Stop! Is Your Coffee a Calorie Bomb?

Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, LDN
by Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, LDN
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Stop! Is Your Coffee a Calorie Bomb?

What gets your morning started and keeps you energized throughout the day? For 54 percent of American adults, it’s coffee — we consume an average of 3.1 cups per day, fueling our early mornings and late nights. But is your daily caffeine fix putting a dent in your health and nutrition? With the right approach to consuming caffeine, your daily pick-me-up can actually benefit your health.

CAFFEINE: HARMFUL OR HELPFUL?

Caffeine is a drug that works to stimulate the brain and gives you that classic jolt of energy. Research has recently supported the idea that drinking coffee may serve to reduce inflammation and thus reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular and other inflammatory diseases. (I always love research that supports my caffeine fix … don’t you?) For adults who consume about three cups of coffee per day, there is little evidence of health risk and some evidence of health benefits associated with coffee consumption.

In general, the main risks associated with coffee consumption kick in at high amounts of caffeine per day — generally more than four or five cups depending on how strongly the coffee is brewed. Of course, some people are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of caffeine. If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or have another health concern, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your caffeine intake.

The Bottom Line: Everything in moderation. The caffeine content of coffee shouldn’t be a health concern unless you are drinking more than four or five cups per day, having trouble sleeping due to its effects or have a specific health concern. Note that sometimes generalized anxiety can be affected by caffeine intake.


READ MORE > SHOULD YOU DRINK COFFEE BEFORE WORKING OUT


COFFEE ADD-INS: SUGAR, CREAM, SYRUPS

A standard 8-ounce cup of black coffee checks in at just 2.7 calories with 0 grams of sugar. But the strong flavor and bitterness of coffee can make it tempting to pour in cream, sugar, syrups and other sweeteners; 65 percent of Americans take their coffee with sugar or cream. This is when the trouble kicks in: Anything added to your coffee tacks on extra calories.

The first thing to cut out of your morning cup of joe? Sugar. Too much sugar can be linked to health complications such as obesity and diabetes. Syrups and “flavor pumps” (Think: that hazelnut flavor that you love) are made with high amounts of sugar and added calories. If you can’t drink coffee without something sweet, try adding a small amount of Stevia or other natural sugar alternative that is calorie-free.

Buyer beware: Some coffee shops might add a syrup or sweetener without you explicitly ordering it. Starbucks’ iced coffee comes with Classic Syrup, consisting of sugar, water and natural flavors.

Cream (like half-and-half) can be a delicious, low-sugar add-in in but in small amounts because those tablespoons can add up calorie-wise (1 tablespoon of half-and-half = 20 calories). Milk and soy milk are great additions for a boost of protein without so many calories.

HOW TO ORDER A HEALTHIER CUP OF COFFEE

STIR IN CINNAMON

Looking to take the edge off your coffee without adding empty calories? Try adding a dash of cinnamon! Cinnamon consumption has been linked to improved glucose sensitivity and cholesterol for those with Type 2 diabetes.

DOWNSIZE

If you just can’t live without your speciality latte or mocha, consider ordering a smaller size to eliminate at least some calories.

CHOOSE YOUR MILK WISELY

The default milk in most speciality drinks is 2% or whole milk. Consider substituting nonfat milk, almond milk, soy milk or coconut milk to shave calories on speciality drinks that use large amounts of dairy. Be careful though, many coffee shops will use milk substitutes that contain added sugar, so ask the barista to show you the ingredient label if you are trying to reduce sugar intake.

SPRINKLE ON COCOA POWDER

Another great low-calorie add-in is unsweetened cocoa powder — it adds a boost of aroma and flavor without any added sugars.

RECONSIDER WHIPPED CREAM

Many speciality drinks automatically come with whipped cream; order your favorite drink with no whip to save around 80 calories and cut back on sugar intake.

TRANSITION TOWARD BLACK COFFEE

In an ideal world, your coffee would be just that — coffee. With almost zero calories, drinking black coffee leaves extra room for more nutritious foods that fill you up and keep you energized. Take baby steps toward this goal by slowly cutting back on sugar, creamers and syrups. Your taste buds can adjust over time.

TEA: THE NON-COFFEE OPTION

Looking for an alternative to coffee that still allows you to get a caffeine fix or sip on something warm? Tea is an excellent substitute, ranging from non-caffeinated chamomile to caffeine-packed Earl Grey, you can pick and choose a tea variety for any time of the day. Black and green teas also comes packed with powerful antioxidants, such as flavonoids, that are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Herbal teas are great for more than just the morning — they offer calming, soothing effects for the afternoon and evenings.

Use these tips and tricks for ordering and drinking coffee to turn your favorite morning ritual into a healthy one.

About the Author

Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, LDN
Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, LDN

Kristina is a board certified sports dietitian located in Orlando, Florida where she specializes in intuitive and mindful eating. She is the author of the food and nutrition blog, Love & Zest where she shares {mostly} healthy recipes with simple ingredients that are meant for real life. As a new mom, she knows that eating well and living an active lifestyle isn’t always easy… but it’s always worth it!! Kristina loves spending time outdoors with her family, sweaty workouts, and a good cup of coffee. Get in touch with her for one-on-one nutrition coaching (virtually or in person), or connect with her on PinterestInstagramFacebook  and YouTube.

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5 responses to “Stop! Is Your Coffee a Calorie Bomb?”

  1. Avatar Chris N says:

    “Note that sometimes generalized anxiety can be affected by caffeine intake.” < this is so, so true. If you're having a lot of panic attacks, cut the caffeine! I had several months of awful panic attacks, then cut the caffeine and they've mostly disappeared and drastically decreased in intensity.

    Oh, and if you're concerned about the bitterness, stop drinking Latin American coffees! They are known for being highly acidic and bitter. African coffees–especially Ethiopian blends–are *far* less bitter. Starbucks is *not* what you should be looking at for coffee that tastes good without anything put in it. I would go so far to say that Starbucks built an industry around "coffee-inspired beverages" because their black coffee is so awful that it's undrinkable without anything added. That may, in fact, be part of their plan.

    • Avatar CLPettigrew says:

      African coffees are generally the most acidic (that is what accounts for their “bright” and “crisp” flavor). Bitterness is caused by poor extraction; when coffee is brewed for too long, it extracts more tannins, which cause the bitterness.

      If you want coffee without bitterness, you have to get coffee that is not over extracted (Starbucks does this notoriously, so they can hook you on more sugar). Or, try cold brew coffee; since beans are soaked in cold water, it’s very difficult to have a bitter cup.

  2. Avatar AS says:

    Milk as we get from Jersey cows, etc are bad for health. They can cause allergic reaction and have been identified as a cause for asthma and lung issues. Locally bred cows which are traditional household providers are the best. Hence reduced fat milk is only a myth and probably another Western gimmick to sell their wares, just as they almost wiped out the use of coconut oil for almost five decades until recently when it was proven beyond doubt of the immense benefits of coconut oil vs all other oils promoted by the West.

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