All Western nations face an obesity problem today, but Australia may very well lead the pack. Their obesity rates are climbing faster than anyone else's; 63 percent of adult Australians are either overweight or obese. But a new study out of Australia may have uncovered the root of the problem—and it can be found in a surprising place: the take-out coffee cup. As it turns out, the problem of obesity in Australia may stem from the decadent coffee drinks that they, and the rest of us, are drinking.
The study, published by the Cancer Council NSW, looked at coffee from 564 chain coffee purveyors, including Gloria Jeans, The Coffee Club, McCafé, and Michel's Patisserie. The worst flab-inducing offenders were iced coffees and chocolate drinks, the majority of which had over half of the recommended daily sugar allowance in just one easily ingested serving.
The bottom line: Australians—and the rest of us—may unknowingly be consuming our entire daily sugar and saturated fat limits and half of our suggested calorie intake in our coffee.
Co-author of the study Clare Hughes explains, "Many Australians rely on a take-away coffee for their morning kick start but people might be unaware of just how much sugar, saturated fat and kilojoules [each kilojoule is equivalent to .2 calories] they are consuming each day."
And don't think you have to be in Australia to be consuming way too much bad stuff in your morning coffee. McCafé—McDonalds' coffee brand—offers something known in Australia as the Coffee Kick Frappé. It has 19 teaspoons of sugar. In the US, they offer the McCafé Chocolate Chip Frappé, which has 66 grams of sugar or 16.5 teaspoons—and that's just for the 12-ounce drink.
Last year, the World Health Organization dropped its sugar intake recommendations from 10 percent of your daily calorie intake to 5 percent. For most adults, that's about 6 teaspoons—or 25 grams—of sugar per day.
But the problem doesn't stop with sugar. The study noted that some large coffees provided almost 50 percent of the recommended daily intake of saturated fat. Muffin Break's chai latte, however, really broke the bank. It had 64 percent of the recommended saturated fat for a day. And the Coffee Club's regular Vienna had a staggering 83 percent. This is not a burger, people: This is a coffee.
In addition to sugar and saturated fat, the calorie situation—Australians use kilojoules—in these drinks is mind-numbing. "Choosing the skim variety of a Tim Tam iced chocolate isn't going to help," Hughes warns. "It's still similar in kilojoules to a Big Mac."
The Cancer Council NSW got interested in looking at coffee for two reasons. First, being overweight or obese is now linked with ten cancers, and separate research, published last week, linked a poor diet to 7,000 new cancer diagnoses in Australia each year. Second, the Council realized that coffee chains were proliferating: "We were seeing the rise in these coffee chains—New South Wales has the highest number—and we were also seeing the introduction of kilojoule labelling and seeing the kilojoule intake was concerning."
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Hughes says the Cancer Council just wants to raise awareness: "We're certainly not saying people should avoid coffee altogether, but adding flavors, sugars, massive portion sizes or having cream-based coffee blows it out."
She also wants to wake up the food industry: "There is a role for the food industry in looking at portion sizes, but also the sugars and saturated fat content—they're quite high and they don't need to be."