The summertime means lots of swimming, scheduling those OOO replies, and swapping out hot lattes for iced coffee drinks.
After all, when the sun’s beating down hard, it’s tempting to pull out your phone, figure out where the nearest Starbucks is, and pop in for your usual coffee-sugar fix.
But, if we’re being completely transparent here, some (ok, probably most) of these iced drinks are more sugar than coffee and may not be too healthy for you.
And, yes, we do mean those blended coffee chain drinks. Of course, Americanos and black coffee are typically just plain coffee. Check out our other articles to learn about how coffee affects your health and blood glucose levels and more about coffee and heart health.
This article will uncover what we mean by healthy coffee drinks, hacks to make your usual coffee order healthier, and how to support healthy glucose responses. Plus, you’ll learn more about our dietitians’ go-to coffee orders!
What we Mean When we Say Healthy Iced Coffee Drinks
What do you think of when you think of iced coffee drinks? For many, it's hazelnut, macchiato (or a hazelnut-macchiato combination), frappuccino, and mocha.
But, as we already mentioned, they’re not the healthiest options.
And you may be questioning: do healthy iced coffee drinks exist? They may not all be healthy, but coffee drinks that are lower in sugar and use high-quality coffee can be beneficial.
High-quality coffee contains certain bioactive compounds (like polyphenols), particularly chlorogenic acids (CGA). CGAs are antioxidant-rich and have potent anti-inflammatory benefits that may improve glucose metabolism.
Regular consumption of coffee can have long-term glucose benefits for most people.
Additionally, focusing on higher-quality coffee, such as organic or coffee low in toxins, can provide further health benefits by reducing toxin exposure. Research shows that organic coffee is higher in these glucose metabolism-boosting benefits.
Another thing to note is that different coffees will affect blood sugar differently. While it’s not surprising that iced coffee drinks high in added, refined sugar can spike blood glucose, espresso (along with other “plain” coffees mentioned) can be healthier.
Healthier iced drinks will use higher quality coffee; opt for sugar (low amounts of it wherever possible) rather than high fructose corn syrup, limit additives, and lower sugar.
Check out the menu at your local Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts to see what options fit some of the criteria below. You can also search for local coffee shops that are more health-focused and try their iced coffee drinks.
Lastly, adding in sources of healthy fats with coconut milk or high-quality whole milk may be beneficial for health. Coffee can lead to glucose imbalances in blood sugar.
One of our members, Charlotte LaGuardia, shared, “The most surprising takeaway was my morning coffee habit. I learned that black coffee on an empty stomach was tanking my blood sugar first thing, causing more cravings throughout the day.
Through experimentation, I learned that having breakfast first or adding fatty creamer like coconut milk or half and half kept my levels in range.”
It’s all about tuning into your body’s needs here!
Dietitian-Approved Coffee Drinks
Our dietitians, just like you, also love their iced coffee! Here are their go-to healthy coffee orders that you can “swipe and steal.”
Jillian Caesrine, RD, shares,” during the summer, I like to get espresso over ice! To control the quantity of milk, I add it myself. Maybe just a splash for flavor!”
Amanda Donahue, MS, RD, CD has a few iced coffee hacks too. She says, ”I like to use whole milk or half-n-half to have some added fat in my drink (can slow glucose responses some) and use stevia and/or sugar-free syrups to mitigate glucose responses vs. the sugary ones when I want a sweet coffee drink! My fave flavors: Irish cream or toffee!”
Stephanie Etherington, RDN, CD, CDCES, loves a good cold brew, “Cold Brew FTW [for the win]. Because of the cold brewing process, there is far less acidity, so the coffee is sweet in and of itself! No sugar or milk is needed IMHO [in my humble opinion]. Otherwise, I love a Breve Americano (which is an americano with half-and-half) with cinnamon! You can also snag single-serving collagen packs to add on the go!”
Marie Funk, MS, RD, LDN, has her go-to order set every time: “Americano...black...every time.”
Both Stephanie and Marie suggest avoiding oat milk, especially in coffee drinks (we cover why later on); their exact words are, “Team NO oat milk!”
Andrew Sisisky, CNS, LDN, adds to that by suggesting almond milk as an alternative. He says, ”I think the best non-dairy milk at Starbucks is the almond milk, and it has the least amount of sugar and the least amount of added ingredients. A short almond milk latte with double-shot espresso is a solid choice if you want a latte drink.”
Cold Brew Coffee Options we Love
Cold brew is becoming increasingly popular (and our dietitians love it!). Once seen as a niche drink for the coffee-obsessed, cold brew is now more mainstream and a regular item at many coffee places (from independent local cafes to coffee chains).
Try cold brew coffee as an alternative to the typical ice-blended drinks.
Cold-brewed coffee often has a fuller flavor and is less traditionally 'bitter' than regular brewed coffee. What this means is that it has less added sugar. This type of coffee may also be less acidic than traditional hot coffee. So for those who react to coffee with abdominal pain or have sensitive stomachs, this option may be easier to tolerate.
Again, avoid high sugar, flavoring, additives, milk, and syrup additions when trying a cold brew to get a better glucose response.
Here are some healthier cold brew options you can pick up:
- Chameleon Cold-Brew (they have latte options too)
- Slingshot Coffee Co. Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate
- Minor Figures Nitro Cold Brew
Try places with customizable options when looking for cold brew options at a coffee shop. For example, Starbucks offers cold brew that you can sugar-free but also gives the option to sweeten with honey or sugar.
Ask the coffee you usually go to what cold brew options they have and customize it to fit your body’s needs and health goals.
Maintaining Optimal Blood Glucose Levels with Store-Bought Coffee Drinks
Here are some things to look out for when choosing a healthier option.
Sweeteners and Whipped Cream
- If you’re adding sweeteners, syrups, whipped cream, and creamer (all things included in your typical iced coffee drink), the iced coffee drinkit may not be too glucose-friendly and, in most cases, may often be will be nutrient-poor. It’ll most likely spike your blood sugar as it’s made of refined sugar with little protein and fats to help balance glucose levels.
- These drinks are most likely nutrient-poor, so that they won‘t benefit health all that much. However, you can keep yourself somewhat healthy by following these tips and picking some dietitian-approved options later in the article.
- To make the option healthier, you can opt for no whipped cream for starters.
- You can also ask for half sweet (or half the sweetener they would typically use). Remember that many coffee chains like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts use high fructose corn syrup, increasing insulin resistance. It also leads to poor glucose responses with a high glycemic index of 73. If you usually consume high sugar, you may want to gradually reduce your sugar intake over time to allow your taste buds to get used to the change
- An alternative? Try a coffee spot that uses cane sugar (or other sugar options). The glycemic index of this sugar is still high at around 63, so you can ask for half the added sugar to help with a better glucose response. Whenever possible, use as little sugar as possible and consider flavoring with sugar-free spices (think cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa, etc.).
- When it comes to trying sugar alternatives like Stevia, as our dietitian Amanda shared, it may help to curb a glucose spike. Unsweetened iced coffee, with just coffee and ice cubes, may be a better option for those who want to reduce sugar consumption. Drinking iced coffee right after a meal or with a balanced snack (protein, fats, and some complex carbs) can help improve glycemic responses.
- You can also ask for an iced latte with your milk of choice. Whole milk contains some fat along with protein, which, again, can help curb glucose spikes.
- What about switching options from whole milk to plant-based sources like almond, coconut, oat, or cashew milk? Not all these options are healthy but can be helpful if your body doesn‘t tolerate dairy well.
- Most oat milk is mainly made up of blended water and canola oil, which is inflammation-promoting processed oil. And as our dietitians already expressed, this milk is not healthy. The processing process of oat milk can make it higher in liquid carbohydrates, which are more likely to cause a rapid spike in glucose? If choosing oat milk, opt for an unsweetened version. When in doubt, other plant-based milks can be better options.
- Almond milk, coconut milk, and cashew milk usually don’t have added oils. But they may have added gums (which can cause abdominal discomfort) and other additives, so read the nutritional facts labels.
- Another thing to remember is that these alternative plant-based milk may not have significant protein content. As our dietitian, Carlee Hayes recommended, you can add unflavored collagen for a protein boost.
- High-quality coconut and cashew milk may have fat content that can help with stable blood glucose levels (choose unsweetened wherever possible).
Low-calorie drinks can be helpful if you’re trying to lose weight. However, be aware of what’s in them, as some can still be nutrient-poor or contain artificial sweeteners.
They can still be helpful to minimize a spike if you’re focusing on getting coffee shop options, as they may be lower in sugar. And may be easier to fit into your calorie and macro goals.
Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense
Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.
With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.
When you join the Nutrisense CGM program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.
Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.
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Carlee's training at Western Illinois University and an internship at the Memphis VA Hospital lead her to a career in outpatient counseling and bariatric nutrition therapy. In these positions, Carlee realized many of the disease states (upwards of 80%!) her patients experienced were actually preventable. She knew she had to dig deeper into preventative health, which led her to NutriSense and CGMs.