This Is the One Ingredient You Should Absolutely Add to Your Coffee, According to a Cardiologist

Coffee with cinnamon for heart health

Two-thirds of Americans start their day with a cup of coffee. Whether you prefer your cup black, with a splash of milk, sweetened with Splenda or on ice, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy your morning brew. But have you ever stopped to think about how your coffee habit is impacting your heart?

Considering that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., it’s certainly something to consider—especially since morning habits help set the tone for the rest of the day. Here, doctors share what you need to know about coffee and heart health, including the one ingredient that can make your cup of joe better for your heart.

Related: 25 Foods That Are Good for Your Heart, From Fruits and Veggies to Heart-Healthy Nuts and Seeds

Is Coffee Good for Your Heart?

Before getting into what to add (and avoid adding) to your cup of coffee, let’s start with the basics: How does coffee itself impact the heart? Dr. Samuel Mathis, MD, an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch, says that there is scientific evidence showing that drinking coffee is a heart-healthy habit.

“Some studies have found that coffee drinkers have fewer cardiovascular events compared to non-coffee drinkers. Regular coffee consumption lowers your risk of hypertension, heart failure and abnormal heart rhythm,” he says, adding that it does this by affecting sodium reabsorption in the kidneys, inhibiting inflammatory responses and affecting how our liver metabolizes certain substances.

Dr. Laxmi Mehta, MD, FACC, FAHA, FNLA, a cardiologist, Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and volunteer expert with the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative, adds to this, saying that drinking coffee regularly is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and can boost metabolism. “Coffee is also an excellent source of antioxidants, which may help protect cells from damage,” she explains.

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Of course, Dr. Mathis says that it’s important not to drink too much coffee; overdoing it can backfire and negatively impact health. The Food and Drug Administration recommends drinking no more than four or five cups of coffee a day—and less if you are overly sensitive to caffeine.

How To Make Your Coffee Even Better for Heart

Want to make your coffee even more of a heart-healthy beverage? Both doctors recommend adding cinnamon to it. “Some studies indicate [that cinnamon] can lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes and may also reduce high cholesterol and triglyceride levels,” Dr. Mehta says of why cinnamon is such a great coffee additive.

Dr. Mathis agrees, saying, “Cinnamon boosts our immune system, lowers cancer risk and adds a protective effect to our heart and brain.”

Adding cinnamon to your coffee is also a sugar-free way to sweeten it, which is particularly beneficial since both doctors say that sugar as well as sugar substitutes like Splenda can negatively impact heart health. “Sugar and artificial sweeteners are some of the unhealthiest things to add to coffee. Many artificial sweeteners contain substances that are not healthy for our bodies and therefore not heart-healthy. These sweeteners create inflammation in the body,” Dr. Mathis explains. He adds that other unhealthy coffee additives include sweetened creamers, butter and oils, all of which promote weight gain and inflammation.

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Not into cinnamon? Dr. Mathis says that unsweetened cacao is another healthy ingredient to add to coffee because it’s linked to supporting blood pressure and cholesterol. Cacao has several important nutrients including zinc, iron and magnesium.

As you can see, not only is drinking coffee good for your heart, you can add more flavor and extra heart-healthy benefits to it at the same time. The key is sticking with antioxidant-rich herbs (like cinnamon or cocoa) and avoiding additives with sugar or artificial ingredients. With this in mind, you can rest assured that with every delicious sip you take, you’re benefiting your body.

Next up, find out how coffee impacts longevity, according to scientific research.