How Sweet is Your Coffee? Let Me Count the Ways…

cup of coffee(2)

Robyn Flipse, MS. MA, RDN
Consultant to the Calorie Control Council

It seems every food and drink is celebrated with its own day on the calendar and coffee is no exception. September 29th is designated National Coffee Day and there are sure to be plenty of people raising a mug to honor the occasion since 83 percent of American adults claim they drink coffee – and it’s not just one cup – according to the National Coffee Association. American coffee drinkers average three 8-ounce cups per day adding up to a total of 146 billion cups per year making the United States the biggest consumer of coffee in the world!

For regular coffee drinkers, placing an order or fixing a cup at home or work is typically done on “auto pilot” thanks to well-worn habits. These are behaviors that help us get through the day without having to make conscious decisions about everything we do. We develop habits after repeating a behavior so many times it becomes an automatic response to a situation.  Whether a habit is a good one or bad one, it’s going to be pretty consistent.

If you like your coffee sweet, that can mean you’re consuming a lot more sugar than you realize. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination found sweetened coffee and tea beverages contribute 7 percent of the added sugars consumed by Americans adults. A woman adding just one teaspoon of sugar to her three cups of coffee each day would be getting half of the 6 teaspoons of sugar per day recommended by the American Heart Association. Sugar isn’t the only way we sweeten our coffee. The average “pump” of flavored coffee syrup is equivalent to 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar, and most specialty drinks have three or four pumps.

Non-dairy creamers can also be a source of added sugars along with milk substitutes, such as almond, coconut and soymilk. Check the ingredient list on the products you use to see if they contain sugar, corn syrup or other caloric sweeteners. You may be surprised to find your favorite “creamer” is not only whitening your brew, but is sweetening it, too.

Adopting some new habits for how you order or fix your coffee can lead to big reductions in both added sugar and unwanted calories. If you start on National Coffee Day by replacing 3 teaspoons of sugar with a sugar substitute every day you’ll have eliminated 1,092 teaspoons of sugar by this time next year or nearly 10 pounds of sugar and over 15,400 calories! The more changes you make the more calories and added sugar you can eliminate.

Here are six healthy habits that will help get you started cutting down on added sugar while still enjoying your coffee sweet every day of the year.

  1. Use a low-calorie sweetener like Equal® in place of sugar to get the sweetness of 2 teaspoons of sugar with just 4 calories compared to 32 calories in 2 teaspoons of sugar
  2. Switch from syrup to spices like nutmeg, cinnamon or cocoa powder to add flavor without sugar or calories
  3. Request sugar-free syrup with zero calories per pump instead of sugar-sweetened syrup with 20 calories per pump
  4. Order a smaller size drink since the bigger the drink the more sugar, syrup and creamer you use
  5. Try a sugar-free non-dairy creamer to save 20 calories and 5 grams sugar per tablespoon
  6. Ask for just a spoonful of whipped cream rather than the full cap that traditionally covers the cup.


Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian and cultural anthropologist whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness.  Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.


Photo Courtesy of Flickr User Toshihiro Oimatsu