I have spent quite some time recently researching into coffee. Not only am I now drinking better coffee (my La Piccola ESE Pads machine with VERZI Intenso 100% Robusta coffee) but it is quite interesting to look at the health benefits of coffee, or to be more precise, of its active compound caffeine.
Caffeine is a flavorless substance that occurs naturally in coffee, among other plants, and has some interesting properties. It makes us more alert and focused, at least temporarily, which is one of the main reasons why people use caffeine drinks regularly.
But caffeine has some other interesting properties as well, which makes it a great tool to improve your life, but also has its tricky side. Caffeine is known to act as a strong reinforcer inside our brain. This is an unconscious process, but it means that any activity, food or even object that you consume at the same time as caffeine will be perceived more positively by our brain, and it will want to have more of it. This is why we got ourselves to like coffee, which by itself is a bit of a bitter drink.
Why you shouldn’t have sugar with your coffee
This brings us to the sugar topic. Since caffeine acts as a reinforcer, it will make you want more of anything you consume or do while taking it. This is great when you follow up your coffee with exercise, because it will make your exercise session feel more pleasant and will positively enforce this behavior. But if you add sugar to this game, the reinforcement becomes a bit tricky. If you drink your coffee with sugar, both the caffeine AND the sugar will positively reinforce the sugar taste, and you will want to consume more sugar instead of less. In addition, the sugar itself also acts as a reinforcer, so you get double reinforcement for a substance that clearly has negative impact on your health.
You might say “ha, I have an idea!” and want to swap sugar for a calorie-free sweetener like stevia. But beware, the reinforcement goes towards the sweetness. Using artificial sweeteners with caffeine will still make you crave more sweet – and in many cases, this will have an impact on you consuming more sugar at the end of the day.
Make caffeine work for you
So what you can do is let the reinforcement effect of caffeine work FOR you instead of against you: Train your brain to enjoy coffee without sugar – simply by drinking it a few times. Even if you don’t enjoy it the first few times, the reinforcer molecule caffeine will trick your brain over time into liking the coffee just like that. Bye, bye sugar cravings.