More than 160 million Americans drink coffee or tea on a regular basis, and if you've ever eavesdropped on the average Starbucks order, you know most of them have made an art of adjusting and adding syrups, sugars, creams, shots, whatever. Science is here to remind us, though, that nothing in life is free. The more of those extras you request, the more you'll pay long after the barista mispronounces your name, a new study suggests.
In the study, Ruopeng An, a community health professor at the University of Illinois, analyzed data on the coffee and tea drinking habits of 20,000 people between 2001 and 2012. He focused primarily on the differences in caloric intake between people who use sweeteners and other additives in their coffee and tea, and people who didn't.
An found that coffee drinkers were far more likely than tea drinkers to use additives like sugar and cream, and when they did, they racked up nearly 70 additional calories per cup. (To put that into context, a small cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee with no cream or sugar has about 5 calories.)
Even assuming a one-cup-of-coffee-per-day habit, that adds up to nearly 500 extra calories a week—or roughly the amount found in two medium slices of Pizza Hut. A 2010 study, however, found that the average American drinks closer to three cups per day. That's a lot of calories.
Furthermore, many of those additional calories, An noted in a press release, are also nutritionally deficient—including dairy-based products, which deliver just 22 milligrams of calcium on average. (Diet specialists recommend most people consume between 1000 and 1300 milligrams of calcium per day, depending on their age and pregnancy status.)
"Our findings indicate that a lot of coffee and tea drinkers regularly use caloric add-ins to improve the flavor of their beverages, but possibly without fully realizing or taking into consideration its caloric and nutritional implications," he said.
Our suggestion: Gradually reduce the sweeteners until you can get used to drinking it black. And be grateful that at least you don't have to feel bad about your caffeine habit.