Dairy and Sugar Alternatives for your Coffee

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!

A woman is sitting at a nice wooden table with a glass of water and a beautiful cup of coffee. She is pouring in sweetener.

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.




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    • Ah, yes – stevia! I use that too sometimes.

      Have you tried the flavored varieties? There’s chocolate, french vanilla, toffee. They even have a root beer flavor! (just look at iHerb [dot] com for “Sweet Leaf” brand. NOW also has their own flavors, but Sweet Leaf is less bitter)

      It can be an acquired taste. I find that it has a slightly-bitter aftertaste – much like the artificial sweeteners. At least Stevia is natural, and to my knowledge, has no adverse affects on the blood sugar, unlike the artificial stuff.

  1. Honey is a good alternative for sugar. I can also suggest dates. If ever you are not familiar with dates, it is a fruit commonly found in the middle east. Dates is naturally sweet and healthy. By the way, about the flavored coffee, I’ve been addicted to a flavored coffee for few months now and been drinking it almost everyday. I think it is one of the reasons I gained some fats.Haha!

  2. This is, by far and away, my favorite post! So many things that I myself have already researched – so this just adds another ‘proof’.

    As for a natural sugar – I like pure cane sugar (which has been dried to crystals). It doesn’t take much in the coffee, but adds another dimension of flavor!

    What about maple syrup? People claim that is better on the blood sugar levels than agave, and if you can get the real stuff, it’s awesome!! Just haven’t tried it in my coffee – let me know if you do.

    Oh, and I’d like to hear how your recipe for nut milk is coming along

  3. Nowadays, there is a substitute product for everything.
    Personally, I prefer using honey in many types of drinks instead of sugar. Its both healthier and tastier.
    Since milk and animal-protection has become a big issue in the past few years, alternative types of milk are available now. Soy milk, soy powder, almond milk, rice milk etc etc. They give a different taste to the coffee, but are considered a healthier option than the milk we buy at the store.
    But my question is, with everything being industrialized today, are those products really healthier anymore?

    • Honestly, not really. the worst types of food to put in your body are ones that have been processed. There are a lot of all natural sweeteners, but there’s not a lot of wholesome milk substitutes. The worst part is that even the foods that you THINK are less processed, usually still are. For example, if you drink whole milk because 1 and 2 percent are too heavily processed, then you’re on the right track…but not really. The issue is in the process of homogenization. That’s the part where they alter the makeup so that the cream won’t separate from the milk. I live in in southern Missouri where dairy farming is a really big deal. It’s right here that I learned about pasteurization without homogenization and even raw milk. There’s a company here called Ozark Creamery who pasteurize (cook) their milk without homogenizing it. This is widely considered the best way to drink milk because any potential bacterial threat would have been cooked out, without destroying the nutritional properties that are found in milk. The other option (which is my favorite because it just tastes the best and has the most nutritional benefits) is raw milk. Uncooked, unprocessed, pulled from the udder and put in a jar, MILK. the only downside here is that some would argue that there is a small risk for bacterial infection if not cooked, which if milked and stored in a clean environment, shouldn’t be an issue. But it’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable with and what suits you nutritionally.

  4. I have used homemade coconut milk in my coffee before, and it was awesome! I have not tried almond milk nor cashew milk, but I have heard it tastes good. I have also put a little bit of homemade coconut oil in my coffee, that tasted good.

    As for sweeteners, I have tried: White sugar, Brown sugar, Coconut sugar, Honey, and Stevia (English toffee is one of my favorites! :)). Out of all of them, I like Stevia the best, and then Coconut sugar.

    I have also put vanilla, cinnamon, and/or cocoa powder in my coffee.

  5. I don’t recommend using honey to sweeten coffee. I’d recommend it with tea. (I once had warm ginseng tea with honey. It was very delightful).
    I do notice that regular coffee drinkers get used to the bitterness of coffee. They’ve somehow grown accustomed to certain degrees of bitterness that they can drink coffee black at a certain point of time. This is, of course, if the person is an avid coffee drinker.

  6. Some coffee drinker prefers using muscovado sugar instead of using the artificial sweetener or brown sugar. Muscovado sugar often times used in baking but it is also great for your coffee. I know that muscovado sugar is nutritious than white and brown sugar. Try using one, im sure you would love it!

  7. I’ve tried quite a few alternatives to milk and sugar. In my experience, almond milk is the most appetizing of the milk choices. I’ve also tried coconut milk and cashew milk, but wasn’t terribly fond of the two. I hadn’t really considered soy milk as an alternative though, so I’ll have to try it. As far as sugar goes, I do not like artificial sweeteners. I try to use honey whenever possible but I’m not sure that it would go well with coffee… Sugar in the raw is one that I’ve tried and enjoy. I also like agave nectar and rock sugar in hot tea. I definitely try to find whatever I can to make my coffee healthier while still tasting good, so this was a good read for me.

  8. I have not yet tried to find alternatives to milk, because I think that I don`t need to right now, maybe some time in the future. On the other side,when it comes to sugar I actively try to avoid it, but when I really can not achieve that I use brown sugar or stevia, especially If I am cooking. When it comes to drinking coffee I like mine black and wiithout sugar. My favourite coffee is ice-coffee with sugar, but I don`t drink it that often so I can give myself a break once in a while. All in all, I believe that some sugar alternatives are even better that white sugar and are much more healthier for your health. 😀

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