In the Media Nutrition Research

What’s in Your Coffee? Guest Contributor: Andrea Hardy

August 11, 2016

Andrea is the most amazing dietitian.  She’s real.  She gets it.  Do you have a “bucks” addiction?  Check this out:  The Obesity Epidemic – What’s in your coffee, and is it contributing to obesity? A look at coffee and weight gain. Guest Contributor, Registered Dietitian Andrea Hardy 

I’ll admit it. I drink coffee. A LOT. Don’t tell my husband, but rather than trading my visa reward points for travel, I use them to get Starbucks gift cards.

While I have what one might term a ‘coffee addiction’ – I take special measures to make sure that I’m making a smart choice when I set off for my morning hit of caffeine. I order coffee, and I drink it black. So if you see me touting a Starbucks cup around town, I can guarantee it’s a grande americano, no room.

While I drink my coffee strong and black, that often isn’t the ‘popular choice’. What people call their ‘morning coffee’ is actually equivalent to a small meal, and a fistful of sugar.

While I hate to rat on my favourite place to get my coffee and work on this blog from – I have to share with you how YOUR coffee habit might be contributing to your weight. I’m just hoping to make you all informed, health conscious consumers. And not to pick on Starbucks alone – any joe-brew coffee shop pulling shots to make these fancy coffees are VERY SIMILAR in nutrition content – so listen up!

First off – and I say this time and time again – you should rarely, if ever DRINK your calories. Liquids have this tricky little effect on satiety (the feeling of fullness). While you may be consuming 300+ calories in that vanilla latte with extra whip, your body just doesn’t compute. You won’t get that same hormonal response that solids trigger, making you feel like you’ve just had something calorie-containing. Despite consuming a mini-meal in the form of a latte, you won’t feel full and might even still be hungry!

Secondly – you can’t really count a ‘venti vanilla latte, extra pump caramel with whip’ as coffee. Yes, coffee is touted to have health benefits – but add on the syrup, whipping  cream, and artificial colours and flavours? Completely negates the effect – and then some! If you are consuming coffee for health benefits, you should be having it straight up – (a bit of milk and sugar is ok).

Coffee’s Health Benefits:

  1. Coffee is Antioxidant-Rich. Coffee is a rich source of a variety of antioxidants. These powerful little molecules can help protect your cells from damage and scavenge free-radicals in the body. Of course, fruit and veg should be your ‘go-to’ for your anti-oxidant fix, but a little extra help from your daily cuppa joe is a perk! These antioxidants may be the mechanism as to why those who drink coffee regularly are protected against inflammatory diseases such as cognitive disorders, and liver disease.
  2. Coffee can make you happy. In so many words – coffee acts on your neurotransmitters to leave you feeling alert, focused, and happy. 
  3. Coffee can enhance an athletes performance. Because caffeine is a stimulant, research has shown that athletic performance can benefit from caffeine intake in moderate amounts. Caffeine tricks your body into releasing extra epinephrine – your ‘fight or flight’ hormone – thusly getting you ‘pumped up’ for whatever action lies ahead. Beneficial for athletes – but this effect is also what causes you to feel anxious, paranoid, and clammy after drinking one too many doppio espressos.

Who is coffee not so good for?

Those who are caffeine sensitive – Consuming caffeine at any level in these individuals can increase blood pressure, cause heart palpitations, and severe jitteriness. Coffee should be avoided by those people.

Those with psychiatric disorders – Because caffeine futzes around with your neurotransmitters, those with mental health issues can be especially sensitive to caffeine, and its negative effects. It’s recommended you discuss this in detail with your family doctor to determine if coffee is safe for you to drink.

So, whats the skinny on Starbucks drinks?

Back when I did a bit of work with school nutrition, there was a game called ‘Sugar Shocker’. Have you heard of it?

Here is the Starbucks version of what I used to teach kids about the amount of sugar in their favourite sugary drinks. Consider it adultified.

-Grande caramel macchiato 240 kcal and 32g sugar (13 sugar cubes)

-Grande chai latte 240 kcal and 42 g sugar (17 sugar cubes)

-whipped cream 70 kcal 2g sugar (~1 sugar cube)

-white chocolate mocha 400 kcal and 58 g sugar (plus whip!) (23 sugar cubes)

-Java chip frappuccino 340 kcal and 62 g sugar (25 sugar cubes)

Let’s just, for interests sake, look at adding a snack onto that. Your morning coffee break of a caramel macchiato, plus a birthday cake pop is setting you back 410 calories! You decide to go for the oh-so virtuous banana loaf instead? 670 calories! Thats more than a THIRD of what you likely need in a day – and I don’t see anyone skipping any meals because their counting their morning coffee as one. (Ahem – nor do I encourage that…)

Ways to Have Your Coffee (and drink it too!) 

  • limit your specialty coffees to less than once a week, and order a tall
  • order drink half sweet
  • choose skim milk
  • add milk instead of cream to your coffee
  • enjoy a lower calorie, portion controlled drink:
    • a tall, skinny vanilla latte has 100 calories
    • a tall cappuccino has just 60 calories
    • Drink coffee like Andrea: I love my americanos. Paying the small amount more for an americano compared to drip coffee allows me to enjoy the luxury of espresso without having it in a latte or cappuccino. If your not a black coffee kind of person, add a splash of milk and top with some cinnamon to help cut the bitterness.
    • If you’re really hungry, and need a Starbucks snack, they sell yogurt, bananas, and nuts. The protein boxes are a fantastic go-to meal for those in a rush too!

So. Where does my vanilla bean frappuccino with caramel drizzle and extra whip fit?

Moderation. It is dessert. A special treat, really. A once and a while, splurge-worthy occasion. On the weekend, I will occasionally treat myself with a flat white or caramel macchiato. I suggest you save your elaborate drink orders for a weekend treat, and choose low-cal, coffee based drinks during the week to get all the coffee benefits, without the sugar crash afterward!

– Andrea

References

  1. Winston, A. Hardwick, E. Jaberi, N. (2005). Neruopsyciatric effects of caffeine. BJ Psych. Vol 11 (6). DOI: 10.1192/APT.11.6.432
  2. Burke, L., Desbrow, B., Spriet, L. Caffeine for Sports Performance.. Retrieved from: https://books.google.ca/

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