Black coffee is like Diet Coke: you either love it or you don’t. And if you fall into the “don’t” camp, you probably can’t drink coffee without sweetening it with sugar.
While sugar is effective at masking coffee’s natural bitterness, it isn’t the healthiest substance to put in your beverage. It’s high in calories, and too much of it can be detrimental to your health long term. So what’s a health-conscious coffee lover with a sweet tooth to do?
Before you resign yourself to a life without coffee (or one where you grimace with every sip), get through this article first. It reveals 14 healthy sweeteners for coffee that you can use to replace sugar.
Not All Sugar Alternatives for Coffee Are Made Equal
It’s easy to assume most sugar substitutes are healthy. However, as we explain later, this assumption is flawed.
When used sparingly, sugar isn’t bad for you. Still, if you insist on cutting it out of your diet as much as possible, replacing it with something which causes greater caloric surplus isn’t the answer.
There are three main categories of sugar substitutes for coffee. All three (listed below) overlap.
Zero-Calorie Coffee Sweeteners
These are coffee sweeteners that don’t add any calories to your daily beverage.
- Monk Fruit Extract
Natural Coffee Sweeteners
Here’s a list of natural coffee sweeteners that don’t contain any artificial materials.
- Maple Syrup
- Agave Nectar
- Yacon Syrup
- Coconut Sugar
- Fruit Juices
Artificial Coffee Sweeteners
The last category is artificial sweeteners, and here’s a list of the most famous ones.
There’s a ton of debate about whether artificial sweeteners can be considered “healthy,” despite some having zero calories. If you’re on the fence, check out this video. It goes over some of the recent data (at the time of writing) about artificial sweeteners.
Best Healthy Coffee Sweeteners
People have different definitions of what healthy is, so it isn’t the easiest concept to define. However, most people might agree that reducing their caloric intake is an excellent first step to a healthier life. With that said, the following sweeteners are among the best sugar alternatives for coffee.
Honey is a natural sweetener for coffee. Most people with sweet tooths are likely familiar with its taste, and it has a place on most breakfast tables. Honey provides health benefits, like lowering blood pressure and preventing infections. These benefits come courtesy of the antibacterial properties of honey’s phenolic acids and flavonoids.
This natural sweetener pairs well with a cup of coffee. However, it’s best to consume honey in moderation, as it contains more calories and carbohydrates than refined sugar. In other words, despite its low glycemic index, honey will cause a spike in your blood glucose levels.
2. Agave Nectar
Agave nectar originates from the agave plant. It tastes like honey and has a similar consistency, though its glycemic index is lower. As such, vegans use it in place of honey, while diabetics and other people monitoring their blood glucose can consume it in moderate quantities.
Some people believe Agave nectar doesn't cause a spike in blood sugar. However, considering its fructose levels are higher than what you'd find in high-fructose corn syrup, that's doubtful. Still, unlike corn syrup, its sugar is derived from natural sources, so it can be considered to be healthier when taken in limited amounts.
Ultimately, Agave nectar's sweetness counterbalances coffee's bitterness, making it an excellent healthy sweetener for coffee.
3. Maple Syrup
If you're a pancake or waffle lover, it's likely that maple syrup has a place on your breakfast table. Therefore, you're probably familiar with how this sticky syrup tastes. However, have you tried using it to sweeten your coffee? A drizzle of the stuff can transform a cup of bitter black coffee into a taste-bud-pleasing pick-me-up.
But that’s not all; pure maple syrup is believed to provide health benefits. For example, it’s said to have antioxidizing properties. With that said, this natural sweetener is high in sucrose, so we wouldn’t recommend it to diabetics. And even if you aren’t diabetic, use it in moderation.
Molasses is a byproduct of refined sugar cane. This dark viscous liquid has found its way into baked foods, tea, and, of course, coffee. It has a sweet and spicy taste that recalls delicacies like gingerbread, and it's a much healthier alternative to store-bought sugar.
Health-wise, molasses comprise manageable amounts of sucrose, fructose, and glucose. It’s also rich in vitamin B6 and dietary minerals like magnesium, potassium, manganese, calcium, and iron. And it’s believed to have antioxidants.
Manufacturers make molasses by boiling sugar cane. A variant of molasses is blackstrap molasses, which entails that the sugar cane is boiled two or more times. It’s much bitter than typical molasses, so it might not be as effective in sweetening coffee.
5. Yacon Syrup
Yacon syrup comes from the South American yacon plant, which is processed into foods like syrups, jams, chips, and so on. It tastes sweet (think molasses or caramelized sugar) and is low in calories, making it a healthy and natural sweetener you can add to your coffee.
This syrup is believed to be suitable for diabetics because it doesn’t increase blood glucose. In addition, a 2009 study found yacon syrup to have beneficial effects on obesity and resistance to insulin. So if you're looking for a healthy sweetener with slimming effects, this might be it!
In addition, yacon syrup is believed to prevent constipation. It has a high amount of fructooligosaccharides, a soluble fiber that’s sustenance for your body’s good bacteria. Still, don’t go overboard with this sweetener, as it can (ironically) cause digestion issues when consumed in large quantities.
6. Coconut Sugar
If you're into Colombian or Brazilian coffee, coconut sugar is an excellent healthy sweetener for those coffee types. It's derived from coconut palm tree flower sap and has a nutty taste that compliments the above-mentioned coffees. And it's left unprocessed, making it a 100% natural sugar substitute.
Coconut sugar has many vitamins and minerals. It contains magnesium, calcium, fiber, potassium, zinc, and the vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, and C. So not only do you get a naturally-sweetened cup of joe, you also get the health benefits that come with using coconut sugar.
7. Fruit Juices
Orange juice isn’t the first drink that comes to mind when you think of a liquid sweetener for coffee. However, fruit juices like it are among the healthiest sweeteners. The secret to the sweetness is in the fruit’s citrus, which helps balance the coffee’s bitterness. For best results, experiment with different amounts of juice and coffee added to the concoction.
Try using berries or tropical fruit to change things up. The key to staying healthy is to use organic fruit, as packaged juice has added sugars and preservatives. Either way, fruit juices go surprisingly well with cold brews and espressos.
8. Vanilla Extract
Vanilla extract is derived from vanilla beans soaked in water and ethyl alcohol. Vanilla beans have a molecule called vanillin, and it's this molecule that gives the extract its flavor.
No-sugar sweeteners like vanilla extract can add a burst of sweetness to the blackest cup of coffee. Also, this sweetner in particular is so powerful that, in some cases, a spoonful may be all you need. It's a healthy alternative to sugar, and some people believe it provides health benefits like increased brain health and lowered anxiety.
9. Plant-Based Milk
Plant-based milk like cashew and hazelnut milk can counteract coffee’s bitterness, making each type a healthy sugar substitute for coffee. However, you’ll have to experiment with different types to determine what works best for you.
For example, some plant-based milk, like almond milk, may leave a bitter aftertaste, which defeats the purpose of why you introduced it into your coffee. Meanwhile, if you like your coffee creamy, cashew milk may make it watery.
If there was one plant-based milk we recommend, it would be coconut milk. It has a good consistency and sweetens coffee. But as we mentioned above, try different kinds to see what sticks.
Stevia is another plant-based sugar substitute derived from plants local to Paraguay and Brazil. A few drops of this natural sweetener will make your coffee taste divine. Plus, it’s a zero-calorie coffee sweetener, making it a healthy sugar substitute for diabetics and people monitoring their calorie intake.
Regarding health benefits, putting stevia in coffee is believed to have positive effects on the immune system and blood pressure (it lowers it). However, when using stevia, moderation is key, as it's sweeter than traditional sugar.
One point to keep in mind is that stevia is an acquired taste, so many people aren’t fans. We believe the lack of unanimous praise is down to how different brands manufacture their products. So be prepared to do some experimenting when using this sugar alternative in your coffee.
Erythritol comes from plant carbohydrates. It's a sugar alcohol that’s been chemically altered. The resulting substance looks like sugar but with finer granules. As a low-calorie coffee sweetener, erythritol is a healthy alternative to sugar. As a natural sweetener, it doesn't contain empty calories and won't drastically raise diabetic patients' glucose levels (if at all).
A little bit of erythritol in coffee helps to dull the bitterness, giving it a mildly flavorful taste. Health-conscious coffee drinkers often mix it with stevia (another healthy sweetener on this list). Still, this is one sugar substitute you should use carefully. When consumed in large quantities, erythritol is known to cause gas and diarrhea.
Like erythritol above, xylitol is an alcohol-based sugar found in many plants and vegetables. This sweet-tasting sugar substitute has some surprising health benefits, the most prominent being its ability to fight tooth-decay-causing bacteria. Also, it has fewer calories than sugar and lacks fructose, making it an incredibly healthy coffee sweetener.
Xylitol tastes just like sugar, so you shouldn't notice a drastic change if you used to sweeten your coffee with store-bought table sugar. To give you an idea of how sweet it is, let us tell you that it's used to make products like candies, chewing gum, and toothpaste. Regardless, it’s probably the best artificial sweetener for coffee.
Once again, xylitol (like erythritol) can cause stomach issues when consumed in large quantities, so use it sparingly.
13. Monk Fruit Extract
Monk fruit extract comes from a fruit local to China, where it's been used in traditional Chinese medicines for centuries. This healthy sugar alternative is 250 times sweeter than sucrose yet contains significantly lower calories. Therefore, it’s an excellent healthy sweetener for coffee fresh off the pot.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has identified monk fruit extract as being GRAS (generally recognized as safe), meaning it’s safe to use it in coffee. However, you'd be wise to exercise restraint when adding this incredibly rich natural sweetener to your cup.
Dates are a sweet superfood with Iranian and Egyptian origins. These tropical fruits grow on date palm trees. Since they’re rich in vitamins, calcium, fiber, and iron, they’re believed to offer health benefits like lower cholesterol, stronger bones, and an improved digestive system.
These fruits have myriad uses. You can make pastes or syrups with them. And, when dried, dates make an excellent natural sweetener for coffee in granulated form. Their caramel flavor dampens down the bitterness of coffee, giving it a sweet taste.
What’s Your Best Sugar Substitute for Coffee?
If you’ve made it this far, you now know of 14 healthy sweeteners for coffee you can use to replace sugar. In truth, there’s no best healthy sweetener for coffee, as each category has its pros and cons.
For example, some are a thousand times sweeter than sugar, making them unsuitable alternatives for diabetics. Meanwhile, others aren’t natural alternatives, which makes it debatable whether they’re healthy.
When it’s all said and done, experimentation is the best way to find your best sugar substitute for coffee.