How Bad Is It Really to Drink Artificially Flavored Coffee Every Day?

Vanilla, hazelnut, caramel. There’s no shortage of artificially flavored coffees available out there. And it makes sense: 62 percent of Americans drink coffee every day, per the National Coffee Association. Naturally, there needs to be a flavor for every kind of coffee drinker.

But if you’re a fiend for French vanilla, you may be wondering: Just how healthy ​are​ those faux flavors in my morning cup?

Below, we break down the basics of the common additives and ask health experts for their take on the question: Is drinking artificially flavored coffee every day “bad” for you?

What Are Artificial Flavors?

There’s a good chance you’ve scanned a food label and seen the words “artificial flavors” listed among the ingredients. The vague term is essentially a catchall that refers to any flavoring agents that ​aren’t​ derived from natural sources like spices, fruits, vegetables, herbs or animal products, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The catch? Artificial and natural flavors (which can actually be chemically identical) serve the same purpose: to provide flavor — not nutrients — to food substances, says Mary Matone, RD, a registered dietitian at the virtual private practice Culina Health.

What’s more, artificial flavors may undergo even ​more​ rigorous laboratory testing compared to natural flavors, per Harvard University. So there’s that.

Where Does Flavored Coffee Get Its Flavor?

To add a hint of caramel (or another go-to flavor) to your cup, manufacturers may coat coffee beans with artificial flavors that have been combined with a solvent called propylene glycol, a common food additive and flavoring agent, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Propylene glycol is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use in food by the FDA.

Are There Health Risks Associated With Artificially Flavored Coffee?

Not really, no. The effects of drinking artificially flavored coffee every day haven’t been widely studied among casual coffee drinkers.

In general, artificial flavors are thought to be “safe for consumption at intended levels,” per Michigan State University Center Research on Ingredient Safety. But what about exposure at much greater levels?

Research suggests that a very high exposure to various food flavorings (think: among manufacturing plant workers) may raise one’s risk of lung disease, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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