That spoonful of sugar or splash of cream you put in your coffee adds up more than you think. New research shows that the vast majority of coffee drinkers add some 25,185 extra, mostly empty, calories over the course of a year.
Analyzing data from 19,400 Americans, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champain found that more than half drank coffee regularly. Roughly 68 percent of those people cut their java with caloric add-ins, predominantly sugar, cream, or milk. So it’s not just that these mixers contribute calories — the problem is that 60 percent of those came straight from sugar, which has zero nutritional value.
“Most of these calories are from sugar and saturated fat, both of which are recommended for substantial reduction by the American dietary guidelines,” says lead researcher Ruopeng An. We’re supposed to limit them because, as you know, excess sugar and saturated fat spell trouble for your heart, waistline, and lifespan. Although you’ll (hopefully) burn off some of the extra calories from your coffee through exercise, An says there’s still potential to pack on some pounds.
The researchers also analyzed tea drinkers, although far fewer — only 33 percent — put any caloric extras in their cup. When they did, it was usually sugar, honey, or low-fat milk, so nutrient-void sugar accounted for 85 percent of tea drinkers’ added calories.
Here’s another thing to keep in mind: Because this study looked only at caloric add-ins, it didn’t account for Splenda, Equal, and other no-calorie artificial sweeteners. The jury’s still out over what these cloyingly sweet chemicals do to our bodies, but it’s suspected that our systems mistake them for sugar. As a result, blood sugar spikes just the same. That could explain the documented links between artificial sweeteners and heightened risk of insulin resistance, obesity, and Type-2 diabetes.
The choice here is clear: Ditch the add-ins. Black coffee and straight tea, both rich in antioxidants that protect against cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, are your healthiest bets.