According to Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at Public Health England, our morning pitstop for coffee could be less healthy than grabbing a cheeseburger from a fast food joint, as coffee shops often use misleading language to make their food and drinks seem less calorific than they actually are.
“Coffee shops have got a long way to go,” she told the Telegraph. “I think there are things we like to think we know are unhealthy, like a meal from a fast food takeaway as being unhealthy, [but] often [in a coffee shop] you’ve got no idea,”
Tedstone revealed that servers often ask customers if they’d like a muffin with their coffee, but that these can be high in calories, despite sounding healthy. For example, Pret A Manger's Breakfast Muffins contain ingredients normally associated with a healthy diet like pumpkin seeds, yet have more than 420 calories per 115g serving. When coupled with milky coffees, such as a Venti Starbucks latte with whole milk, customers can easily walk away with a drink and a snack containing more than 700 calories. In contrast, the McDonald's Big Mac burger has roughly 540 calories.
With Public Health England’s figures suggesting ‘on-the-go' food, including coffee shops drinks and takeaways, now makes up between 25-35% of people’s calorie intake in the UK, last month the body announced a consultation on introducing mandatory calorie labelling for takeaways, cafes and restaurants. As Tedstone noted, many coffee shops provide nutritional information both on counter cards and packaging, but these can often be hard to read.
So how can you ensure you’re picking the healthiest choice? As naturopathic nutritionist Rebecca Pilkington tells SL, going for black coffee could be your best option: “Not only do milk and sugar increase your calorie intake (a regular latte at Pret has 118 calories, compared to one calorie in a black Americano), adding milk decreases your body’s absorption of polyphenols, the antioxidants found in abundance in coffee. This means the negative effects of caffeine can be increased.”
As for what those negative effects are, studies show that caffeine can wreak havoc on your entire hormonal system for up to 24 hours by triggering a blood sugar rollercoaster. It can also cause a rise in cortisol – the stress hormone – and excessive levels of cortisol can inhibit brain function, slow metabolism, break down muscle and increase blood pressure. Plus, if cortisol levels are too high then your body will instinctively want to store fat, especially in the central regions, contributing to a ‘pot belly’ look or weight gain around the tummy.
And when it comes to takeaway coffee, the amount of caffeine varies widely across brand and size. Take, for example, a regular cappuccino at Costa, which contains 185mg of caffeine; Caffe Nero’s equivalent contains 80mg and Starbucks’ 75mg.
To combat the cortisol-increasing effects of caffeine, Pilkington suggests adding a tablespoon of coconut oil or a similar medium chain fatty acid to your coffee, as studies have shown this can have a positive effect on fat burning and weight reduction. Keep a bottle at your desk, or if you’re on the go, head to Planet Organic for one of their speciality MCT Oil Coffee or CBD Oil Coffees.
Healthiest options at*...
Cafe Misto with skimmed milk: 47 calories, 0.2g of fat, 6.6g of sugar, 4.7g of protein
Latte macchiato with almond milk: 55 calories, 2.2g of fat, 6.8g of sugar, 1.7g of protein
Latte with almond milk: 74 calories, 3.2g of fat, 6.6g of sugar, 2.1g of protein
SL's top tip: Filter coffee, Americanos and all drinks made with almond milk (the milk choice with the least amount of sugar) are the best options here.
Americano with no milk: 15 calories, 0.5g of fat, 0g of sugar, 0.9g of protein
Cappuccino with coconut milk: 50 calories, 1.8g of fat, 3.6g of sugar, 2.5g of protein
Latte with coconut milk: 59 calories, 2.2g of fat, 4.3g of sugar, 3g of protein
SL's top tip: Sugar content-wise, coconut milk is the healthiest option at Cafe Nero.
Americano with no milk: 6 calories, 0.2g of fat, 0.4g of sugar, 0.4g of protein
Macchiato with coconut milk: 9 calories, 0.3g of fat, 0.7g of sugar, 0.6 of protein
Cafe latte with skimmed milk: 75 calories, 0.6g of fat, 9.9g of sugar, 7.7g of protein
SL's top tip: Costa's skimmed milk and coconut milk have similar calorie counts, but coconut milk has less sugar (although it also has less protein).
*Based on 'small' drink sizes