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Ordering Smart at the Coffee Shop

by Elizabeth Owers | University of Notre Dame

F Posted in: College, Voices P Posted on: August 17, 2011
headshot elizabeth owers Elizabeth Owers

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that coffee helped me survive finals week last semester. It seemed like everyone on campus was carrying around some caffeinated concoction while finding a study spot. When I was looking up the ingredients for my drink online, I was shocked at the amount of fat, calories, and sugar in some of the most popular coffee drinks. These beverages are fine in moderation, but a daily visit to the coffee shop can add too many empty calories. Here are some suggestions for making your order a little less unhealthy:


  • The cute Italian names for drink sizes can make it easy to forget that you are drinking a very large sugary beverage. Stick to the 12 or 16 oz drinks to keep fat, calorie, and sugar counts down

Choose skim milk instead of whole milk

  • With 150 calories and 8 grams of fat per cup, whole milk has nearly twice the calories of skim, so this switch can have a significant impact on a 16 oz drink. Even if you usually think skim milk is too watery, it’s hard to taste the difference when it’s mixed with coffee.

Go easy on the whipped cream

  • It can add up to 100 calories to an already sweet drink. Skip it or take advantage of the “light” option offered at some coffee shops.

Treat frozen drinks as just that-a treat

  • Frozen coffee is delicious, but it’s not a good way to start every morning. With flavored syrups, whipped cream and add-ins like coconut and chocolate chips, some of these drinks are closer to desserts than they are to coffee. For instance, a 16 oz Java Chip Frappuccino from Starbucks has 18 grams of fat and 63 grams of sugar, compared to 14 grams of fat and 84 grams of sugar in the same size McDonald’s chocolate milkshake. On days when the temperature is too high for a hot coffee, an iced drink is a much better option, packing less of a calorie punch than its frozen counterpart. Ordering a 16 oz Coffee Frappuccino will set you back 240 calories, while a fat-free iced coffee is only 110 calories.

Avoid a sugar overload

  • Sweeteners are a little more complicated; sugar adds calories, but artificial sweeteners may harm your health in other ways. To avoid this dilemma, order unsweetened coffee and add one or two sugar packets. This is less sugar than is added to most sweetened coffee drinks, and chances are that you’ll find it’s all you need.

It’s good to step away from the coffee every once in a while

  • If you don’t need the major caffeine boost that espresso provides, try black or green tea. They aren’t as bitter or dehydrating as black coffee, so you don’t have to add as much milk or sugar. Of course, it’s also important to keep drinking water! Dehydration can cause headaches, sluggishness, and make it difficult to focus, and if you drink a bottle of water in the morning you may find that you don’t even need the coffee.

Of course, nothing can replace a good night’s sleep for keeping you alert and refreshed. But on the days when sleep is at the very bottom of the to-do list, don’t let nutrition take a back seat at the coffee shop as well.

Elizabeth Owers Elizabeth Owers Elizabeth Owers is a Voices Contributor from New Orleans, Louisiana. A sophomore at the University of Notre Dame, she is majoring in pre-medical studies with a minor in Catholic social tradition.

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