For most of my adult life, I didn’t drink coffee; let alone, enjoy it. I grew up with parents who drank more tea than coffee, and I even managed to make it through college without relying on caffeine to get me through study sessions. But when I started my first full-time job, the early mornings necessitated caffeine. Plus, I got free coffee at work – who can say no that?
The only problem? I hated the taste. So I fell back on sugar, drinking large mocha lattes heavily sweetened with chocolate syrup or gulping drip coffee only after adding sugar by the spoonful. As my caffeine habit grew, so too did my sugar intake. I knew I had to find a better way to sweeten my coffee.
Caffeine has numerous health benefits. Not only does it keep us awake, but it also boosts our memory and helps us concentrate, focus and quickly react. It can protect against degenerative brain diseases and age-related cognitive decline. People who drink coffee show lower risks of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and depression. Coffee is also used to boost sports performance; people who drink coffee before a workout report better endurance and muscle strength, and can burn more calories.
But by adding a few spoonfuls of sugar to your morning cup of joe, you turn that healthy drink into something more harmful. While a little sugar is OK, most of us are taking in way more than we need. The average adult consumes 20 teaspoons of added sugar per day, which is two to three times the recommended amount. It’s easy to see why, since added sugar is in many foods that don’t taste sweet, such as salad dressings, condiments, nut butter, sauces and bread. Too much of the sweet stuff can cause weight gain, premature aging, Type 2 diabetes, tooth decay and heart disease.
The good news is you can use many sugar alternatives to sweeten coffee and particularly, iced coffee, as the weather begins to call for it. For me, slowly decreasing the amount of sugar I added to my coffee drinks worked. Going cold turkey can be a shock to your taste buds, so it helps to start slow. As you cut back on the sugar, try these naturally sweet alternatives to flavor your iced coffee instead:
Stir this sweet spice into your brewed iced coffee or, if you’re brewing it at home, add the cinnamon directly to your coffee grounds. Use 1 tablespoon of cinnamon for every 4 tablespoons of grounds and make your own flavored coffee – no sweetener required.
[See: The Best Spices for Your Health.]
2. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
If you’re a chocolate lover like me, this sweet hack is for you. Skip sweetened chocolate syrup or sugary hot chocolate mix and use a spoonful of unsweetened cocoa powder instead. Like the cinnamon, you can add it to your coffee grounds before brewing (1 tablespoon per cup of coffee) or stir it right into your brewed coffee, latte or espresso. An added bonus: A tablespoon of cocoa powder will add 2 grams of fiber and essential antioxidants to your coffee.
A few drops of a naturally-sweet extract is one of my favorite ways to flavor foods and beverages while keeping them sugar-free. Extracts mix well with iced coffee – try a few drops of pure vanilla, almond or hazelnut extract in place of sugar.
4. Unsweetened Vanilla Almond or Soy Milk
While many vanilla non-dairy milks have sugar added, you can find unsweetened versions of vanilla almond and soy milk. These drinks have a hint of vanilla flavor that can naturally sweeten your iced coffee drink.
5. Coconut Milk
This non-dairy milk provides a touch of coconut flavor to your morning cup of iced coffee. Mix it with a little vanilla extract to make a homemade coffee creamer (without all the sugar or additives).
6. Coconut Cream
This cream, from a can of full-fat coconut milk, adds a touch of sweetness and a creamy consistency to your standard iced coffee. Use it along with cinnamon for a fantastic drink.