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Published on September 02, 2016

cup of latte coffee

We Go with a Dietitian for Coffee to Get the Skinny on Lattes and More

An energizing espresso-based treat is a great way to kick the workday doldrums to the curb. Even on the weekend, there’s not much that beats a big cup full of your favorite caffeine-laced beverage.

Gourmet coffee now is everywhere, but sometimes it’s easier to enjoy it than it is to consider exactly how much sugar, calories and fat are packed into some of these treats. That’s why we went for coffee with Avera Heart Hospital Dietitian Lauren Cornay, to get the facts on frappes, sweeteners and the other accoutrements that go with a good cuppa Joe.

She said there are some good ways to approach what you drink to avoid packing in too many calories. “If you drink black coffee, you might be better off, calorie-wise, because in almost all cases, the milk added to a drink is what brings up its overall calorie count,” Cornay said. “If you love a latte with whole milk, you’re looking at a 230-calorie drink that packs 8-11 grams of fat. If you have one daily for a week — that really adds up.”

There are upsides to skim milk, Cornay said, including the fact it tends to froth up better and give a voluminous topping to a drink – more so than its fattier cousins. So if you love that heaping hat of foam on top of your drink – stick with skim. The “skinny” lattes one finds at a coffee shop typically are skim-milk based with artificially sweetened flavored syrups.

“Unsaturated fat can be a good part of your diet, and it’s found in things like olive oil, nuts and seeds. But milk has mostly saturated fat which you should limit in your diet,” Cornay said. “Even if you go with plant-based milk, like soy, aim to get unflavored soy milk. Many coffee shops use vanilla soy milk, and while it’s tasty, it’s got plenty of added sugars.”

There are other milks out there, but if you choose coconut milk in your coffee, remember it is a high-saturated fat food.

Beware the blender drinks, if you can, because most of the mixes that go into “frappes” and the like are again fat and sugar-laden and hard to justify due to their indulgent natures. Many 16-ounce versions of this drink, regardless of where you get it, are more than 500 calories, with 75 whopping grams of sugar and 20 grams of fat, too.

“It’s like getting a full hearty meal’s worth of calories in one cup,” Cornay said.

When it comes to making your brew a bit sweeter, the only real factor is your preference, our expert said. “You can put the nutritive sweeteners – honey, sugar, brown sugar – all in the same box, so to speak – they all are about 15 grams of sugar per tablespoon, and your body will break them down all about the same,” Cornay said. “Non-nutritive or artificial sweeteners, and there are many, are seen by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as helpful for those who seek to cut calories or lose weight.”

That official information needs more research, Cornay and some other say, as the jury on exactly how they impact us still is out. “That is my personal take, I just do not feel non-nutritive sweeteners are benign,” she said.

At its root, all coffee drinks – hot, cold, fancy or simple – pack caffeine and that complicated plant extract is perhaps the most studied one in the world, because of its popularity, Cornay said.

“Newer research has found that high consumption of boiled or espresso-based coffee has been associated with mild elevation of cholesterol levels,” she said. In the end, drinking smart with fancy coffee is much like any foods we choose; take time to know what you’re ordering, don’t over-do the indulgences and follow these tips and you’ll be pep-filled without all the bad stuff.

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