How do you take your coffee? Whether it's with a scoop of sugar, a dash of milk, or black, coffee preferences are a personal choice. You may worry that a little extra sugar or cream can interfere with the health benefits of your caffeinated drink. A growing body of research has dispelled the myth that coffee might not be healthy, noting its anti-inflammatory benefits, high antioxidant contents and correlation with lower levels of several fatal diseases, like heart disease and cancer.

Until recently, this body of research warned that adding sugar to coffee undid all this good. Now, in a new study just published the Annals of Internal Medicine, we learn that coffee helps lower the risk of death – and that a teaspoon of sugar appears to be beneficial. The study looked at 171,616 people free of cardiovascular disease or cancer via data stored in the U.K. Biobank between 2009 and 2018 and found that coffee added to longevity, and sugar can help.

Study on Coffee and Longevity

The study participants consisted of 76 percent coffee drinkers, noting that 55.4 percent drank unsweetened coffee; 14.3 percent added sugar to their beverages; and 6.1 percent used artificial sweeteners The researcher conducted a follow-up after 7 years, finding that 3,177 deaths occurred – noting that 1,725 were attributed to cancer and 628 were attributed to cardiovascular deaths.

The paper claimed that participants who drank 1.5 to 3.5 cups of coffee sweetened with sugar per day were 29 to 31 percent less likely to die than those who didn't drink coffee. Researchers compared this with people who drink any amount of unsweetened coffee, which were found to be 16 to 21 percent less likely to experience premature death compared to non-coffee drinkers. The health benefits of sweetened coffee begin to taper off as participants drank more cups with 4.5 cups becoming associated with a slight increase in the risk of death.

"Drinking coffee was associated with a lower risk of dying whether or not you added sugar," Deputy Editor of Annals of Internal Medicine Christina Wee, MD, MPH, said in an accompanying editorial. "The authors defined moderate levels of coffee drinking as drinking one and a half to three and a half cups of coffee. They found that drinking moderate levels of coffee regularly was associated with a lower risk of dying from any cause, dying from cancer, and dying from heart disease."

Want to Live Longer? Keep Adding This to Your Morning Coffee
Getty Images/iStockphoto

A Touch of Sugar Won’t Hurt You in the Morning

The researchers accounted for external factors that would also lead to death including diet, smoking, pre-existing health conditions, air pollution, and socioeconomic status. The study detailed that while the unsweetened coffee drinkers had a marginally higher risk reduction than the sweetened coffee drinkers, the difference was in the same range.

"My biggest caution is to not equate this to 'Oh, I can drink any kind of coffee with loads of calories,' because there are other studies that clearly show that adding sugar and high levels of empty calories is not good for you. So just do things in moderation," Wee said. "What this study is really saying is that adding a little bit of sugar doesn’t take away all the potential health benefits that coffee might have.”

For the study, the researchers found that the average dose of added sugar for a sweetened coffee is approximately a teaspoon (4 grams). In her accompanying editorial, Wee suggests that people avoid major coffee chains’ specialty beverages that contain upwards of 15 grams of sugar per 8-ounce cup. The study also did not examine the effects of artificial sweeteners and different variations of creamers.

"Although we cannot definitively conclude that drinking coffee reduces mortality risk, the totality of the evidence does not suggest a need for most coffee drinkers – particularly those who drink it with no or modest amounts of sugar – to eliminate coffee,” Wee noted. “So drink up, but it would be prudent to avoid too many caramel macchiatos while more evidence brews."

Coffee’s Many Health Benefits

Coffee snobs everywhere can rejoice because more research continues to pour out claiming that the caffeinated beverage delivers major health benefits (when consumed in moderation). One study found that coffee (and green tea) can lower the risk of death among diabetics by 63 percent, noting that caffeine was responsible for the beneficial results. By adding both the antioxidants from tea and caffeine from coffee, diabetics can significantly reduce fatal symptoms.

Another study found that drinking coffee is responsible for lowering the risk of developing prostate cancer. The findings accompany a body of research that has linked coffee consumption to lower levels of liver cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer. In moderation, coffee (sweetened or not) can help improve health, making it an important addition to any plant-based diet.

For more expert health advice, visit The Beet's Health & Nutrition articles.

The 13 Best Foods to Boost Your Immune System to Fight Off COVID-19 Symptoms

Here are the best foods to eat on repeat, to boost immunity and fight inflammation. And stay off the red meat.

More From The Beet