So, apparently I’m getting older, and that means that my body doesn’t like the things that it used to. Let me clarify: my body doesn’t like things like sugar and dairy anymore; but, that does not in any way mean that I don’t like sugar and dairy anymore. In fact, finding out that I should minimize my sugar and dairy intake is like a kid going to a birthday party and finding out they can’t have cake. Yeah, it’s almost literally like that except I’m an adult, and I can’t pitch a temper tantrum in the middle of the room anymore, well, at least not in public!
Anyway, I’ve been exploring dairy and sugar alternatives, because, like I said, just because my body rejects these delectable, heaven-sent treats does not mean that my tongue or my brain does. One of the main, everyday changes has had to be to my coffee routine. I shouldn’t have my coffee light and sweet no matter how much I’m craving that, and I can’t have a large whole milk latte unless I want to be sleeping on the couch or stuck on the toilet for an inconvenient amount of time.
Soy latte has become a frequently-mocked stereotype of a particular type of person—elitist and pretentious, to say the least. The problem is, the advent of milk (and other dairy alternatives) is almost a godsend because many adults lose the ability to process dairy correctly as they age. These adults, like me, have gotten hooked on a certain texture and flavor expectation and that new lack of stomach enzymes don’t make cravings any weaker. I like a soy latte; soy milk tends to be a little naturally sweet; but, it definitely tastes different than cow’s milk, and it tends to have a different mouth feel in a latte. Some soy and other dairy-alternative milk will curdle in the hot coffee; but, more and more brands are coming out with formulas designed for the coffee world. In the time I worked in a coffee shop, we went from curdling soy milk to “barista-style” soy milk that you could almost make a discernable latte art heart with.
With the number of vegans growing exponentially with each passing year, there are also other dairy alternatives, which get better and better every day. Brazil and cashew-based milk taste closest, to me, to dairy kinds of milk. You can make them at home if your preferred brand hasn’t caught up with the trend yet. I get mine from a local vegan shop where they make it on sight. The downside here is that it tends to be chunky and to emulsify in the coffee—meaning it doesn’t stay mixed in. I’m working on my own recipe and have heard from lifelong vegans that blending the nuts with water results in a smoother, almost half-and-half style “milk” that doesn’t emulsify or curdle. You can also try coconut milk, unsweetened is best for me; this has become my alternative for making whipped cream, actually and is used as a cream replacement in many vegan baked treats, like these amazing cannoli’s I had the other day. Delizioso!
Drinking black coffee is always an option, especially with the “third-wave” of specialty coffee which has produced some of the best-tasting coffee possibly in history; but, if it all tastes like the same bitter water, there are options out there my friend.
Briefly, in the same theme, I want to discuss sugar alternatives. I’ve discovered that the best ones are the natural ones; your body can have some detrimental reactions to processed sugar replacements, including cancer and, ironically, diabetes. Honey and agave are less harmful because of their naturalness and the fact that they both carry nutrients, and aren’t just empty calories like sugar and “diet sugars.” My newest discovery was coconut sugar, which comes crystallized like sugar and also has added nutrients and is therefore significantly better for you than sugar and artificial sugar replacements. You can’t tell the difference whether you’re using it in your baking, your oatmeal or your coffee (with cashew milk, for me).
You can also try out honey or agave which are natural sweeteners. Like coconut milk, they have other nutrients, making them a healthier alternative than nutrient-empty sugar. Honey, especially, has antioxidants, immune boosters and is considered by some to be a superfood. Agave isn’t the greatest option because while it doesn’t spike your blood sugar in the short-term like sugar, it can over time cause insulin resistance which can lead to further problems, mainly when consumed in large amounts.
Alternative sweeteners, artificial sweeteners as they’re more commonly known, are the processed, chemicals that can potentially cause cancer. They can raise your risk of diabetes more than regular sugar (because they trick your body into thinking they’re sugar, causing it to release insulin when it isn’t necessary to do so), can cause dehydration, and other short term and long term effects that are just not good. Your body activates insulin when it tastes or detects sweet things entering the mouth, even if there is no real sugar there. When your body releases insulin, unnecessarily this can cause insulin resistance, sensitivity and other disorders associated with diabetes, obesity, inflammation and the like. It is best to choose sugar instead of artificial sweeteners if you need the flavoring in your drink.
Another trick I like is adding cinnamon and/or cocoa powder, which have little to no sugar depending on their source but still can enhance the flavor of black coffee or coffee with cashew milk, for example. Cinnamon also helps your body break down glucose, as well, so it could be beneficial if you are using sugar, say, for example, if you’re trying to wean yourself off. You should also remember that skim milk has sugar added to it to make up for the lack of fat, so I always go with whole milk or half-and-half if I’m going to do milk so that I’m getting the fat and protein (and calcium) without the extra processing and sugar. It’s complicated, guys.
This is why, ultimately, if you can find a coffee you enjoy drinking black or just get used to the flavor, it’s going to be best for your health. You get all of the benefits of coffee and caffeine without the potential side effects of those additives. Make sure you definitely avoid flavored coffees, too because they’re generally full of sugars or unnatural chemicals that aren’t good for your body in the long run either.