We wouldn’t ever consider going without our daily caffeine fix (or five…), but getting that fix in frappa-somethin’ form is far from good for you. Surprisingly, even seemingly harmless lattes and teas can rack up the calories, sugar, and caffeine. So much for a trendy and delicious pick-me-up… but there are better ways!

Danger Drink! — The Need-to-Know

Dangerfood Coffee Drink Photo by Caitlin Covington

If it has anything more than just straight coffee or tea (and maybe a little milk or a spoonful of sugar), that café beverage probably isn’t worth the extra calories and sugar. An innocent-sounding Grande Chai Latte from Starbucks contains 42 grams of sugar and 240 calories, while a Grande Syrup-Flavored Latte with espresso has about 35 grams of sugar and 250 calories. These extra calories are anything but harmless: A 2007 survey found calorie-packed drinks to account for nearly one fourth of Americans’ overall calorie intake, while a 2011 survey found that about half the U.S. population ages two and up consumes sugary drinks daily. And studies have found the result to be some serious weight gainBeverage consumption and adult weight management: A review. Dennis, E.A., Flack, K.D., Davy, B.M. Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, 24061, United States. Eating and Behaviors, 2009 Dec;10(4):237-46. Epub 2009 Jul 16..

Many of those pesky café calories come from the milk used in the drinks. And if type of milk isn’t specified, the default is typically two-percent— eight ounces of which contains 5 grams of fat, 12 grams of sugar, and more than 120 calories. So much for a calorie-free beverage— that’s more like half a breakfast! Milk’s not all bad on it’s own, but drinks don’t trigger satiety (in other words, they don’t make us feel full) the same way solid foods do, leaving our stomachs grumbling even after sucking down all those calories.

Making the problem even worse, portions at many chains are larger than life. The Starbucks “Trenta” size actually holds more liquid than the human stomach! Meanwhile, one Venti Americano is all the caffeine most adults should have in an entire day. Drinking more caffeine than that could cause a speedy heart rate, insomnia (surprised?), and nauseaSide effects of caffeine. Dworzański, W., Opielak, G., Burdan, F. Polski Merkuriusz Lekarski, 2009 Nov;27(161):357-61..

And we haven’t even considered the serious sugar rush from many blended, whipped, steamed, or brewed bevs. One calorie of every six most Americans consume comes straight from added sugar, and one-third of our total added sugar intake comes from drinks. The “added” sugar (in other words, sugar not naturally present in the food or drink) sneaks into coffee drinks not just in the form of straight sugar, but also from those delicious pumps of sweet, flavorful goodness and chocolate, caramel, or (and?) whipped cream toppings. Plus, drinking all those sugary beverages is associated with other unhealthy habits among young adults (specifically, high-schoolers)— like eating fast food and having low levels of physical activityFactors Associated with Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Intake among United States High School Students. Park, S., Blanck, H.M., Sherry, B., et al. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. The Journal of Nutrition, 2012 Feb;142(2):306-12. Epub 2012 Jan 5..

Get Your Drink On — Your Action Plan

All is not lost, fellow caffeine addicts! Instead of macchiatos and cappuccinos, drink straight tea or coffee— both are practically calorie-free and have plenty of other health benefits, and can even boost metabolismThe effect of caffeine, green tea and tyrosine on thermogenesis and energy intake. Belza, A., Toubro, S., Astrup, A. Department of Human Nutrition, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009 Jan;63(1):57-64.! Cinnamon can also be swapped in for sugar and cream in coffee to save 70 calories— not to mention, cinnamon actually has some health benefits of its own.

Still can’t resist the foamy allure of the coffee shop? When going the latte route (you fancy, huh?), opt for fat-free milk(switching from two-percent to skim saves about 40 calories) and low- or no-sugar flavors. (At Starbucks, they call this ordering drinks “skinny.”) Or— for those unwilling to add faux sweeteners— skip flavor shots entirely in favor of a classic latte. It is worth noting the milk in lattes can actually be beneficial— it provides much-needed calcium. And keep it to a reasonable size to avoid overdoing it on the caffeine!

Do you think the extra calories and sugar are worth it, or will you start foregoing that orange-mocha Frappachino in favor of a more basic café drink?