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Coffee Calories are Out of Control

Coffee Calories are out of control.
Coffee calories are out of control...

Starbucks is the company that made coffee cool in America. Before Starbucks, coffee was often viewed as a commodity that restaurants gave away with free refills. Television advertisements promoted instant brands that required nothing more than hot water and a spoon. Coffee was seen as something that either woke you up in the morning or kept you awake at night.

Now coffee has gone gourmet. Fans debate the differences between beans grown in Hawaii, Costa Rica and Sumatra. Brewing has evolved from crude percolators to drip coffee makers and French presses. There are even people who argue about hot versus cold brewing methods to bring out the most important flavors.

None of that would matter much if the result was simply coffee in a cup. The real change is all the stuff we’re adding to that coffee. Milk, syrups, chocolate, whipped cream and other toppings have created drinks that pack as many calories as an entire meal. There are coffee drinks from Starbucks, McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts that routinely top 200 calories and many exceed 400 calories per serving.

I’m not opposed to anyone enjoying a cup of coffee, but I think it’s important to understand how to make more intelligent choices about the contents of that cup. It’s possible to enjoy a rich creamy taste, without drinking an entire meals worth of calories.

Let's start with the coffee itself. A typical 16-ounce cup full of coffee only has between 5 and 10 calories. It’s an amount so small there’s practically nothing to it and it’s a relatively guilt-free indulgence.

Turn that same 16-ounce drink into a latte and suddenly the calories multiply. Instead of regular coffee, a 16-ounce latte has a couple shots of espresso, mixed into about 1.5 cups of steamed and foamed 2% milk. The milk adds to that latte 185 calories and 18 grams of sugar.

To liven the drinks up a little, flavored syrups of caramel, hazelnut, cherry and vanilla are squirted in adding as much as 80 calories more per ounce of syrup. That drink has now hit 270 calories and the sugar has grown to 37 grams. Keep in mind that the average person should limit their total sugar consumption in a day to between 40 and 60 grams.

Whipped cream is swirled over the top and then covered with drizzled chocolate or additional caramel. The whipped topping can add another 80 to 150 calories and 8 to 15 more grams of sugar. That standard 16-ounce drink now packs a total of 400 calories and 52 grams of sugar. You would have to eat four of McDonald’s apple pies to get the same amount of sugar and three-fourths of a McDonald’s Big Mac Burger to get the same calories.

Here’s how to make healthier choices.

Start with the base. Instead of regular milk, switch to skim. Changing from 2% to skim milk cuts out 48 calories. To make an even bigger change use almond milk. That cuts the calories down to 90 and reduces the sugar from 18 to 10 grams.

For syrup flavors, pick sugar free varieties. Add two tablespoons of sugar-free vanilla to your coffee instead of the regular one and you go from 80 calories to zero and 20 grams of sugar to none.

For chocolate lovers, start putting a couple heaping teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa powder in your coffee. Then add some Splenda or stevia to sweeten it up. Research has found that people who eat as little as 4 grams of cocoa (2.5 teaspoons) a day, reduced their risk of a heart attack by 50%.

Like a whipped topping? Use a milk steamer at home to make more foam or ask that barista where you buy coffee to make more. If you can’t do without it, choose the lighter versions of whipped cream.

Top your drink off with ground cinnamon or nutmeg. They provide a nice flavor kick without any additional calorie consequences. 

Follow all these suggestions and an almond milk latte, with sugar-free syrup, cocoa and stevia would top out at around 100 calories and 10 grams of sugar, versus the other version at 400 calories and 52 grams of sugar. You still have the caffeine and with the addition of cocoa, you get to live longer as well.

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