For many of us, coffee is part of our daily routine. But depending on what you add to your morning brew, you could be consuming a lot of empty calories.
When you start adding milk, sugar, flavored sweeteners or whipped cream, those calories add up quickly. “Since sugar-sweetened drinks are often high in calories and low in nutrients, they can put you at risk for health issues like obesity, diabetes, and cancer,” says clinical dietitian Alyssa Tatum.
Keep your cup from overflowing with empty calories with these seven ideas.
1. Skip the drive-through
When someone else is preparing your coffee for you, you lose control of how many calories are being added.
“Even going inside a coffee shop and adding cream or sugar to your coffee yourself offers you more control,” Tatum says.
You can also try making your coffee at home. Some research shows coffee prepared in a French press has more health benefits than espresso shots. Antioxidants found in coffee may reduce your risk of oropharyngeal cancer and esophagealcancer, but when coffee is passed through a filter, some of these nutrients don’t make it into your cup. With a French press you’re getting the full benefits of coffee.
“French press coffee tends to have more caffeine, too,” Tatum says, so you’ll want to be mindful of how much you’re drinking.
“Caffeine can be dehydrating, especially if you’re going through cancer treatment, so you want to make sure you’re still drinking plenty of water throughout the day,” Tatum says. If you consume too much caffeine, it can cause headaches, irritability or even heart palpitations.
“You can switch to decaf if you experience negative side effects from caffeine,” Tatum says.
3. Sweeten your coffee with less sugar
There are lots of natural ways to sweeten your drinks without adding too many empty calories. Stevia, monk fruit or raw sugar are alternatives to white sugar.
“You can also try real maple syrup, honey or agave nectar,” Tatum says.
If you’re looking to add some flavor, you can try adding natural plant extracts like vanilla, almond or mint. Mocha lovers can add unsweetened cocoa powder to get the chocolate taste they crave. To satisfy your seasonal flavor cravings, try adding cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice.
“Just make sure you’re using the real thing, not artificial flavors, which don’t offer the same nutritional value as natural sweeteners,” Tatum says.
4. Choose low-fat milk options
When choosing which milk to add to your drink, Tatum suggests keeping an eye on serving sizes and looking for low-fat options.
Dairy-free milk choices can also offer flavor with fewer calories and sugar. Unsweetened almond milk or soy milk offer the same consistency as milk but with fewer calories and more protein and fiber, depending on which one you choose.
If you don’t want to go the plant-based route, look for dairy options that are low in fat.
5. Switch up your cup
Sometimes choosing a different cup can help you make healthy choices. “If you can’t see what’s inside the cup, you may not miss the extra additions you normally have,” Tatum says.
For example, if you’re trying to cut back on how much creamer you typically use, switch to a cup you can’t see through to remove that visual cue.
If you usually use a large mug, swap it out for a smaller one to help you drink less coffee and added ingredients.
6. Pay attention to nutrition labels
Whether you’re making coffee at home or ordering from a restaurant, Tatum suggests looking at the nutrition information before making your choices.
“When you look at what’s in some of these drinks, they become more like a dessert,” Tatum says. If you really want a high-calorie drink, choose a smaller size to limit empty calories. You can also make adjustments to your other meals and try to cut out extra calories or sugar throughout the day.
7. Customize your order to avoid extra calories
Just because a drink comes with extra flavors or additions doesn’t mean you have to get them. “Ask for your drink with half the amount of flavoring pumps, or think about skipping the whipped cream,” Tatum says.
You’ll be left with a drink that still tastes good, but doesn’t have quite as many calories.
These suggestions may take some getting used to but Tatum says the benefits are worth it. “Making small changes over time can help improve your overall health,” she says.