If you’re watching your weight, don’t overlook the calories from milk, cream, and sweeteners (including flavored syrups) that you may add to your coffee or tea. As a recent study in the journal Public Health found, they can add up fast.
On average, coffee drinkers who used “caloric add-ins” consumed an extra 69 calories a day, mostly from sugar, while tea drinkers consumed an extra 43 calories, compared with coffee and tea drinkers who drank the beverages “black.” Over a year, that adds up to 25,185 extra calories for coffee drinkers and 15,695 calories for tea drinkers, which could, at least in theory, lead to weight gains of 7 and 4½ pounds, respectively.
The researchers used data from close to 20,000 American adults in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which included only the extras added by consumers, not ones that might have been premixed or already blended into the beverages, such as those sold at Starbucks and other cafes.
About half of Americans consume coffee daily, while one-quarter drink tea daily, according to NHANES. Of them, about two-thirds and one-third, respectively, add something to their beverages. In particular, older tea drinkers and those with diabetes were more likely use add-ins.
Besides adding calories that can contribute to weight gain, sugar likely contributes to the development of many chronic diseases, from diabetes to heart disease—and Americans often exceed the recommended limits set by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (no more than 10 percent of calories should come from added sugar).
To lighten your load:
- Cut the amount of sweetener you use (from two packets of sugar, for instance, to one packet). Or use non-caloric sweeteners, in moderation. Or try no sweetener at all: Many people who stop sweetening their coffee or tea are pleasantly surprised when they realize they can taste the actual flavor of the beverage more.
- Forgo cream in favor of milk. To save more calories, use low-fat or nonfat milk instead of whole milk. Watch out for non-dairy creamers, which can add about 30 calories per tablespoon.
- If you use soy milk, almond milk, or other non-dairy “milk,” be aware that many of them have a lot of added sugar. Unsweetened versions and ones with sugar substitutes have far fewer calories.
- Skip the whipped cream and flavor syrups.
- Order smaller coffee beverages at cafes.
- Milk added to coffee and tea provides calcium, though the study found it only amounted to about 22 milligrams a day, on average. Still, it’s a good use of the calories and an opportunity to get more of this important bone nutrient in your diet.