Watch Out for Empty Calories in Your Tea

Hidden Calories Graphic WTN170206

A new study reveals how many extra calories Americans consume from sugar, fat and saturated fat when they flavor their coffee and tea drinks. Infographic courtesy Julie McMahon

You might be surprised just how many empty calories you’re adding to your tea each day.

More than 160 million people in the U.S. regularly drink coffee or tea. Roughly two-thirds of coffee drinkers and one-third of tea drinkers add sugar, cream, flavorings or other calorie-rich additives, according to researcher Ruopeng An. “These add-in items are often dense in energy and fat but low in nutritional value,” said An.

An, a University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor, and his colleagues looked at 12 years worth of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 13,185 adults who drank coffee and 6,125 who drank tea in the 24 hours prior to the survey. The results of the study were published in Public Health.

“Compared with adding nothing to one’s tea, drinking tea with caloric add-ins increased daily caloric intake by more than 43 calories, on average, with nearly 85 percent of those added calories coming from sugar,” An said. The daily intakes may seem small, but those extra calories every day can add up to extra pounds.

Those who drink coffee black consume about 69 fewer total calories per day, on average, than those who add sweeteners, cream or other substances to their coffee, according to the research.

Milk products add a bit of calcium to the diet, but the amount – 22 milligrams per day, on average – is negligible, according to An. The daily recommended calcium intake is 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests ways to “rethink the drink” and limit calories:

  • Skip the extra flavoring. Flavored syrups used in coffee shops are full of sugar. Choosing sugar-free syrups or using extracts, like vanilla, can help cut the extra calories.
  • Skip the whip. A single tablespoon of whipping cream contains more than 50 calories; 3.4 grams are saturated fat, which can be harmful to heart health.
  • Stick to basics. Order a plain cup of tea; add only fat-free milk and an artificial sweetener.
  • The 1 percent rule. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk instead of whole milk. A tablespoon of whole milk is 9 calories; 48 percent fat, 29 percent carbohydrates, and 23 percent protein.
  • Less is more. Ordering the smallest size available will help curb calorie intake.

The survey showed that more than 51 percent of U.S. adults drink coffee and 26 percent drink tea on a regular basis.

Sources: University of Illinois, Public Health, Center for Disease Control and Prevention