A new research study published in Journal of Health Psychology suggests that if you’re looking for a simple way to cut back on your sugar in your coffee, you should go cold turkey, but mindfully.
Over half of all adult Americans drink coffee, and only a third of them drink coffee black. Most Americans add sugar and some form of cream or milk. Researchers tested different ways to cut back on sugar in coffee in 127 daily coffee drinkers recruited from coffee shops.
Coffee drinkers were randomly divided into three groups: the control group, which went cold turkey to sugarless coffee without any training, a gradual reduction group, and a mindfulness group.
In the gradual reduction group, researchers instructed people to cut back on sugar in their coffee every two days over two weeks. This gradual method has been shown to work on reducing salt in tomato juice without affecting one’s affinity for it. Unexpectedly, in this case, researchers found that gradually decreasing sugar in coffee actually only made people dislike their coffee over time.
The last group applied mindfulness theory to the coffee experience and encouraged people to pay full attention to their coffee. This was, in fact, the most successful approach. The mindfulness approach trained coffee drinkers to notice how steam rises from the cup, smell aromas, note movements and sensations while sipping, and become more aware of any new sensations and textures. The mindfulness group was also asked to reflect on feelings about the coffee drinking experience.
The results surprised the researchers, who had hypothesized that both the gradual reduction method and mindfulness approach would help people go sugar-free. Only the mindfulness approach helped people drink sugarless coffee more often over the next 6 months, suggesting that if you’re looking to cut back sugar in your coffee, use a little mindfulness instead. Surprisingly, the simple cold turkey was also fairly effective at helping people enjoy sugar-free coffee, more so than the gradual reduction approach.
The study was not able to isolate what component of the mindfulness approach helped people cut back on sugar — whether it was being more aware of the experience of drinking coffee or noting the taste and texture of coffee itself. But either way, as a practical matter for coffee drinkers, it is not really necessary to separate these components, as long as you're paying attention to the full and focused experience of drinking coffee.