A cup of black coffee contains no fat and a negligible amount of calories, which can lead you to believe it's a nutritious beverage. If you drink it black, you're right -- coffee can be good for you because it's packed with antioxidants that can help protect your cells from damage. Your cup of coffee loses some of its nutritional value if you add half-and-half, which is a blend of cream and milk, or sugar. Comparing the two add-ins side-by-side can help you choose which to add to your coffee.
Fat and Calories
An 8-ounce cup of black coffee contains just 2 calories and no fat. When you add a tablespoon of half-and-half, the calorie content increases by 20 and the fat is upped to 1.7 grams, of which 1 gram is saturated. If you add a full ounce of half-and-half, you'll get 39 calories and 3.5 grams of fat, of which 2.1 grams are saturated. In comparison, a teaspoon of sugar adds 16 calories and no fat. The average packet of sugar contains 11 calories, and the average sugar cube has 9 calories.
Sugar doesn't contribute any vitamins and minerals to your cup of coffee. By contrast, a tablespoon of half-and-half contributes 16 milligrams of calcium and 20 milligrams of potassium. The same tablespoon of half-and-half also supplies trace amounts of riboflavin, niacin, vitamins A and D and a tiny amount of protein.
The primary drawback to adding half-and-half to your coffee is the amount of saturated fat it contains. You should limit your intake of saturated fat to 10 percent or less of your total calories for the day. If you follow a 2,000-calorie diet, that's about 20 grams. A tablespoon of half-and-half is 5 percent of that limit. If you add an ounce of half-and-half, that's 13 percent of your daily limit. Too much saturated fat raises your cholesterol, which contributes to heart disease and stroke. Sugar is better in terms of saturated fat, but too much sugar is also linked to a higher risk of heart disease as well as weight gain and tooth decay. Limit yourself to 6 teaspoons of sugar or less per day, and adding 1 teaspoon to your cup of coffee provides 17 percent of that limit.
If the creamy taste of half-and-half is what you're after, try fat-free half-and-half. It tastes slightly different on its own, but chances are that when it's mixed with your coffee, you won't even notice the difference. Skim milk is another healthier option, and it adds calcium and protein to your cup. If you want a sweet taste in your coffee, try sugar alternatives. They don't contain added sugar or calories, which makes them a better option.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Cream, Fluid, Half and Half
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Sugars, Granulated
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Coffee, Brewed From Grounds, Prepared With Tap Water
- MayoClinic.com: Added Sugar: Don't Get Sabotaged by Sweeteners
- MayoClinic.com: Coffee and Health: What Does the Research Say?
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fats and Cholesterol: Out With the Bad, In With the Good
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.