Starting your day with an energizing cup of coffee is a habit you can feel good about. In addition to being almost calorie-free, coffee has been linked to cardiovascular health and protection against Parkinson's disease, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
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And while coffee is healthy on its own, nutritious add-ins help you get even more health benefits. So skip the sugar-laden lattes and frappes from the coffee shop and make your own flavored cup of joe.
While the mocha from your local cafe can add hundreds of calories to your daily intake, adding a bit of chocolate to your coffee at home is a healthy alternative. The cocoa solids in chocolate are packed with beneficial antioxidant flavanols, says registered dietitian Beth Witherspoon. They also help lower blood pressure and improve arterial blood flow. Grate half an ounce of dark chocolate into your coffee or add a sprinkle of natural (aka "non-dutched") cocoa powder to get your healthy chocolate fix.
Start your day strong with turmeric, an earthy spice that pairs perfectly with coffee's bitter and acidic notes. Turmeric supplies antioxidants, has powerful anti-inflammatory benefits and might even help protect you against neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer's) as you age, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Mix half a teaspoon of turmeric into your coffee grounds before you brew your cup, and add a splash of almond milk for extra creaminess.
3. Pumpkin Spice
It's official: Pumpkin spice and coffee are a match made in heaven. And simply adding the spice to your coffee grounds before you brew infuses your coffee without the need for sweeteners or creamer, says Maggie Michalczyk, a registered dietitian based in Chicago. The ginger in pumpkin pie spice aids digestion while cinnamon helps lower blood pressure, says Michalczyk. Nutmeg also has natural breath-freshening benefits, so you can kiss that less-than-pleasant coffee breath goodbye! Mix a teaspoon of pumpkin spice into your grounds before you brew and you're good to go.
4. Vanilla or Almond Extract
A little extract can seriously perk up your cup of coffee, infusing it with potent flavor and irresistible aromas. Natural vanilla extract offers antioxidant benefits, retaining up to 90 percent of the antioxidant ability of vanilla beans, according to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
It's also a great way to wean yourself off calorie-laden sweeteners. "You taste with your nose first," says New York-based registered dietitian Rebecca Lewis, "so adding vanilla or almond extract gives the impression of sweetness without having to add in any actual sugar." Add a drop or two of flavor extract to your brewed coffee, increasing one drop at a time until you get the desired flavor.
Also called Peruvian ginseng, maca has a well-deserved reputation as a superfood. Malt-like in flavor, it's a powerful adaptogen, explains Lewis, which means it helps your body respond to physiological stress. Early studies — including one published in Climacteric in 2015 — show that maca might also help reduce blood pressure.
But the best part? Maca can help provide an energy boost, so add some to your coffee to really supercharge your morning. Stir in half a teaspoon and add a dash of cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice). Add a splash of almond milk if desired.
6. Sea Salt
Salt in coffee? While surprising, this combo can be seriously delicious. "Coffee is usually acidic and bitter," says New York-based chef Jenny Dorsey. "Salt is an effective counter to acid and helps neutralize the sense of bitterness so the coffee is more balanced." And while you likely don't want to add loads of sodium to your diet, a light pinch of salt is enough to do the trick. Experiment with specialty salts, including pink Himalayan sea salt or grey Celtic salt, to adjust the flavor to your liking.
7. Coconut Oil
Is there anything coconut oil can't do? Adding a spoonful of the stuff to your coffee makes for a seriously delicious brew. "Coconut oil's creamy component neutralizes some of the bite of coffee," says Dorsey.
The oil is also high in special saturated fatty acids that increase your "good" HDL cholesterol, and it might even work in combination with exercise to control blood pressure, according to an animal study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism in 2015.
Like any oil, though, coconut oil is high in calories (117 per tablespoon, to be exact), so make sure you factor it into your daily calorie intake to avoid weight gain. Add a spoonful to your hot coffee and stir until incorporated and creamy.
8. Protein Powder
Iced lattes are delicious, but drinking them every day can add hundreds of calories to your intake. Adding whey protein to your iced or cold-brewed coffee adds natural creaminess and "latte"-esque flavor while supplying your muscles with much-needed protein. And because protein is naturally filling, this works as a satisfying snack instead of a caloric indulgence. Simply blend a scoop of your favorite vanilla protein powder into 12 ounces of coffee and enjoy!
If you're looking for a deliciously unconventional brew, try infusing your coffee with cardamom. It has a warm, mellow and naturally sweet flavor and offers some serious health benefits as well. "It helps calm down the gut, which can neutralize some of the overly stimulating effects of the caffeine in coffee," says Lewis. "Cardamom also helps to clean teeth and freshen breath — something most of us could use after a cup of coffee anyway!" Add half a teaspoon of ground cardamom to your coffee grounds before you brew.
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: Studies on the Antioxidant Activities of Natural Vanilla Extract and Its Constituent Compounds through in Vitro Models
- Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism: Coconut Oil Supplementation and Physical Exercise Improves Baroreflex Sensitivity and Oxidative Stress in Hypertensive Rats.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Turmeric
- Harvard School of Public Health: Drink Up: Health Benefits of Coffee are Numerous