We often think of health experts as being superhuman with chiseled abs or crazy scientific dietary knowledge. (Conjugated linoleic acid? Is that Dothraki?) But they start their day the same way most of us do: with a cup of coffee.
Seeing the way someone prepares their morning mug becomes shorthand for their nutritional philosophy. Is dairy a do or a don't? What about sweeteners? And butter? Coconut oil? Do these belong in coffee—or coffee cake? Health experts are human—they put on their pants one leg at a time and grind their coffee beans in a grinder (not pulverized by a series of kettlebell swings)—but they’ve given a lot of thought to what goes into their bodies, coffee included, and used their vast knowledge to create the optimal cup. That’s why we asked 19 experts to share their ideal way to kick-start the day. Read on for their (often surprising) java testimonials and details on what motivates them to add (or not) certain ingredients.
1. Brian St. Pierre, Sports Nutritionist at Precision Nutrition
His Coffee Rx: Black
Sixty-five percent of Americans put cream and sugar in their coffee, but I tend to take mine black because I prefer to get my calories from food. (The research on the benefits of coffee is mostly on [black, conventional drip-brewer style], since it’s the most common.)
It’s important to keep the big picture in mind. If you’re only consuming one coffee per day, a little cream and sugar is unlikely to be a problem. But since the average American consumes three cups per day, that can start adding up quickly. We’re all allowed some discretionary calories, just don't use them all up in your three daily cups. A few teaspoons of sugar and a few tablespoons of your creamer of choice are probably fine—beyond that, you start asking for trouble.
2. Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU, Author of Food Politics
I’m not a breakfast eater, at least not first thing, but I do like my coffee. I particularly like Gourmet Garage’s SoHo blend. I buy beans, grind them as needed, throw a tablespoon or two into a filter, pour hot water into the filter right over the cup, add skim milk and am good to go. It’s better for me because I don’t like coffee too strong or over-roasted. My nutritional philosophy is everything in moderation, but never hazelnut or any other kind of flavored coffee. They don’t work for me.
3. Brian Gallagher, Co-founder of Throwback Fitness
His Coffee Rx: Blended with butter or coconut oil and a few dashes of cinnamon
I usually prepare coffee myself in the mornings using a French press. I pour the coffee right from the French press into my blender, adding either butter or coconut oil and a few dashes of cinnamon. I blend for 30 seconds since coconut oil or butter don't mix too well when stirred with a spoon (no matter how fast I stir!), and the blender adds a nice froth to it.
I typically don’t eat my first meal until around noon, so I find that the coconut oil or butter keeps me full until then. I've also come to love the taste of butter in coffee. It takes a little of the bitterness out. [And I] like the strange looks I get when a server asks me if I want milk and sugar and I instead ask for two butters!
4. Joy Bauer, Nutrition and Health Expert for NBC's Today Show
I’ve been drinking my coffee black ever since, well, since I started drinking coffee. I typically pop a pod into my Keurig machine, pour a cup that’s already been brewed at the Today show, or grab something to go from the corner deli. I love the smell, the flavor, the experience. And the jolt of caffeine helps kick-start my day.
[I’m aware of the] coffee pros and cons. A typical cup of coffee tends to be loaded with fattening fixings like whole milk, cream, or half and half, plus sugar (and more sugar!). Or some people go heavy on artificial sweeteners and syrups. My straight-up version comes packed with antioxidants and caffeine without unnecessary calories or chemicals. Consider this: one black cup of coffee equals 5 calories. One cup with half-and-half and sugar equals about 120 calories. Make the swap every day and you could lose up to 12 pounds by the end of the year.
5. Kira Stokes, Fitness Expert, Creator of the Stoked Method and Stoked Series Workouts
Her Coffee Rx: Dark roast with coconut milk creamer and liquid stevia
I race to my Nespresso Vertuoline machine in the early morning… I use the Stormio dark roast pods as I love a good strong cup to start my day. My creamer of choice is So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer because it has a rich flavor without lactose or hydrogenated oils. I add a touch of liquid stevia, but the coconut milk creamer is a bit sweet so only a dab is necessary. Stevia is a naturally occurring substance from a plant, so it's a better choice than other "zero calorie" sweeteners.
6. Rich Roll, Plant-Powered Ultra Athlete, Author of Finding Ultra
The first thing I do [in the morning] is drink a tall glass of water with some fresh lemon or a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, which has an alkalizing effect on my system.
My next step is to prepare a Pu-erh tea. It’s a post-fermented tea product produced in the Yunnan province of China and carefully aged. The harvesting, creation, and ceremony of Pu-erh is an art steeped in preserved tradition dating back millennia. But what makes it unique is the process by which the leaves are fermented by microbes after drying and then aged. It’s believed that the microbial activity in the tea provides probiotic health benefits, such as reducing arterial plaque and LDL cholesterol levels, as well as aiding in weight loss by reducing blood sugar levels and improving the body’s ability to metabolize fat. Unlike coffee and other teas, Pu-erh [gives me] a long-lasting, even-keeled energy.
The tea accompanies my 20-minute morning meditation. After that, I prepare a vegetable-based green smoothie in my Vitamix. Every day is different, but this blend generally comprises a mix of dark leafy greens, beet, berries, hemp seeds, spirulina, chia seeds, and macca root.
7. Nia Shanks, Superstar Trainer, Leader of Lift Like a Girl
Her Coffee Rx: Dark roast with raw sugar and either heavy whipping cream or plain cocoa powder
Coffee always starts my day. I enjoy sipping it while I settle in to the morning and start writing. I drink dark roasts exclusively. The darker the better. I use my standard coffee maker during the week, but on the weekends, my beloved spouse makes phenomenal French press with freshly roasted whole beans we grind just before use.
I rotate between two types of additions: either plain, raw sugar and heavy whipping cream or raw sugar and plain cocoa powder. (This makes an incredible mocha and works beautifully with a dark espresso roast.)
I'm not a fan of flavored coffee creams, simply because many have a ton of other ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and even trans fat. I prefer to keep my coffee additions as natural as possible without sacrificing taste and satisfaction.
8. Jennipher Walters, Founder of Fit Bottomed Girls, Co-Author of The Fit Bottomed Girl's Anti-Diet
My normal morning routine involves a big cup of black coffee that's been blended with a tablespoon of coconut oil and a tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter). This high-fat coffee may seem odd, but it's so rich, creamy, and filling. Simply delicious! The trick is that you have to blend it in a high-powered blender. Then it gets all frothy and delicious—almost like a (non-sweet) latté!
I'm a big fan of eating healthy fat at every meal. It's good for focus, brain function, energy, and it just makes me feel good and full. We've been trained over the years to fear the fat, but I find that when I eat more fat, I have fewer cravings, more energy, and my workouts are better.
9. Heather Crosby, Founder of YumUniverse, Cheerleader for Team Plant-Power
Her Coffee Sub: Chicory root tea latté
My favorite morning bevvies are either a plant-based, gluten-free protein smoothie with fresh berries or my favorite green smoothie. These drinks give me the natural fuel I need for sustained energy all day long—stimulant free!
[But] one of my favorite alternatives to coffee is a maca and chicory root tea latté. Maca is known to assist in hormone regulation, while chicory root has a long-standing reputation as a liver detoxifier and digestion booster. Both have a rich, dark flavor that comforts and satisfies like coffee without the acidic qualities—it’s a popular coffee substitute in New Orleans and Europe.
10. Mark Sisson, Author of The Primal Blueprint, Founder of Mark's Daily Apple
My staple morning coffee is simple: dark roast French press coffee, heavy whipping cream (pastured, of course), and one teaspoon of sugar (just to cut the bitterness). That’s my go-to cup, but I also like to experiment. My latest creation is the Primal Egg Coffee, which involves a couple of raw egg yolks or whole raw eggs (from pastured hens) added to freshly brewed coffee, along with a little honey, salt, and sometimes some cinnamon, cocoa, turmeric, and/or cayenne. It all goes into the blender. The yolks allow a thorough emulsion—so it’s smooth and rich—and the coffee’s temperature denatures and increases the digestibility of the egg white proteins without cooking the yolk.
Coffee is famous for increasing metabolism and boosting energy levels, but that increased energy isn’t conjured out of thin air. It’s created by the oxidation of stored body fat. When you drink coffee, you get a little jolt of adrenaline, which increases lipolysis (the release of stored body fat into circulation for oxidation/burning), and a boost in heat production (from the energy being expended).
Unfortunately the typical cup of coffee—full of sugar and low-fat or skim milk—doesn’t provide these benefits. This is for two main reasons. First, sugar intake increases insulin, which suppresses lipolysis and fat-burning. Second, the caffeine in coffee briefly increases glucose intolerance, especially when taken with carbohydrates, which means the body needs more insulin to handle the same amount of sugar it normally would. So ironically enough, drinking sugary coffee actually inhibits the release of body fat for energy—the exact opposite of what a good cup of coffee should do.
11. Matt Frazier, Renowned Plant-Powered Athlete, Founded of No Meat Athlete
His Coffee Rx: Low-temp roasted coffee, black
I've really fallen in love with what's called "third wave" coffee, where the beans are roasted at a lower temperature than, say, Starbucks beans. The result is an almost complete lack of smoky character, so you can actually taste all the incredible fruity and citrus flavors of different coffees. Almost nobody who drinks this type of coffee adds any sweeteners or creamers, so aside from the caffeine, this coffee is mostly guilt-free!
I grind it by hand with a Hario mill, then brew with a simple pour-over method. I’m energized, creative, and perfectly satisfied with just 12 savored ounces.
12. Tara Stiles, Founder of Strala Yoga in New York City
My coffee at home is from Kitsuné in Paris, and I serve it with cashew milk. On the go, I’ll go to La Calombe on Lafayette and Prince Streets or Gasoline Alley on Lafayette and Houston Streets. I order a regular coffee, black. I’d never add any syrups or sugars.
13. David Katz , Director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, Creator of the NuVal Nutritional Grading System
His Coffee Rx: French roast with nonfat, organic powdered milk
I like coffee first thing in the morning to accelerate that transition from the residual frowstiness that follows sleep to my busy day. [I drink] French roast coffee with nonfat, organic powdered milk. The powdered milk avoids adding water so the coffee isn’t diluted or cooled. Powdered milk also adds protein, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A for very few calories.
If you acclimate to the taste of coffee as is, you don’t miss sweeteners at all. These can take a healthy, stimulating, natural drink rich in antioxidants and turn it into another vehicle for sugar, calories, or chemicals your body doesn’t need. That said, when in France, I do have a café au lait at times, and those are sweetened. I think of those as a treat, not my daily drink. You gotta live a little too!
14. Adam Bornstein, Founder of Born Fitness, NY Times Bestselling Author
I might be the only person in the world that doesn't drink coffee for the caffeine. I wake up at 4:30 a.m. each day ready to take on the world. I just like drinking something hot, and I believe in the health benefits of coffee beans. As someone that practices intermittent fasting, the best benefit is that coffee completely blunts my appetite. So that is a nice bonus.
I only take my coffee two ways: black (90 percent of the time) or with some cinnamon for a little extra flavor. If I'm making my coffee at home, everything starts with the beans. I'm an organic roast kind of guy, and I tend to prefer dark to medium roasts. I grind the beans fresh every morning, and then preferably use a French press. No sweeteners or creamer.
I won't make any crazy claims about the magic of coffee. I wrote about why I drink coffee now, after 30 years of avoiding the stuff. That said, if my cup is "better" it's only because I don't add any extra crap to make it unhealthy. [I’d never add] syrups. I don't get that idea. Syrup belongs on ice cream, pancakes, or waffles. Not in coffee.
15. Holly Rilinger, New York City Fitness Phenom, Nike Master Trainer
Her Coffee Rx: Almond milk cappuccinos
Almond milk cappuccinos are the way I start my days! I use my Nespresso Espresso machine and foam my own organic almond milk. I like cappuccinos over lattés because there is less milk.
There are a few almond milks out there that taste great in an iced coffee situation, but others that are thin and I find disgusting. My favorite is Califia Farms Almond Milk. (It’s certified non-GMO and organic)
[When I drank milk cappuccinos] I would always start my day with a heavy FULL feeling in my stomach. [But] I couldn't fathom giving up that little slice of heaven, so I just dealt with the discomfort. That is until I gave almond milk a try. I didn't love it right away, [but] I did love is that I no longer had stomach pain. I now LOVE the taste of almond milk in my coffee and really can't stand that filmy taste of dairy in my mouth. And my grandparents were dairy farmers in Kansas! I grew up around milk my whole life!
16. Dave Asprey, Creator of Bulletproof Coffee, Author of The Bulletproof Diet
I drink Bulletproof Coffee blended with the authentic Bulletproof ingredients. I use Bulletproof Process coffee beans that are lab tested to minimize mold toxin levels that limit human performance. I brew it using a metal (not paper) filter to allow coffee oils into the final brew. I blend it (in a blender) with unsalted, grass-fed butter and Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil, a flavorless extract of coconut oil that is 18 times stronger than plain coconut oil.
Blending in butter (or better yet, ghee) is important because it creates a small droplet of fat suspended in water called a micelle, which means the fat doesn’t separate from the coffee.
Grass-fed butter is superior to grain-fed because it tastes better and provides substantially more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), vitamins A, D, and E; and, very importantly, K2. It also doesn’t contain nearly as many omega six inflammatory polyunsaturated oils compared to industrial butter.
17. Dr. Frank Lipman, Trailblazer of Integrative Medicine, Founder of Eleven-Eleven Wellness Center
His Coffee Rx: Organic coffee with MCT Oil and grass-fed butter
[In the morning,] you can't beat the energy and nutrition of a healthy protein shake for breakfast. I make mine with my Be Well Chocolate Whey Protein, MCT Oil, and Greens Powder, blended with chia seeds, kale, blueberries, avocado, and almond milk. [It leaves me] energized and satisfied—not jittery or wired as coffee often makes me feel.
[I do have coffee] once or occasionally twice a week. [I make] bulletproof coffee. It’s a good way to supercharge your morning cup of coffee to support cognitive function and fat-burning.
I blend organic coffee with one tablespoon MCT Oil (or regular coconut oil) and one tablespoon of grass-fed butter.
Butter that’s from grass-fed or pasture raised cows, not regular butter, is an important ingredient in bulletproof coffee because it adds health-supporting vitamins and minerals including: CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, which helps reduce belly fat, protects against cancer, and encourages muscle growth; vitamin A to help maintain thyroid, adrenal, and cardiovascular health; vitamin K2 to support bone density and possibly reverse arterial calcification; and vitamin A, D, and E, all key antioxidants that are essential to good health.
18. Lacey Stone, Bi-Coastal Celebrity Trainer, Motivational Speaker, Fitness Rockstar
I take a leisurely stroll to Starbucks every morning. I get an iced red eye, that's a regular iced coffee with one shot of espresso. I add a little agave nectar and I'm good to go. I have that “A-HA” moment where I'm like, "Let's go day, I'm ready!" The espresso is my rocket fuel. I believe that caffeine is good, if it's used properly. It increases your basal metabolic rate and it increases your senses, which leads to improved performance in your workouts. (Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the rate at which you burn fat.) I also use agave nectar rather than unnatural sweeteners. Putting all that processed stuff into your body is very hard for [your system] to process.
19. Suzanne Hall, Editorial Director at The Chalkboard Mag
Her Coffee Rx: French press with a little grass-fed butter at home and a half-decaf americano with stevia, cinnamon, and almond milk on the go
I'm always double-fisted: coffee in one hand, green juice in the other. At home, I French press a mix of decaf, shade-grown beans and Ethiopian beans from Caffe Luxxe in Brentwood. If I have a long day in front of me, I'll make the coffee "bulletproof" style and add a little raw, grass-fed butter. The butter and coffee together are healthy for your hormones and for brain health—and taste incredible!
Out and about, I order americanos from any number of LA's great coffee shops, half-decaf (It's an effort!) with stevia (which I keep on me), cinnamon, and Pressed Juicery almond milk. Stevia is the perfect sweetener: nothing artificial, I love the taste, plus it slightly alkalizes your coffee. Cinnamon helps to regulate blood sugar from the caffeine spike and is surprisingly nutritious. Lastly, Pressed Juicery makes some of the best almond milk around with just a hint of vanilla.
Drinking coffee bulletproof style is a remarkably different feeling. Butter helps the body to metabolize coffee without jitters, but gives sustained energy. Skipping the sugar and reducing caffeine intake in my americanos definitely keeps my blood sugar (read: mood!) more stable.
Greatist's expert roundups aim to present a variety of views on a popular topic. The thoughts expressed here are the individual expert's and don’t necessarily reflect Greatist’s outlook.