Simple ways to make your coffee healthier

by Kaiser Permanente |
Smiling older man holds cup of coffee

From that first cup in the morning to the occasional afternoon treat, coffee is a beloved and popular drink. In fact, Americans now drink more coffee than ever. Coffee consumption is up by 5% since 2015 — and 62% of Americans drink coffee every day.1 Its popularity has even spilled into internet culture with the trendy saying, "But first, coffee."

Drinking coffee and tea has also been linked to a range of health benefits for the brain, lungs, liver, metabolism, and more.2 But what happens when we add too much milk, cream, or sweetener? A coffee drink loaded with sugar and calories can turn into an unhealthy beverage choice. The good news is you can still have your coffee and make it healthy.

To help get new ideas brewing, Sean Hashmi, MD, physician and regional director of weight management and clinical nutrition for Kaiser Permanente Southern California, shares these recommendations on how to drink your coffee — and feel good about it.

Drink it black

The healthiest way to drink coffee is plain with nothing added — also known as drinking it black. Dr. Hashmi explains, "Ideally, you shouldn’t put sugar in your coffee. If you train your taste buds to have your coffee sweetened, you’ll crave that sweetness like an addiction." We know that when it comes to sugar and sweeteners, less is always best.

Try plant-based milks

If you’re adding milk to your coffee, unsweetened plant-based milks usually have less sugar than regular cow’s milk. "Replacing dairy milk with a nut-based milk is a healthy habit that can reduce saturated fats that can cause issues like heart disease and diabetes," says Dr. Hashmi.

Spice it up

There are some spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cacao, and ginger that have a natural sweetness and flavor to them. You can add them to your coffee grounds before brewing or sprinkle them directly in your cup for a change of taste. For another buzz-worthy recipe, try making your own cold brew coffee. Brewing at a lower temperature can give you a smooth coffee that’s lower in acidity and bitterness.

Consider the caffeine

The maximum recommended amount of caffeine per day is 400 milligrams, which is about 4 cups of brewed coffee. So, if you’re drinking more than 4 cups of coffee per day, you should try a combination of caffeinated and decaffeinated. Keep in mind some coffee shop drinks have more than 1 cup per serving, depending on the size. Dr. Hashmi says, "It’s also a good idea to avoid caffeinated beverages after 10 a.m. Consuming caffeine throughout the day can lead to a jittery feeling or sleep issues at night."

Be good to your body

Dr. Hashmi explains, "There are many benefits to drinking coffee, but you have to be mindful about how you drink it. When it comes to nutrition, I like to think that what you put in your body must have a good ROI (return on investment). If you don’t get anything nutritious out of it, it’s not worth your time."

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"NCA Releases Atlas of American Coffee," National Coffee Association,, March 26, 2020.

Rob M. van Dam, PhD, et al., "Coffee, Caffeine, and Health," The New England Journal of Medicine, July 23, 2020.