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The Worst Coffee Ingredient That Causes Inflammation, According To Dietitians

Drinking coffee completely black is an acquired taste, and many of us coffee lovers add some kind of sweetener to our daily cup of joe— whether that’s sugar, creamers or syrups. However, if you frequently suffer from inflammation, experts suggest looking more closely into what you really put in your cup every day, as this might be a culprit. We checked in with registered dietitian Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, registered dietitian Trista Best, MPH, RD, and health expert and medical researcher, Dr. Daniel Boyer, M.D. to learn more about how coffee sweeteners can lead to inflammation, and what to replace them with in order to prevent this.  

How Artificial Sweeteners In Coffee Can Cause Inflammation

Many coffee-drinkers like a little flavor in their cup, so the taste isn’t too bitter. Sweetening your coffee, Best explains, can be done with plant-based items or natural versions rather than packing on the sugar, which is inflammatory. Sugary sweeteners (like packets, creamers, syrups, etc) often have other artificial flavorings that can impact your ability to lose or maintain weight as well as cause inflammation. 

“[Using] full-fat dairy creamer and refined sugar are the two coffee habits that are detrimental to weight loss, especially for those that consume more than one cup a day,” says Best. These two ingredients commonly used to lighten and sweeten coffee are high in calories, fat, carbohydrates and are quite inflammatory, she says. “Not only will the calories add to weight issues, but the inflammation they cause or exacerbate can make weight loss more difficult as well,” adds Best.

Hunnes concurs, explaining that many processed coffee drinks have “added sugars, sweeteners, and fats in them” as well. Think creams, syrups, flavorings, and colorings (such as caramel coloring in a bottled frappuccino, for example). “A black coffee is zero calories, but the syrups and creams that are used in processed drinks, and any whipped toppings can make this zero-calorie beverage now closer to 300 or 400 calories,” she says. “That’s practically a meal.” Yikes!

Farr adds that “taking black coffee (which doesn’t contain calories) in moderation or with unsweetened plant-based sweeteners like almond or quick oats may be the best alternative if you are under a weight management plan.” While it may not be everyone’s way to drink coffee, there are certainly notable benefits to doing so, such as preventing inflammation. If you do like sweeter-tasting coffee and use full-fat creamer or refined sugar, Best has better recommendations that are much healthier for your metabolism and less likely to make you feel bloated.

Healthier Alternatives To Sugary Packets, Creamers & Syrups

Whether you’re adding several pumps of flavored syrup, a few packets or a splash of creamer to your coffee every day, if the sweeteners you’re choosing contain artificial ingredients or heavy amounts of sugar, you’re bound to face inflammation or experience bloating more often, Best stresses. “By opting for a plant-based creamer, you are removing dairy, which can lead to bloating and inflammation,” suggests Best. She advises considering using honey or cinnamon to flavor your coffee rather than refined sugars. “These two ingredients are natural, anti-inflammatory, and cinnamon can help to boost metabolism and stabilize blood sugar, all of which can improve weight loss efforts and reduce bloating,” notes Best.

She also says to keep in mind when buying vegan milks, however, that some plant-based creamers are still high in calories, fat, and sugar so it is important to “pay attention to the nutrition label.” Overall, the biggest mistake coffee-lovers that want to lose weight and prevent inflammation often make, Best says, is “having a specific way they like their coffee and not often veering from that.” By being open-minded regarding sweeteners and willing to try healthier options, you’re one step closer to your health goals, whether or not that includes weight loss.

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