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Americans’ love affair with coffee is stronger than ever, and who can blame us? Our favorite way to perk up is not only delicious but also boasts some major health benefits, according to recent research: In its pure form, coffee helps protect against type 2 diabetes, liver disease, Parkinson’s, and some cancers. The problem comes when coffee becomes the base for drinks loaded with sugar, whipped cream, brownie chunks, chocolate syrup, caramel drizzle, and other yummy extras that also add hundreds of empty calories. Behold the evidence: Calories in a cup of black coffee: 5. Calories in a small Frozen Dunkin Coffee with Pumpkin Swirl at Dunkin Donuts: 630, including a staggering 98 grams of sugar and 21 grams of fat.

How To Make Your Favorite Coffee Drinks Healthier

So, does that mean that the only way to get healthy coffee is to stick to a bitter brew? Let’s not get crazy here — most of us probably can’t quaff unvarnished coffee on the daily. The good news is you can get a coffee buzz and still make it a treat in ways that don’t wreak havoc on your health or waistline — from making quick substitutions at your favorite coffee shop to making quick homemade coffee drinks that slash sugar and fat and add nutrition.

“It’s not about depriving yourself or having an all or nothing mindset about something you enjoy,” said Nancy Sidnam, registered dietitian and coaching program director at Noom, the weight loss and healthy lifestyle app. “Mindfulness is the key.” Here are some great tips to lighten up your favorite coffee drinks.

Keep it simple.

Before bigger, frothier, sweeter coffee drinks took over, cappuccinos were considered the indulgent coffee drink, a blend of espresso, steamed milk, and a creamy foam. It tastes rich but has just 150 calories with two sugars. “The best thing about it is you can use it as a base, and add in extras like powdered cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin spice mix,” said dietitian Laura Mahoney, coaching program director at Noom. “It may sound strange to add spices straight into a drink, but it’s a great way to add flavor without calories.”

For more tips on healthy eating and living, and check out Noom’s blog.

Pump the brakes … on syrup pumps.

Flavored syrups may be the sneakiest way that calories creep into your coffee drinks: The standard four pumpkin syrup pumps in a Starbucks grande pumpkin spice latte, for example, add 120 calories. Don’t be afraid to ask your barista to hold all but one flavored pumps in any drink or opt for sugar-free syrup, if available. “Sugar is a huge culprit,” Mahoney said. “A macchiato can have 70 grams of sugar, and that’s just scary to think about. A lot of people aren’t aware of the sugar content and the fact that they can change the number. It’s smart to take control.”

Be a customizing queen.

Don’t stop at curbing the amount of sugar. Substitute cream or half-and-half for lighter 2 percent or skim milk or a nut milk; skip the whipped cream. Tweak the ingredients to any drink on Starbucks’ or Dunkin’ Donuts’ interactive websites so on the next visit, you know exactly what to ask for — and what’s in it. If you’ve got your heart set on enjoying a Starbucks drink with all the trimmings, though, consider ordering a short, an unlisted 8 oz. size with a fraction of the calories.

Make your own dairy-free creamer.

Making coffee drinks healthier isn’t always about cutting calories. It’s also an opportunity to add in nutrition, and that’s where plant-based creamers come in. They’re loaded with protein, vitamins, and minerals. Cashew milk in particular boasts inflammation-fighting antioxidants and zinc, immunity-building magnesium and vitamin K, plus iron and heart-healthy unsaturated fat. It’s available in stores, but to make your own cashew creamer so naturally rich that it needs no artificial thickeners, try Hungry Hobby’s vegan/paleo-friendly recipe. It has just three ingredients — cashews, dates, and water — and lasts five days in the fridge.

 

Make coffee smoothies your new frappuccinos.

It’s hard to beat the icy blended coffee drinks in popularity — or empty calories. It’s easy to forget that the heady, frosty treats are heavyweights packed with cream, sugar, ultra-sweet sauces, whipped cream, and fatty toppings like cookie bits. Though a healthy frap can be as simple as ordering it “skinny,” with nonfat milk, sugar-free syrup and no whipped cream, you can also opt for your own homemade coffee smoothie. All you need is chilled coffee, ice or frozen coffee cubes, a natural sweetener like a banana or dates, and almond milk. Add-ins give it a nutritional punch: Try a scoop of protein powder, peanut butter, or flax seeds. This is a perfect add-on to a hearty and healthy breakfast — and even better if it’s what you’re eating for breakfast before hitting the gym or working out.

 

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