Arbitrary Food Liquids

Healthy January: Café harm reduction

Café harm reduction
According to the official nutritional info on the Starbucks website, a tall sized caramel macchiato made with 2% milk is only 180 calories, which is less than I expected.

Weight gain is a funny thing. Over time, it’s the little habits that add up to become big problems. The small daily indulgence can turn into a long-term calorie splurge.

Counting calories, which I talked about in the last two posts, is particularly handy for identifying trends you never really thought about before. And what’s a daily item you probably don’t even consider until you scrawl it into your calorie-counting notebook every day? Coffee.

If you’re one of the hearty souls who take their coffee black, then good for you – the number of calories found in a cup of black coffee is between null and negligible.

It’s once you start deviating from basic black that the coffee calories start to add up. Estimate that one teaspoon of sugar is usually 15 calories. Times that by two, and you’ve got 30 calories.

If you take milk or cream, watch that number go up considerably. One tablespoon of whole milk is only 9 calories, though you’ll rarely stop at just one tablespoon of milk. If you can get by on a single tablespoon of half-and-half, you’ll be adding 20 calories to your drink.

Got your figures? Now do the math.

It’s worth figuring out how many calories reside in your standard cuppa, as there’s a good chance you have more than one a day. And over time, that adds up to a whole lot of calories.

Of course, when ordering at the café, your best bet, calorie-wise, is probably to stick to brewed coffee (or an Americano), dosed with a small quantity of sugar and milk. If you order something fancy, stay away from pre-sweetened drinks, anything with a lot of whole milk, or anything with whipped cream on top.

Why should you care? Let’s do some of that math I talked about. One 80-calorie cup of coffee per day works out to 560 calories in a week. In a year, that’s 29,200 calories. Disgusting, right? In weight-gain terms, that’s more than 8 pounds you wouldn’t have gained if you’d swapped your daily coffee for a glass of water.

If you think that’s bad, how about this: One grande mocha at Starbucks (sans whipped cream, and made with 2% milk) works out to 260 calories. If you treat yourself 3 days a week, that’s 780 calories per week. In a year, that’s 40,560 calories, or 11 and a half pounds. And there’s a good chance you have at least one coffee per day on those other days, even if it isn’t a fancy drink. Add that in, and you’ll be buying a new belt in no time.

And don’t get me started on frozen café beverages. One large frozen hot chocolate at Second Cup has 680 calories without whipped cream, or 780 calories with whip. By comparison, a Big Mac at McDonald’s clocks in at a mere 540 calories.

I’m not trying to be a health-nut grump about this. I just want folks to think a little bit more about their regular habits, because those are the things people usually forget about. While it’s fine to enjoy your daily cup of coffee, just remember to account for it in your daily calorie count, and know that you can control just how many calories each of those coffees has.

As always, you have the power.


If you’re not sure where to start, think about cutting back a little bit at a time. If you’re a devotee of the Tim Hortons triple-triple (eek), take that down to a double-double, then start asking for two milks and two sugars.

Keep an eye on milk quantity and milk-fattitude. Non-fat milk is a good option, if you don’t mind making the switch from 2% or whole milk. (Me, I stick to 2%, as I really dislike skim milk.) Also, there’s less milk in a cappuccino than in a latte of the same size. Same deal with a half coffee, half milk café au lait. (At Starbucks, it’s called a Coffee Misto, and it’s a bargain.)

Avoid pre-sweetened drinks. If you were adding those packets of sugar yourself, you’d no doubt stop well before hitting the total being added into many pre-sweetened café drinks.

Ask yourself if you really need a drink the size you’re getting. Do you need 20 ounces of coffee today, or will 16 ounces suffice? It doesn’t matter that those extra 4 ounces cost only pennies more, making it a “great deal,” nor does it matter that you always get the venti, and the barista knows your order by heart.

Read the café’s nutritional info brochure, chart or website. You want a reality check? Here’s a reality check. A venti-sized mocha Frappuccino (made with whole milk) has 390 calories, including 76 grams of sugar (the equivalent of putting 19 four-gram packets of sugar in your coffee) and 6 grams of fat. If you add whipped cream, it’s another 110 calories. How do I know this? Because I looked it up on the Starbucks website. If you’ve got a smartphone in your pocket, you have access to this information when you’re ordering your coffee. Also, many chain cafes have brochures or wall charts with this information readily available. If you’re not reading this information, it’s not because you can’t find it – it’s because you just plain don’t want to.


One Comment

  1. I appreciate seeing your article, I drink the Starbucks Shakn Black Tea Lemonade’s they seem harmless until you ask about the lemonade and then the sugar syrup (6 pumps! in a venti @ 20-25 calories per pump depending on who’s pumping lol)as you suggested and it really does work I worked my way down from 6 pumps down to 3 then now I am on 2 pumps of the sugar syrup …..makes my treat a little more guiltless for sure and nope can’t do artificial sweetner so demz da breaks