Coffee and calories: How do your add-ins add up?

Numerous studies have documented the potential health benefits of coffee consumption, making that morning cup of joe even more satisfying. New research, however, finds that many of us may be offsetting some of these health benefits by adding calorie-laden substances to our hot drinks.
[Adding a spoonful of sugar to a coffee]
Researchers find that most coffee drinkers put sugar, cream, and other additives in their coffee.


The analysis of almost 20,000 adults in the United States indicates that around two thirds of coffee drinkers and one third of tea drinkers add sugar, cream, flavored syrups, and other high-calorie substances to their beverages.


Study co-author Prof. Ruopeng An, of the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and colleagues calculated just how much these additives are increasing U.S. individuals’ daily calorie intake.


The researchers report their findings in the journal Public Health.


According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is estimated that men aged between 18 and 55 who are moderately active should consume approximately 2,600-2,800 calories daily, while moderately active women of the same age should consume around 2,000-2,200 calories per day.


When a person has a lack of energy balance – that is, more calories are consumed than burned – this can lead to overweight and obesity.


In relation to coffee and tea, the Dietary Guidelines state that the beverages can be consumed as part of a healthful diet, but that additional calories from additives should be accounted for.

Add-ins common among coffee drinkers


For their study, Prof. An and team set out to determine the nutritional implications of additives in tea and coffee, given that they are two of the most commonly consumed beverages in the U.S.


“Unlike other popular beverages, including alcohol and other sweetened beverages that are typically consumed in isolation, many people prefer drinking coffee and tea with add-ins like sugar and cream,” the authors note.


“These add-in items are often dense in energy and fat but low in nutritional value,” they add.


To reach their findings, the researchers analyzed data from the 2001-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The data included 13,185 adults who reported consuming coffee and 6,215 adults who reported consuming tea in the 24 hours before being surveyed.


The results indicate that 51.4 percent of U.S. adults consume coffee on any given day, while 25.8 percent of adults in the country drink tea on any given day.


Among coffee drinkers, the data revealed that 67.5 percent consume coffee with add-ins, while 33.4 percent of tea drinkers consume their beverage with add-ins.


For coffee drinkers, sugar, cream, sugar and cream substitutes, half-and-half, and whole or reduced-fat milk were the most common add-ins. Sugar, sugar substitutes, honey, and whole or reduced-fat milk were the most popular add-ins for tea drinkers.

Coffee add-ins account for an extra 69 calories daily


The researchers then looked at how many extra calories these add-ins account for each day.



Compared with adults who drank black coffee, the team found that those who put sweeteners, cream, and other additives in their coffee consumed an average of 69 extra calories daily. Around 60 percent of these calories came from sugar, Prof. An notes, while the majority of the remaining calories came from fat.


Among tea drinkers, individuals who put additives in their beverage consumed an average of 43 extra calories daily, compared with those who did not put add-ins in their tea. Almost 85 percent of the calories from add-ins came from sugar, the team reports.


While the researchers admit that the number of extra calories from additives in tea and coffee is small, if consumed every day, they can easily add up and contribute to weight gain.

“Our findings indicate that a lot of coffee and tea drinkers regularly use caloric add-ins to improve the flavor of their beverages, but possibly without fully realizing or taking into consideration its caloric and nutritional implications.”

Prof. Ruopeng An


Learn about a study that may have pinpointed why coffee drinkers live longer.

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