Coffee may be your legal drug of choice, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing — particularly in terms of what you put in your coffee.
If you've been drinking your coffee the same way for years, it may be in need of a major upgrade, especially in the creamer department. Many of us are guilty of enjoying our coffee a little on the sweet side — and by sweet, I mean dumping in half a container of sugar and a few glugs of milk so you can hardly recognize your medium roast. Switching up your creamer is a quick and easy way to take your morning coffee from a dairy-filled sugar bomb to healthy fuel with a caffeine kick.
Because of this common coffee-and-cream conundrum, there are a few good reasons to consider a coffee creamer swap. First and foremost (as any true coffee snob can verify), there's the flavor. It may take some adjustment to start drinking your coffee closer to its virgin roots, but just like taking a bitter sip of beer for the first time, your taste buds will soon adjust, and they'll thank you for it.
The second big reason is hard to ignore, and it has to do with your health. If you're loading your coffee up with cream and sugar in the morning, you're most definitely starting your day on the wrong foot and can expect an inevitable sugar crash by 10 a.m. Millie Wilson, registered dietitian and chef instructor at Common Threads, cautions, "Adding milk and cream into your coffee can add fat and up to 500 calories. If you need to lighten up your coffee, consider adding unsweetened almond milk, as it has fewer calories than skim milk, but also provides that creamy texture you're looking for."
And if you're looking for something completely new to reinvent your brew, try one of these coffee creamer substitutes that are surprisingly delicious.
Putting butter in coffee is a thing, and what a deliciously inventive thing it is. (Note that adding a healthy fat like grass-fed butter is recommended.) Brittany Poole of Hush Destinations, specializing in digital detox vacations, explains her penchant for the butter-coffee combo: "The extra fats help slow your body's response to the caffeine, so I feel incredibly focused in the morning without the crash. I might be biased, but I think it tastes better than a latte."
2. Cacao butter
Maybe a dollop of butter in your morning coffee isn't for you, but what if said butter tasted like chocolate? "Buy some cacao butter from your local health store, and add a small chunk [about a teaspoon] to your coffee while it's piping hot. Let the fat melt, and mix it up for a chocolaty coffee taste. You could even add a teaspoon of cocoa powder for extra chocolate flavor," says blogger and personal trainer Alex Fergus.
3. Collagen powder
Consider this your new go-to antiaging morning drink. "If I'm feeling really healthy, I'll add collagen powder to my coffee. You can't taste it, but it's got a little bit of protein, and it helps keep your skin youthful and taut," says Poole.
4. Egg yolks
File this flavorful coffee creamer alternative under "don't knock it 'til you've tried it." Fergus explains, "Egg yolks are excellent emulsifiers. Blend them into your coffee for a silky smooth finish — not to mention they are packed full of nutrients!" (Choose pasteurized if you're worried about consuming raw eggs.)
For those who have long associated honey with hot tea, this news may come as a surprise. Honey tastes great in coffee, and it makes an excellent natural alternative to refined sugar. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that, on average, Americans consume 19.5 teaspoons of sugar a day. Wilson says, "This is two to three times more than the recommended amount!" To help curb a sugary coffee addiction, Wilson recommends, "If you need a little sweetness, going natural is the best option. Instead of refined white sugar, opt for honey, agave nectar or even a splash of pure maple syrup."
If you, like so many java junkies, hate to see your coffee naked in the morning, you may be brewing it wrong. For many people, black brewed coffee is tough on the stomach. "If you've never tried cold-brew coffee (with or without ice), it might be time to do so," says Wilson. "Because of the way it is brewed, it is about 67 percent less acidic than traditionally brewed coffee. If you experience heartburn from high-acidic foods, cold brew might be the way to go. It also has a much bolder flavor, so you may find that adding a lot of sweeteners and cream isn't necessary."
While I'm not suggesting you drop loose change into your coffee just yet, there's something to be said for investing in your brew. As Wilson points out, buying top-notch coffee will naturally make it taste better, meaning you'll need fewer add-ins as a result. If you think you're ready to go all the way and drink it black, Wilson suggests choosing high-quality organic coffee to start with a healthy base. "Traditional coffee beans may be treated with pesticides before hitting shelves," she explains.
Like butter, oil is another oddball coffee mixer that seems to work. Fergus recommends coconut oil as a popular and healthy creamer sub to his clients. "It's actually a really good performance enhancer — both cognitively and physically — as the coconut oil is packed full of MCT [medium-chain triglycerides] that are broken down in the body faster than usual fats. This gives you a nice energy boost without the sugar crash."
If you can't imagine a life worth living without the PSL, Aimee McNew, certified nutritionist at PaleoPlan, will do you one better. She recommends mixing real pumpkin into black coffee for full fall flavors — without a Starbucks-size side of guilt.
Now that you have PSL on lock, this creamer hack may make your life complete: Someone finally came up with a flavorful, healthy chai latte that won't add to your ever-increasing Starbucks debt. Poole recommends adding a hint of cinnamon, turmeric, China spices [five-spice powder] and black pepper to your morning brew for the chai latte effect. "The cinnamon helps prevent spiking in your adrenals. And the turmeric has been proven to help people live long, healthy lives. On top of all that, it's pretty tasty," she says.
11. Whipped coconut cream
This is one lucky moment when you can have your whipped cream and eat it too — as long as it's made from coconuts. McNew's whipped coconut cream is the perfect alternative to the whipped sugary stuff. It's Paleo-friendly and easy to whip up in under 10 minutes.
A version of this article was originally published in October 2015.