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The Princeton Longevity Center Medical News

Coffee Challenge

By: Karen McPartland, RD

Even before I became a dietitian, I noticed that many people are habitual coffee drinkers.  When I approach individuals about their coffee and overall caffeine consumption during a nutrition counseling session, I am usually met with some resistance as most people are not willing to give coffee up!  So, to those of you who visit coffee shops or convenience stores every morning for a cup of coffee and to those of you who make a pot of coffee at home or grab coffee at the communal coffee pot at the office…I have a challenge for you…if you can’t give up your coffee, make your coffee a little bit healthier by using some of these tips!

Challenge Calories & Fat:  Take a few minutes to log onto the website of your favorite coffee shop and look up the nutritional information for the beverage you usually order.  Doing this can be a real eye-opener!  Even as a dietitian, I was shocked at how some coffee drinks can actually be a “meal” due to the number of calories and fat grams that they contain!  Here is a sample of what I found:  At www.starbucks.com:  A 16 oz. Java Chip Frappucino made with 2% milk contains 460 calories, 19 grams of fat (12 grams are saturated) and 67 grams of carbohydrate.  At www.dunkindonuts.com:  A medium (16 oz.) Mocha Spice Latte contains 330 calories, 9 grams of fat (6 grams saturated) and 53 grams of carbohydrate.  So, here are some quick tips to minimize the calories you take in when drinking your cup of coffee:

  • Avoid whipped cream. This usually adds about 70 calories (or more!) and about 7 grams of fat (4.5 of these grams are saturated) to each cup! Skip the whipped cream…you won’t miss it!
  • Choose a lower calorie and lower fat version of your favorite drink. Ask for skim milk instead of whole milk to cut 100 calories and 12 grams of fat from a 16 ounce drink.
  • Skim the syrup.  Ask for half of the syrup that is usually squirted into your cup.  Each pump is generally around 20 calories and has 5 grams of sugar.  You can also choose sugar-free syrup to save 80-120 calories and about 20 grams of sugar for a 16 ounce drink.
  • Go with milk.  Products like Coffee-Mate are usually staples in offices and homes of coffee drinkers.  But, have you given much thought as to what is actually in these coffee creamers?  Take a look at the label of any powdered creamer and you’ll see a long list of ingredients that you probably can’t even pronounce!  Do you really want to be putting this stuff into your body everyday?  Probably not!  Whiten your coffee with low-fat or fat-free milk.  If you are looking to make your coffee creamier, use whole milk or better yet, a product called Skim Plus, which is fat free milk with extra protein.  The extra protein makes the milk thick and creamy like whole milk.  Avoid table cream or half and half…although these are more natural than powdered creamers, they contain a lot of saturated fat, which can increase cholesterol levels and raise cancer risk.   
  • Drink it Black.  This may take awhile to get used to so start by slowly reducing the amount of sugar, creamer, etc. that you add to your cup until your coffee is black (a little skim milk is okay…see below!). 

Challenge Nutrients:  For many people, a cup of coffee on the way to work is “breakfast”, so why not make it as healthy as possible?  These nutrient boosting ideas are also great for those that use coffee as a “snack” in the afternoon.

  • Get more protein and calcium out of your coffee by having more milk (or soy milk) and less coffee in your cup.  Café au lait is a great way to do this as it is half coffee and half steamed milk.  Just be sure to use or ask for skim milk or soy milk to keep the calories and fat content in check.
  • Add some fiber to your cup.  Taking in adequate fiber each day helps to support the health of our digestive tracts and can help with cholesterol control.  Although it’s best to obtain fiber from whole foods like fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains, a fiber supplement is a convenient way to get a fiber boost.  Powdered fiber supplements like Metamucil or Benefiber dissolve quickly in liquids and won’t even be noticeable as you sip your cup of comfort!  Follow the dosage directions listed on the fiber supplement that you purchase.

Challenge Caffeine:  Most experts agree that caffeine is safe in moderate amounts, which is about 300 mg per day or about 24 oz. of coffee.  But, the safety of caffeine does depend on the individual (ex. pregnant woman, those with health issues, etc.).  I encourage people to limit their caffeine intake as much as possible so here are some simple ways to keep your caffeine intake in check:  

  • Consider your portion size. If you usually order a large drink, consider cutting it down to a medium or even a small.
  • Opt for a cup of tea. The caffeine content of a tea bag brewed for five minutes is about 47 milligrams for an eight ounce cup, according to the USDA. Compare that to coffee made from brewed grounds with a caffeine content at about 95 milligrams for an eight ounce up.  Overall, a cup of tea contains about 50% of the caffeine found in coffee so this can make a big difference!  There are many different types of teas to choose from so give them a try…but, remember to use the tips mentioned in this article for your tea as well!

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