6 New Ways to Flavor Your Coffee Without Sugar

By Greg Presto |

Add sweet health perks to every cup of joe.

sweeten coffee

You probably start your day with coffee. After all, 63 percent of Americans have a daily cup, according to the National Coffee Association. And for the most part, that's just fine. It might even be good for you, as research links regular coffee drinking to lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

There's just one problem: Many cups of coffee are accompanied by a hefty dose of sugar. And not to be too dramatic, but that stuff can literally kill you.

A study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who consume more than 21 percent of their daily calories from added sugar are twice as likely to die from heart disease than those who get 8 percent of their daily calories from added sugar.

That’s one reason the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar:

  • For women: No more than 25 grams or 100 calories each day
  • For men: No more than 36 grams or 150 calories each day

To put that into perspective, one grande (16 ounces) nonfat vanilla latte from Starbucks has 35 grams of sugar.

“Most Americans already get way more than the recommended amount of added sugar in their diet, so I recommend skipping added sugar in coffee,” says Chris Mohr, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition consultant and co-owner of Mohr Results.

This doesn't mean your coffee must be black to reap the benefits. The trick is to boost flavor without added sugar or too much cream or syrup, Mohr says.

Here are six easy ways to do exactly that.

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Coffee Flavoring #1: Cinnamon

A teaspoon of sugar takes the edge off the bitterness of coffee-but it packs four grams of added sugar. Cinnamon delivers a similar effect, sans added sugar. Plus, the spice comes with bonus health benefits.

One study in Diabetes Care found a half-teaspoon of cinnamon per day can reduce blood sugar, triglyceride, and total cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

Just be sure to use pure powdered cinnamon, not cinnamon sugar. You can add a dash to each individual cup, or stir a teaspoon of cinnamon into your grounds before brewing, suggests Natalie Sabin, an exercise and sports nutrition coach.

Coffee Flavoring #2: Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk

If you like milk in your coffee, this suggestion from Mohr is for you. Unsweetened vanilla almond milk has zero added sugar, but the vanilla makes it slightly sweet-so it's like getting your milk and sugar together.

Plus, a half-cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk has about 20 calories, compared to 60 for the same amount of 2 percent cow’s milk.

Not a fan of vanilla? Any unsweetened flavored milk will work.

“In our house, it’s Almond Breeze Unsweetened Almond Coconut Milk,” Mohr says.

Coffee Flavoring #3: Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

Adding one teaspoon of 100 percent cocoa powder to your coffee is one of the easiest ways to reap the benefits of chocolate's flavonoids, which are antioxidants that can help ward off environmental damage to the cells and improve blood flow to the brain and heart. Plus, it's delicious!

"This just might be my favorite way to sweeten coffee," says Amy Gorin, R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. "Unsweetened cocoa powder provides a delightful, rich chocolate flavor without any added sugar."

It’s the healthiest way to enjoy a homemade mocha.

Coffee Flavoring #4: Vanilla Extract

If you're a fan of vanilla lattes, you don't have to give up your favorite flavor to keep sugar in check. Remember that vanilla is just a flavor, so get down to its root with a few drops of real vanilla extract in your coffee.

Vanilla extract has no added sugar. Compare that to a standard serving of vanilla syrup: 20 grams of sugar in two tablespoons.

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A little vanilla extract goes a long way in adding flavor, Gorin says. Start with one drop, and add to taste.

Coffee Flavoring #5: Salt

It may seem counterintuitive, but did you know that adding a pinch of salt to a pot of coffee or grounds can help enhance the natural sweetness? Salt reduces bitterness, so your coffee will seem sweeter without any sugar.

“It also smooths out the ‘stale’ taste of tank-stored water,” says Alton Brown, author of EveryDayCook: A Cookbook and host of the Food Network show Good Eats.

"I've taken to adding a quarter-teaspoon of kosher salt to every six tablespoons of grounds," Brown says. "That isn't really enough to taste, but it'll do the trick."

Coffee Flavoring #6: Half a Banana

This one requires breaking out your blender, but you won’t regret it. For a quick smoothie that’s fantastic on its own or with a morning bowl of oatmeal, mix:

  • 1 cup of coffee
  • ½ banana
  • Small scoop of peanut butter
  • Drop of vanilla extract

“Banana is a wonderful sweetener because it contains natural fruit sugars and is especially sweet when ripe,” Gorin says.

Bananas also add a hit of nutrients to your morning cup, including potassium, which helps muscle function, and vitamin B6, which helps protect nerves.

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