Can You Drink Coffee on a Plant-Based Diet?

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages worldwide, improving focus, raising energy levels, and serving as a warm, comforting morning routine. But does it fit in with a plant-based lifestyle? And even if it’s plant-based, is it a healthy choice?

Don’t switch to tea just yet! As a vegan registered dietitian, I’ll discuss the use of coffee on plant-based diets and how to order coffee so that it fits a vegan lifestyle.

Overhead shot of two lattes and one cold brew in a coffee shop

Is it okay to have coffee on a plant-based diet?

Since coffee is a plant-based drink made simply from brewed coffee beans, coffee is acceptable on a plant-based diet as long as no animal-based ingredients like milk, cream, or honey are added to it.

Similarly, espresso is also fine to drink. Espresso is made from coffee beans that have been more finely ground than regular ground coffee.

Is coffee whole food plant-based?

Coffee isn’t technically considered a whole food since it doesn’t contain the entire coffee bean, but many whole food plant-based (WFPB) eaters are okay with drinking it. 

A blog post from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, a leading proponent of the WFPB diet, suggests that the decision to consume coffee is up to each individual, as long as it’s consumed within recommended health guidelines.

Like soybean-based tofu or soy milk, both acceptable foods on a WFPB diet, coffee is only minimally processed and retains many of the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory polyphenols present in the whole food — in this case, coffee beans.

Coffee is associated with many health benefits1, including a reduced risk of diseases related to oxidative stress like type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a lower incidence of multiple types of cancer, and a reduction in the number of deaths from a variety of causes.

One caveat is that since processed sugars are limited on a WFPB diet, you’ll need to watch out for coffee drinks with added sugars. If you like sweet coffee, you’ll likely need to prepare your own at home with WFPB-approved sweeteners like date syrup or date paste.

Some WFPB eaters also feel comfortable with minimally processed sweeteners like maple syrup, brown rice syrup, and blackstrap molasses.

RELATED: Is The Whole Food Plant-Based No Oil Diet Healthy?

Disadvantages of coffee

The potentially negative health effects of coffee are largely due to its caffeine content. 

Excessive caffeine can lead to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Trouble focusing
  • Jitters/shakiness
  • Worsened anxiety

As long as you stay under the limit of 400 milligrams of caffeine per day as recommended by the FDA2, coffee is safe to drink for the majority of people. This is the amount in 1-4 cups of coffee or 5 shots of espresso, depending on the strength of the brew.

People with high blood pressure, those prone to anxiety, caffeine-sensitive individuals, and those taking medications that interact with caffeine are likely to benefit from limiting how much coffee they drink.

Non-vegan ingredients to avoid

Although coffee and espresso themselves are vegan, animal-derived ingredients are often added to them. The most common ones are:

1. Milk

Milk is present in many classic coffee and espresso-based drinks, such as:

  • Cafe au lait (coffee with milk)
  • Latte
  • Cappuccino
  • Macchiato
  • Flat white

It’s also used in blended and frozen coffee drinks. Some syrups or sauces, such as caramel, mocha, or pumpkin spice, also usually contain milk, so be sure to check with your barista before ordering a flavored drink.

2. Cream

Cream may be used in some drinks in place of milk for extra creaminess, and whipped cream is often added to mochas, frappes, and other blended coffees.

3. Honey

Honey is sometimes used in specialty flavored drinks as a drizzle or syrup ingredient.

4. Chocolate

Mocha sauce may or may not contain dairy, so be sure to check with your barista before ordering. If a blended, frozen coffee drink contains chocolate bits or pieces, it’s likely that the chocolate contains dairy. 

Oat milk latte in white coffee cup

Vegan coffee drink options

Fortunately, it’s easy to order a variety of vegan-friendly coffee drinks at most coffee shops. 

Coffee drinks that are vegan by default:

  • Black coffee (Drip, pour over, cold brew, or French press)
  • Espresso shots
  • Americano (water + espresso)
  • Red eye (coffee + espresso)

Vegan when ordered with a non-dairy milk like soy, oat, almond, or coconut:

  • Cafe au lait
  • Latte
  • Cappuccino
  • Macchiato
  • Flat white
  • Cortado

Additionally, mochas made with vegan-friendly mocha sauce can be made 100% plant-based by ordering them without whipped cream.

Check for vegan-friendly sauces and syrups by asking the barista or checking the coffee shop’s app if they have one. Syrups that are usually vegan include:

  • Vanilla
  • Hazelnut
  • Lavender
  • Cinnamon
  • Peppermint


Coffee itself is made only from coffee beans, so it’s okay to drink on a plant-based diet as long as no animal-derived ingredients like milk, cream, or honey have been added. Coffee is rich in antioxidants, but it’s safest to avoid getting more than 400 milligrams of caffeine in a day.

If you’re specifically following a whole food plant-based diet, you may prefer to avoid drinks made with sugar, syrups, or sweetened non-dairy milks.

Most coffee drinks can be made vegan by ordering non-dairy milk alternatives like oat, soy, almond, or coconut milk in place of cow’s milk. Make sure any syrups, sauces, or other flavorings are vegan-friendly by asking the barista or checking online.

The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.


  1. Barrea L, Pugliese G, Frias-Toral E, et al. Coffee consumption, health benefits and side effects: a narrative review and update for dietitians and nutritionists. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2023;63(9):1238-1261. doi:10.1080/10408398.2021.1963207
  2. US Food and Drug Administration. Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? FDA website. Accessed 3/8/24.

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