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Mmm… coffee! Yummy sweet coffee drinks and frappuccinos, flavored lattes and so many other tempting coffee drink choices – sometimes the menu at the coffee shop looks more like a dessert menu than a list of coffees. And while study after study has suggested that drinking coffee is actually good for you, nearly every single one of researchers involved with those studies has noted that adding sugar and cream and chocolate and goopy flavorings to your coffee can largely negate the health benefits of coffee. So what do you do when you’re standing at the coffee counter, looking at all the whipped-cream and chocolate syrup goodies and trying to decide what to order? These tips can help you make healthier coffee choices at the coffee shop.
Bill Clinton turned his financial catch phrase – Keep It Simple, Stupid – into a household maxim. KISS applies to healthy coffee choices, too. Good old Plain Jane coffee brings a lot of health benefits to the table. It has so few calories that most listings simply call it 0 calories (in reality, a cup of plain black coffee has 2-6 calories), and is full of natural chemicals and phytochemicals that seem to do a lot of good things for your body, from increasing your metabolism to reducing your chance of getting type 2 diabetes. It’s when you start adding ingredients to your coffee that you start having problems.
If you like your coffee sweeter, or with flavoring in it, at least be aware of what you’re actually consuming. A packet of sugar is 1 teaspoon of sugar, or 16 calories. A pump of syrup, on the other hand, contains the equivalent of 3 teaspoons of sugar – that’s an industry standard. No matter the flavor, no matter the manufacturer, a pump of syrup is equal to three teaspoons of sugar – and if you ask for two pumps, which is not unusual, you’re getting the equivalent of 6 to 8 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee. That 0-cal beverage just shot up to 96 to 130 calories… with almost no additional nutrient value.
And sugar isn’t the only thing in those syrups. Most of them are chock full of chemical flavors and artificial food dyes, along with chemical stabilizers to keep them from crystallizing in the bottle. You don’t really need all that in your body.
Healthier Alternative: Add sugar yourself at the counter if you must have it. And if you truly crave those awesomely tasty hazelnut, vanilla and amaretto flavors, at least be aware of what you’re drinking so you can adjust your other food choices to compensate for the extra calories.
You don’t have to supersize it to enjoy it. Instead of choosing a super-chug size of coffee, opt for a small. That will put a cap on the amount of calories you consume in one sitting – and help you savor every sip.
Mmmm… frappuccinos! Blender drinks often have a lot of chemical additives in them to keep them creamy and rich. They’re also generally higher calorie, with lots of fat and sugar in them. Even worse, most coffee shops rinse coffee blenders between orders, but they don’t usually wash and disinfect them. If you have food sensitivities, you could be setting yourself up for a cross-contamination hazard if the drink before yours was made with something to which you’re allergic. This holds true for blender smoothies as well as for coffee smoothies. If you have serious food allergies, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. And if you really want a milkshake instead of a coffee, get one at an ice cream shop, where you’ll get the real thing instead of a fake version.
Most health authorities recommend that you keep your caffeine intake to about 400 mg daily, and sticking to that can be trickier than you think. The amount of caffeine in your coffee depends on so many factors that it’s nearly impossible to accurately give a “this many cups of coffee” recommendation that holds true across the board. Instead, pay attention to your body and be aware of caffeine’s effects on it. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, reduce the amount of caffeine you consume, or drink it earlier in the day – and if you start feeling jittery or anxious, step away from the coffee bar and opt for plain water, herbal tea or a non-caffeinated – not DEcaffeinated – beverage.
Oh, look! They have brownies and cheesecake! While many local coffee shops now offer homemade snacks and goodies – as well as great soup and sandwich options – do pay attention to what’s on the menu. Far too often, the big chain shops offer snacks and foods that are pre-packaged and full of preservatives and hidden ingredients. Those bagel bites with salsa may feel like a healthy indulgence – and they might be – just be sure to account for them in your daily intake.
In general, stick to these basic rules for choosing healthy options at the local coffee shop: