some aspect of this morning ritual, let those fears subside.

At Native Path, we created a line of coffee creamers that include collagen, MCTs, and natural sweeteners -- none of the toxic stuff. 

Our flavors include:

Cleaning up your morning routine will help you feel healthier and more energetic all day. If you have some tightly held rituals around sugar and creamer, challenge yourself to switch it up for a week, and you'll be amazed at how much better you feel. 

References 

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/sugar-sweetened-beverages-intake.html#:~:text=Frequently%20drinking%20sugar%2Dsweetened%20beverages,gout%2C%20a%20type%20of%20arthritis
  2. https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/diabetes/normal-regulation-blood-glucose#:~:text=Blood%20Glucose%20Control-,Insulin%20Basics%3A%20How%20Insulin%20Helps%20Control%20Blood%20Glucose%20Levels,islet%20cell
  3. Ahmed, Serge H., Karine Guillem, and Youna Vandaele. "Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit." Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 16.4 (2013): 434-439.
  4. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/trans-fat
  5. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334561031_TRANS-FATS_OF_PROCESSED_AND_FRIED_FOODS_-A_CHOICE_FOR_TASTE_OR_SERIOUS_HEALTH_PROBLEMS
  6. Tobacman, Joanne K. "Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments." Environmental health perspectives 109.10 (2001): 983-994.
  7. https://www.ewg.org/foodscores/content/natural-vs-artificial-flavors/
  8. http://www.ijsrp.org/research-paper-0415/ijsrp-p4014.pdf
  9. https://www.ewg.org/research/ewg-s-dirty-dozen-guide-food-additives#watchlist
  10. Lee, Ming‐Fen, and Stephen D. Krasinski. "Human Adult‐Onset Lactase Decline: An Update." Nutrition reviews 56.1 (1998): 1-8.
  11. Szilagyi, Andrew, and Norma Ishayek. "Lactose intolerance, dairy avoidance, and treatment options." Nutrients 10.12 (2018): 1994.
  12. Juhl, Christian R., et al. "Dairy intake and acne vulgaris: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 78,529 children, adolescents, and young adults." nutrients 10.8 (2018): 1049.
  13. Gadotti, Tábata Natal, et al. "Dairy consumption and inflammatory profile: A cross-sectional population-based study, Sao Paulo, Brazil." Nutrition 48 (2018): 1-5.
  14. Maher, Timothy J., and Richard J. Wurtman. "Possible neurologic effects of aspartame, a widely used food additive." Environmental health perspectives 75 (1987): 53-57.
  15. Cong, Wei-na, et al. "Long-term artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium treatment alters neurometabolic functions in C57BL/6J mice." PLoS One 8.8 (2013): e70257.
  16. Bian, Xiaoming, et al. "The artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium affects the gut microbiome and body weight gain in CD-1 mice." PloS one 12.6 (2017): e0178426.
  17. Cryan, John F., et al. "The gut microbiome in neurological disorders." The Lancet Neurology 19.2 (2020): 179-194.
  18. Bian, Xiaoming, et al. "The artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium affects the gut microbiome and body weight gain in CD-1 mice." PloS one 12.6 (2017): e0178426.
  19. Azeez, Omar Hasan, Suad Yousif Alkass, and Daniele Suzete Persike. "Long-term saccharin consumption and increased risk of obesity, diabetes, hepatic dysfunction, and renal impairment in rats." Medicina 55.10 (2019): 681.
  20. König, Daniel, et al. "Specific collagen peptides improve bone mineral density and bone markers in postmenopausal women—A randomized controlled study." Nutrients 10.1 (2018): 97.
  21. Bolke, Liane, et al. "A collagen supplement improves skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density: Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, blind study." Nutrients 11.10 (2019): 2494.
  22. Oertzen-Hagemann, Vanessa, et al. "Effects of 12 weeks of hypertrophy resistance exercise training combined with collagen peptide supplementation on the skeletal muscle proteome in recreationally active men." Nutrients 11.5 (2019): 1072.
  23. Clark, Kristine L., et al. "24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain." Current medical research and opinion 24.5 (2008): 1485-1496.
  24. Westerterp-Plantenga, Margriet S., Sofie G. Lemmens, and Klaas R. Westerterp. "Dietary protein–its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss and health." British journal of nutrition 108.S2 (2012): S105-S112.
  25. Ruiz-Ruiz, J. C., et al. "Antidiabetic and antioxidant activity of Stevia rebaudiana extracts (Var. Morita) and their incorporation into a potential functional bread." Journal of food science and technology 52.12 (2015): 7894-7903.
  26. Chen, W. J., et al. "The antioxidant activities of natural sweeteners, mogrosides, from fruits of Siraitia grosvenori." International journal of food sciences and nutrition 58.7 (2007): 548-556.
  27. Zou, Xiaomin, et al. "‘Sweeter’than its name: anti-inflammatory activities of Stevia rebaudiana." All Life 13.1 (2020): 286-309.
  28. Di, Rong, Mou-Tuan Huang, and Chi-Tang Ho. "Anti-inflammatory activities of mogrosides from Momordica grosvenori in murine macrophages and a murine ear edema model." Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 59.13 (2011): 7474-7481.
  29. St-Onge, Marie-Pierre, and Peter JH Jones. "Physiological effects of medium-chain triglycerides: potential agents in the prevention of obesity." The Journal of nutrition 132.3 (2002): 329-332.
  30. Croteau, Etienne, et al. "Ketogenic medium chain triglycerides increase brain energy metabolism in Alzheimer’s disease." Journal of Alzheimer's Disease 64.2 (2018): 551-561.

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