Sugar and spice and many things not-so-nice—that's what seasonal
coffee drinks are made of. The onset of fall ushers in a harvest full
of coffee beverages in flavors such as pumpkin, caramel, maple and gingerbread.
But while you may savor them, these drinks aren't the best option
for coffee lovers, says
Lisa Gorman, RN, director of worksite wellness,
St. Joseph Health in Irvine, Calif.
"These coffee drinks may appeal to your taste buds, but that's
because they are usually full of calories, fat and sugar," Gorman says.
For instance, four major coffee chains—Starbucks, Peet's, Coffee
Bean & Tea Leaf and Dunkin Donuts—all offer a caramel-flavored
drink. Based on the nutrition information provided by the coffee companies,
a 16-ounce serving ranges from 270 calories (Dunkin Donuts' caramel
latte) to 390 calories (Coffee Bean's caramel latte). Starbucks'
salted caramel mocha had the highest fat content at 8 grams per serving,
while Coffee Bean had the most carbs, at 70 grams (the carb count for
the other brand's caramel drinks ranged from 55 grams to 61 grams).
The sugar content is high as well—Peet's caramel caffé
latte has 60 grams of sugar when made with 2 percent milk. That's
the equivalent of about 15 teaspoons of sugar.
"That's a lot of your daily calorie and fat allotment to get from
just one coffee drink," Gorman says.
The question has also been raised about the quality of the ingredients
used in flavored coffee drinks. A blogger recently made headlines by claiming
Starbucks didn't use pumpkin in its Pumpkin Spice Latte and that it
contained caramel color, which some food advocates say can be unhealthy.
(Starbucks has since responded that it is looking to phase out caramel
color in its drinks.)
"It's wise to try and look at the ingredients in these flavored
drinks," Gorman says. "You may find artificial flavorings or
high fructose corn syrup."
If you have to get your fall-flavored coffee fix with a gingerbread mocha,
Gorman suggests going for the smallest size possible and skipping the
whipped cream. One way to cut some carbs and sugar is to swap the milk
for soy or almond milk, but Gorman says that the tradeoff is a decrease
in protein and vitamins. The caramel caffé latte at Peet's,
for instance, has 60 grams of sugar and 16 grams of protein with 2 percent
milk; with soy milk, it has 49 grams of sugar and 8 grams of protein.
The best bet for coffee lovers is to order their java straight: a 16-ounce
serving of Starbucks' fresh-brewed coffee has only 5 calories and
0 grams of fat and carbs. (By comparison, a Pumpkin Spice Latte with 2
percent milk has 310 calories, 6 grams of fat and 50 grams of carbs.)
"If you need some flavor, you can add almond milk or nonfat milk and
use real spices like cinnamon and nutmeg —that way you can control
what goes into your drink," Gorman says.