Half-and-half being poured in coffee
For many people, savoring their morning cup of coffee is the most enjoyable ritual of their day. The aroma of the fresh brew wafting through the kitchen. That first sip that warms the body and wakes up the brain. Those first few moments to yourself before the day’s demands spur you into action…It’s a simple pleasure, but a meaningful one. It’s also why people have such strong opinions about how they like their coffee.
One of the most popular coffee add-ins is half-and-half, a mixture of half cream and half whole milk. It’s used to sweeten coffee while also making the texture richer and more velvety. If you add half-and-half to your coffee every day, it’s worth it to find out how it’s impacting your body. After all, it’s the habits we do regularly that impact health the most.
Is Half-and-Half Healthy?
It’s easy to see why the answer to this question is a confusing one. After all, half-and-half is made of two different types of dairy and alternative milks are all the rage these days. Registered dietitian Kristen Jackson, RD, says that when considering how healthy or not any food or drink is, it’s important to take into account one’s individual health and what else they are consuming—and half-and-half is no exception.
Related: This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Drink More Than One Cup of Coffee Every Day
For example, Jackson points out that the cream in half-and-half is high in saturated fat, which someone who has high cholesterol or blood pressure should avoid because saturated fat negatively impacts heart health. But for someone who is not at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, this small amount of saturated fat in their coffee will have less of an impact.
Jackson also points out that half-and-half does have protein and calcium, two nutrients that are important for everyone. But it also contains sugar, which negatively impacts health. As you can see, whether or not half-and-half is healthy or not isn’t so cut and dry; it contains both nutrients as well as some not-so-nutrient-rich ingredients.
Related: A New Study Found That Drinking Coffee Is Linked to Longevity—Here's What to Keep In Mind Before You Pour Your Next Cup
How Having Half-and-Half In Your Coffee Impacts Health—Both Short- and Long-Term
Jackson says that it’s important to keep in mind that most people aren’t consuming very much half-and-half; it’s a small part of someone’s overall diet. This means that it won’t have as much of an effect on health as foods and drinks that are consumed in greater amounts (including the coffee you’re putting it in and all the foods you eat throughout the day). That said, there are some ways that putting half-and-half in your coffee can impact both short- and long-term health.
In the short-term, registered dietitian Jessica Bippen, RD, says that adding half-and-half to coffee can make someone feel less jittery than if they have their coffee black—especially if they’re drinking it on an empty stomach. “I encourage people to have coffee after food, but if that isn't possible, having some fat in the coffee gives you some sustenance while keeping blood sugar stable,” she says. “Just be mindful about anything else you're adding to your coffee or eating alongside it. Forgoing the sugar and opting for something high in protein is best.”
Bippen says that some types of half-and-half are made with carrageenan, which is used to thicken it. She says that some people are sensitive to carrageenan, so their half-and-half could cause them to feel bloated or experience other forms of digestive distress. Bippen adds that other people may be sensitive to the lactose in half-and-half, which can also cause bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. So if your stomach hurts after having your morning cup of coffee, your half-and-half could be to blame!
In terms of how having half-and-half in your coffee can impact long-term health, both dietitians say that the impact is minimal (again, it’s such a small amount) and also depends on one’s overall diet. However, both point out that the saturated fat and sugar in half-and-half can be detrimental to health, particularly heart health. Added sugars and saturated fat have both been linked to increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease.
If you are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease because you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or due to a family history of it, Jackson and Bippen say it can be beneficial to consider replacing half-and-half with something lower in sugar and saturated fat, such as just regular milk. Bippen says that almond milk and cashew milk can also provide creaminess to coffee—just be sure to read the ingredients list to make sure there isn’t any added sugar or you’re defeating the point of using a substitution.
For the most part, a splash of half-and-half in your coffee every day isn’t going to impact your health too much. But if you are at increased risk for cardiovascular health, it’s worth it to consider switching to a substitute lower in sugar and saturated fat. That way, you can really enjoy every drop of your cup of coffee, knowing it’s supporting your health for years to come.