Make Healthy Choices at Coffee Shops

Updated: Aug. 20, 2019

There’s no excuse for letting these morning fixtures destroy your health goals.

What would the world be like without Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts? Well, somewhat thinner, perhaps.

These chains, which specialize in sweet coffee and tea drinks to wash down their hard-to-resist pastries, have become a staple in American cities and suburbs, alongside mom-and-pop coffee shops. Yet beyond the caffeine and wireless hot spots, they’re a major, albeit often hidden, source of
fat and calories.

As Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and coauthor of the book Restaurant Confidential, notes, a Starbucks venti-size White Chocolate Mocha made with whole milk and whipped cream has more calories and saturated fat than a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder With Cheese. Yikes! Check out the tips below if you want to avoid a calorie-overload the next time you hit up one of these sweet spots.

1. Order a glazed yeast doughnut. We know most people want a doughnut when they walk into a doughnut shop. So have one. But make it a glazed yeast doughnut, that is, plain except for a sugar coating if you’re at Dunkin’ Donuts (180 calories and 8 grams fat) or a traditional cake doughnut at Krispy Kreme (200 calories and 11 grams fat). In comparison, that Vanilla Kreme Filled at Dunkin’ Donuts has 270 calories and 13 grams fat.

2. Classify doughnuts as treats, not breakfast. A doughnut or other pastry as an occasional treat is fine, but as a breakfast it’s disastrous. Not only will the simple carbohydrates and high sugar load leave you drooping and hungry an hour later, but you get little to no nutritional benefit for the fat and calories you’re ingesting. If you must eat on the run at your friendly coffee shop, order a whole wheat bagel.

3. Classify specialty coffee drinks as dessert, not coffee. Fancy-flavored, whipped-cream, hard-to-pronounce coffee drinks can be worse for you than a big slice of cake. For example, a medium Java Chip Frappuccino with whipped cream at Starbucks has 510 calories, 22 grams fat, and 59 grams sugar. Of the 27 types of cakes Starbucks lists on its Web site, 21 have fewer calories per serving than the drink! If you must have a fancy coffee drink, treat it like a banana split or a big slice of cake — a rare indulgence, to be had by itself and not as a mere beverage.

4. Choose biscotti. These twice-baked Italian delicacies are perfect for dunking, and at Starbucks carry just 110 calories and 5 grams fat. Compare that to the Caramel Pecan Sticky Roll, with 730 calories and 40 grams fat.

5. Order plain coffee and add the extras yourself. Not only are many of the specialty coffee drinks loaded with fat and calories, but some items are made from mixes, many of which contain large amounts of trans fats. The solution: Get a black coffee and add in healthy amounts of skim milk, sugar, or sugar substitute, and if you wish, unique flavorings like ground chocolate or cinnamon.

6. If you must order specialty beverages, order ones made with milk, like cappuccino or latte. And ask that they be made with low-fat or skim milk. You’ll get a goodly amount of calcium along with the warmth and caffeine but without the saturated fat.

7. Forget the whipped topping. You’ll instantly save 100 calories and 10 grams fat.

8. Share a muffin between you and two other people. With Dunkin’ Donuts muffins weighing in at a hefty 5 ounces, each packs 500-600 calories, along with 15-24 grams of fat, notes Dr. Jacobson. As with a doughnut, think “treat” rather than breakfast when you get a muffin at a store. Muffins — even bran muffins — tend to be more about good taste than good nutrition.

9. Substitute skim milk when adding your own “creamer.” You’ll save upward of 50 calories, depending on the size of your drink. Chances are, you won’t notice the difference between the skim dairy and the half-and-half.

10. Go for a flavored bagel. If you’re ordering blueberry, cinnamon raisin, or some other tasty flavor, you won’t need the extra cream cheese, butter, or other spreads, Dr. Jacobson notes. Skip the salt bagel, though. It has more than a day’s worth of sodium, he says. Better still, go for whole wheat, multigrain, or oat bran bagels — you can eat your bagel and have some good nutrition too!

11. Pick the low-fat option. Many bakeries (even Dunkin’ Donuts) do offer low-fat options of their tasty treats. This is still a long way from health food, but it’s a healthy step closer.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest