Here’s a reason to really enjoy your morning cup of joe: it practically qualifies as a health food these days. Coffee can improve your mood, jumpstart your metabolism, boost your workout, and help you focus, among other amazing benefits suggested by recent research.
Yet you won’t score these health rewards unless you steer clear of certain bad habits when it comes to preparing and sipping your favorite brew. Some coffee-prep practices strip the beans of their high levels of micronutrients like polyphenols, a type of antioxidant thought to help prevent heart disease and other conditions. And ordering beverages loaded with dairy and sugar can turn this naturally low-calorie beverage into a delivery system for fat and calories.
To get the most from your coffee, make sure you’re not committing any of the mistakes called out by Bob Arnot, MD in his new book, The Coffee Lover’s Diet: Change Your Coffee…Change Your Life ($27; amazon.com). WithArnot’s advice in mind, here’s the right way to prepare and savor your brew.
Cut back on sugar
Coffee and sugar have always been a popular pairing. Sprinkling in the sweet stuff won’t take away from coffee’s polyphenol level, but it can detract from the healthfulness of the drink thanks to the extra calories (16 per sugar packet) and the way refined sugar messes with your blood-sugar levels. If you need sugar because your coffee tastes too bitter, try a brew made from naturally sweeter beans.
Go easy on the cream
Coffee with cream is another delicious duo. Two tablespoons of heavy cream packs about 100 calories; the same amount of half-and-half has 38. These numbers may not seem like much, but if you drink a few cups or more a day, it adds up. Many people mask the bitterness of their coffee with cream, so save yourself the calories and pick a lighter roast, or stick to low-fat milk only. Speaking of milk and cream, try to make smoothie-like blended coffee drinks, which can have hundreds of calories each, an occasional splurge.
Drink lighter-roast brews
“Superdark roasts, swirled with cream and sugar to cover their burnt-wood taste, are the coffee equivalent of soggy green beans that have been cooked all-day with a fatty ham hock or a slice of bacon,” writes Arnot. Lighter roasts may take some getting used to, but they can be just as flavorful and are much higher in polyphenols. If you can’t give up the dark stuff, roast the beans yourself at a temperature no higher than 430 degrees This creates that bold, dark flavor yet retains a decent level of polyphenols.
Buy higher-quality beans
One way to know if your coffee is healthy is to evaluate the taste: healthier coffee tastes better. To get the good-for-you kind, Arnot suggests buying premium coffees grown on farms with excellent cultivation practices. Stick to farms located at high altitudes close to the equator in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Columbia and Brazil. African coffees tend to be lighter, whereas South American coffees are generally fuller-bodied.
Wash the coffee maker after each use
You wash your pans after cooking with them, right? If you didn’t, the next dish you prepared in them wouldn’t taste right. The same principle goes for your coffee equipment. Rinsing coffee machines and makers with vinegar and hot water, suggests Arnot, will make your next brew more robust and flavorful.
Make coffee with fresh, ripe beans
Coffee is at its best between two days and two weeks after the beans are roasted. Arnot recommends buying small bags from local roasters and using them within three to four days—storing them not in your fridge but in an opaque, airtight container kept away from sunlight to preserve freshness. Ask for coffee packed in nitrogen-flushed bags; this prevents oxidation and help preserve the taste of the beans for a few months before you’re ready to roast.