I have a confession to make. I don’t just like coffee….I have a deep, abiding passion for it. If you see me without a mug in my hand in the morning, I’m probably near death’s door. The first thing I do in the morning is stagger into the kitchen for java. My well-trained children rarely attempt conversation before my first cup. My name is Daisy, and I am a coffeeholic.
Coffee with cream and sugar… Iced coffee…Flavored lattes….Espresso… The list goes on and on.
It’s not just me – the nation is coffee-obsessed. Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and a host of other shops compete on every street corner, at the malls, and anyplace else they can plug in an espresso machine. There are entire aisles at the grocery store dedicated to nothing but coffee from the far corners of the earth and various flavored creamers to please the palate.
Like nearly everything else that is sold for profit, however, coffee has become tainted. Artificial flavors, toxic sweeteners, chemical creations, and pesticide soaked beans make a lot of the offerings out there downright toxic.
If your drive to work includes a stop at a fancy coffee shop (or any other kind of coffee shop, for that matter) you aren’t doing your wallet or your health any favors. At nearly $6 apiece and an appalling amount of caloric damage, here are the 10 most unhealthy drinks from Starbucks, the trendiest java joint around.
An Assault of Toxins and Other Unsavory Items
It’s not only the high calories that you have to worry about. Starbucks recently came under fire for the food coloring in the very popular Strawberry Frappucino. The frothy drink receives it’s lovely pink color from "natural coloring" aka "Natural Red #4". It’s very natural, all right. It comes from dried, ground-up bugs, pictured below. "Hi. I’d like a venti Strawberry Frappucino with whip and extra beetles, please."
Cochineal insects… the source for pink and red “natural color”.
The light versions of popular drinks are even worse – they might be lower in calories and fat, but it comes at a price for your health. They are a chemistry project in a cup, full of neuro-toxic artificial sweetener, as well as an abundance of artificial flavors to make up for the fat and sugar that have been removed.
It might seem better to make your fancy coffee at home. While it’s definitely better for your wallet, if you are using some kind of "Timbuctoo Delight" flavoring, you may be ingesting some very unpalatable ingredients – and the ones labeled “natural flavorings” sound even more disgusting than the chemical cocktail versions.
Particularly bile-inducing is the source of natural raspberry and vanilla flavorings, Castoreum. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well, castoreum, my coffee connoisseur, is made from a secretion from the anal glands of beavers. I kid you not. So if an ingredient label says “natural raspberry flavoring” or “natural vanilla flavoring” this may be what you’re consuming.
As far as potentially toxic chemicals are concerned, take a look at the ingredients list of Coffee-Mate Hazelnut Coffee Creamer:
Water, Sugar, Soybean(s) Oil Partially Hydrogenated and/or, Cottonseed Oil Partially Hydrogenated, Sodium Caseinate A Milk Derivative, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Polysorbate 60, Flavor(s) Natural & Artificial, Carrageenan, Beta Carotene color(s)
A 1 tablespoon serving contains 40 calories and 1.5 grams of fat. (And lets face it, who only has one tablespoon of creamer?)Let’s examine the toxins…er…ingredients.
Dipotassium Phosphate: The MSDS recommends protective gear when handling this substance. (Do not breathe dust. Avoid contact with eyes. Wear suitable protective clothing. ) The Material Safety Data Sheet warns that this substance is “hazardous in case of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion. Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of inhalation.”
Natural and Artificial Flavors: We know what that means. (Mmm…beaver anal exudite, anyone?)
Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate: According to the MSDS, you should call a physician if this is ingested (Hazardous in case of eye contact (irritant), of inhalation. Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of ingestion)…first aid instructions are included in the listing. Most sites say this is not “as bad as” many other food additives, however, I tend not to consume things that require first aid instructions.
Hydrogenated Oils: These manipulated oils are trans-fats, substances that the human body can’t break down. The hydrogenation process increases bad trans-fats and saturated fats and lowers the amount of good fats.
Polysorbate 60: Foodfacts.com tells us that “Polysorbates are made by combining ethylene oxide, which is a precursor to antifreeze, with a sugar alcohol derivative. Polysorbate 60 and 80 are found in cleaning products, motor oils, lubricants, shampoos, cosmetics, lotions, vaccines, etc.”
If you think that a powdered non-dairy creamer is better for you than the liquid concoction…well, you might want to reconsider that.
Powdered creamer is lower in calories but has a villain-studded ingredients list. This is the list for Borden Cremora Royale Original Coffee Creamer Powder:
Corn Syrup Solids, Vegetable(s) Oil Partially Hydrogenated (, Coconut Oil, Canola Oil and/or,Palm Kernel ), Sodium Caseinate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sugar, Monoglyceride, Flavor(s) Natural & Artificial, Silicon Dioxide, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Salt, Datem, Flavor(s) ArtificialRight off the bat, we see that this contains Corn Syrup solids. Any product containing corn should be strictly avoided, as more than 90% of the corn in North America is genetically modified. Corn sweetener products have a proven link to obesity.
Sodium Caseinate: Modified milk product with the lactose removed (this is how they can call this non-dairy). It is a source of free glutamic acid (MSG), a neurotoxin.
Artificial Flavors: According to Foodfacts.com, the FDA does not require that manufacturers disclose the chemicals and ingredients combined to create “artificial flavors” as they are “trade secrets.” The website gives an example: “ A typical artificial flavor contains over 30 chemicals. According to manufacturer safety data sheets those chemicals cause eye irritation, corneal damage, eye burns, skin irritation, severe / permanent damage to digestive tract, gastrointestinal irritation, gastrointestinal tract burns, CNS depression, neurological effects, liver abnormalities, cardiac abnormalities, or other harm.”
Not only are the ingredients above highly questionable, but when combined, non-dairy creamer is highly flammable….observe, the creamer cannon, made using only non-dairy creamer, compressed air, and a flare.
But…I really love coffee.
Some studies show measurable health benefits for coffee drinkers. Those who drink more than 4 cups per day have a decreased risk of oral cancer, prostate cancer, and basal cell carcinoma. Moderate coffee consumption can also reduce your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Coffee drinkers are also less susceptible to Alzheimers and dementia.
Some feel that coffee is not exactly health food, but it is incredibly high in antioxidants. Also, you can make far better choices than the usual offerings.
You should start with a good quality organic coffee bean. (Check out Valley of the Moon Coffee!) Green, or unroasted, coffee beans store the longest – if properly stashed away in a cool, dark place in mylar bags with a desiccant and an 02 absorber, it can last for ten years or more. Roasting coffee releases the oils, which means that the bean immediately begins to age.
Consuming conventionally grown coffee means that you are also consuming a significant amount of pesticides, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola of Mercola.com. Dr. Mercola is not a coffee fan but offers the following suggestions for choosing the best possible coffee:
If you simply MUST drink coffee here are a few tips to help reduce the chances of harmful effects:Be Your Own Barista
- Use organic coffee – Again, coffee is a heavily sprayed crop, so drinking organic coffee might reduce or eliminate the exposure to toxic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. The only drawback is that the countries where coffee is produced probably have less control and monitoring for compliance to organic practices. You will also be helping to protect the health of the people working in the coffee fields, as you will be helping to reduce their toxic exposure as well. If you want to go a step further, look for fair-trade certified coffee, which means the coffee farmers have been paid fairly and treated well.
- “Swiss Water Process” decaf – If you are going to drink decaffeinated coffee, be sure that it is one that uses a non-chemical based method of decaffeination. The “Swiss Water Process” is a patented method and is the best choice. Most of the major brands are chemically decaffeinated, even if it says “Naturally Decaffeinated” right on the container. If you are unsure of the methods, contact the manufacturer.
- Unbleached filters – If you use a “drip” coffee maker, be sure to use non-bleached filters. The bright white ones, which most people use, are chlorine bleached and some of this chlorine will be extracted from the filter during the brewing process.
And don’t despair because of the cast of bad characters in the flavored whiteners we discussed above. You can still have your flavored coffee and drink it too, while saving money over the chemical bombs discussed above. The key is to be your own Barista and concoct some yummy taste sensations from wholesome ingredients in your kitchen. Always start with a good organic coffee or espresso.
- Choose organic milk to avoid the addition of hormones, antibiotics and GMO-fed dairy.
- Other options include animal product alternatives like soy milk, rice milk, and almond milk. If you make the milk yourself you are sure to have a wholesome ingredients list.
- Look for a non-GMO, less processed sugar like organic Turbinado, Sucanat or Muscovado.
- Try stevia, a low calorie sweetener made from the leaves of the stevia plant. (Some people dislike the licorice-like flavor of stevia)
- Raw honey is always a delicious and healthy option to sweeten anything.
Try adding any of the following and you’ll be ready to open your own coffee bar. (Many of these combinations were created by my daughter, Rosie Luther). Stir them into a base of 1.5 cups of milk and 1.5 cups of cream. (I have only used cow’s milk products to make these but a friend tells me that the alternatives work well too.
If you don’t want to make a full batch of the creamer, stir just a small amount of the flavorings into an individual cup of coffee and add milk.
Mix the flavoring into the milk and bring to a simmer on the stove, whisking constantly until it begins to steam slightly. Remove from heat, allow to cool, then store in the refrigerator. Feel free to adjust the amounts for stronger or sweeter flavors.
- Mocha Java: 2 tbsp of cocoa powder, 4 tbsp of muscovado (or brown) sugar
- Mexican Mocha Java: 2 tbsp of cocoa powder, 4 tbsp of muscovado (or brown) sugar, 1 tsp of cinnamon
- Nutella aka Chocolate Hazelnut: (we make our own “nutella” from scratch with a food processor) 4 tbps of nutella – no other sweetener needed
- Gingerbread: 2 tsp molasses, 2 tbsp of muscavodo (or brown) sugar, 1/2 tsp each of ginger, clove, and cinnamon
- Almond Toffee: 4 tbsp of sugar of choice, 1 tsp of almond extract
- Vanilla Latte: 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract, 4 tbsp of turbinado (or white) sugar
- Great White North Maple Java: 6 tbsp of pure maple syrup
- Mocha Mint: 2 tbsp of cocoa powder, 1/2 tsp of peppermint extract, 4 tbsp of turbinado (or white) sugar
- Cinnamon Roll: 2 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp of vanilla extract, 4 tbsp of muscovado (or brown) sugar, and a dash of salt (yep, salt)
- Caramel “Mockiatto”: 6 tbsp of muscovado (or brown) sugar, a dash of salt, 1 tbps of cocoa, and 1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract
- Amaretto: 1 tbsp of almond extract, 4 tbsp of turbinado (or white) sugar
- Cherry Amaretto: 1 tbsp of almond extract, 4 tbsp of turbinado (or white) sugar, 1/2 tsp of cherry extract
- White chocolate mocha: 1 cup of white chocolate chips, 1 tsp of cocoa (melt the chips into the milk, whisking constantly)
- Mint white chocolate: 1 cup of white chocolate chips, 1 tsp of peppermint extract
- Black Forest: 2 tbsp of cocoa, 4 tbsp of muscovado (or brown) sugar, 1 tsp of cherry extract
- Chocolate coconut mocha: 2 tbsp of cocoa, 4 tbsp of turbinado (or white) sugar, 2 tsp of coconut extract (or replace half of the milk with coconut milk)
- Irish Cream: 2 tbsp cocoa, 1 tsp pure vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp almond extract, 2 tbsp of instant coffee, 4 tbsp of turbinado (or white) sugar
- Eggnog: 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract, 2 tsp of rum extract, 1 tsp of nutme
- Pumpkin Pie Latte: 3 tbsp of pumpkin puree, 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 4 tbsp of muscovado (or brown) sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Hazelnut: 1 tsp of hazelnut extract, 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract, 4 tbsp of turbinado (or white) sugar
- Frangelico Cream: 1 tbsp of cocoa, 1 tsp of hazelnut extract, 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract, and 4 tbsp of muscovado (or brown) sugar
- Chai Latte: Simmer 3 chai teabags in creamer mixture with 4 tbsp of muscovado (or brown) sugar
- Chocolate Raspberry: 4 tbsp of seedless raspberry jelly, 2 tbsp of cocoa
- Almond Joy: 2 tbsp of cocoa, 4 tbsp of turbinado (or white) sugar, 1 tsp of almond extract, and 2 tsp of coconut extract (or replace half of the milk with coconut milk)
- Caramel: 6 tbsp of muscovado (or brown) sugar, a dash of salt
Make your own syrups:
Syrups, like the kind at the fancy coffee places can be easily homemade. You need to make a syrup base with 1/2 cup of turbinado (or white) sugar and 1 cup of water, then add 1-2 tsp of any kind of extract you want – you are only limited by the extracts available to you: vanilla, rum, coconut, cherry, almond, etc. Look for pure extracts without artificial ingredients.
Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor. Her website, The Organic Prepper, where this article first appeared, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org