Although the way you take your coffee tends to be non-negotiable, new research suggests that people who like theirs light or sweet don't just end up drinking a bunch of empty calories, but may also end up eating worse than people who drink plain black coffee. The same goes for tea drinkers who add milk and sugar to the mix, but the effect doesn't seem to be quite as extreme.
Unlike in previous studies where sweetened fizzy drinkers appeared to compensate for calories they drank by eating less overall, when researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of California, San Diego, compared the diets of 19,400 coffee and teas drinkers for a study recently published in Public Health, they found that people tend to simply ignore the extra milk and sugar calories they slip into their drinks—no one's eating less at lunch because they had a splash of creamer in their morning coffee.
Here's what else researchers found:
COFFEE DRINKERS ADD WAY MORE CALORIES TO THEIR DRINKS
Compared to tea, coffee tends to be the biggest calorie bomb, since nearly 2 out of 3 coffee drinkers use caloric additives like sugar, milk, creamer—and let's not talk about Frappuccinos and PSLs. Meanwhile, only 1 in 3 tea drinkers adds sugar, honey, milk, or some other kind of creamer.
YOU'RE ALSO EATING WORSE THAN YOU THINK
A packet of sugar has 11 calories, while a tablespoon of whole milk has 9 calories. While these calories do add up, light-and-sweet coffee drinkers in the study ended up consuming an average of 69 more calories per day than black coffee drinkers, while fans of sweetened and/or milky tea consumed an average of 43 extra calories per day compared to plain tea drinkers. Meaning: This isn't just about the calories in your coffee cup, according to lead researcher Ruopeng An, PhD, an assistant professor of community health at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
People who all but turn their daily drinks into dessert may actually eat worse overall: In the study, their diets contained more sugar, fat, and saturated fat than those who drank their tea or coffee black.
While the study didn't look into why, it could have something to do with the muffin you buy when you're picking up your latte or the cookie you can't resist when you stop for a chai latte. It's also possible that people who add sweet stuff to their daily drinks have less regard for nutrition, or that sweetened drinks cause a sugar high and resulting energy drop that invokes junk food cravings. But more research is needed.
SO: SHOULD YOU SWITCH TO TEA?
If you must sweeten your drink or stir in milk, make it skim, for a low-calorie bit of calcium and protein without extra saturated fats. And, think about switching to tea, since people consumed less excess calories, sugar, and fat overall when they went that route.
Either way, know that whatever calories you add to your mug do count (Sorry!), especially if your drink of choice is a habit as opposed to a treat.