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Do We Need a Wake-up Call on Specialty Coffee Drinks?

October 27, 2015 by Andrea Godfreyson, Registered Dietitian

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It used to be simple. The only local “coffee shop” was a seedy diner in the mall that served stale coffee in a stained mug. Don’t get me wrong, I happily sat there after school with friends while in high school. But now, flash forward almost (gulp) 20 years, and there seems to be a designer coffee shop on every block.

According to a 2013 study from the Coffee Association of Canada, the majority of Canadians drink coffee daily, about one third of which is purchased at coffee shops and other places away from home.

How does coffee culture affect our health?

A far cry from the drip coffee that used to be the norm, the options now are seemingly endless. Pumps of flavoured sugar syrups, whipped cream, blended creamy iced options, shaved chocolate, sprinkles and super-sized cups have become commonplace. This has me wondering about the nutritional impact of coffee culture, especially on the younger generation.

In my neighbourhood, on the first day of school the local coffee shop was lined up out the door with parents purchasing specialty drinks for their kids. Perhaps this was a special treat to savour, and only happens once in a while. But, if stopping at the local coffee shop to buy kids specialty drinks is a regular or daily habit, then the load of sugar and fat they may get could serve up extra calories and unwanted weight gain. Being at an unhealthy weight increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease in both children and adults.

The World Health Organization recommends that the total amount of sugars added to our food and drinks (as well as the sugar we may drink in 100% fruit juice) be less than 12.5 tsp (50 g) each day. Some specialty coffee drinks have as much as 21 tsp of sugar (84 g) in a single drink. That should wake us all up.

Luckily, the nutritional content of drinks and snacks at coffee shops is now more accessible due to the Informed Dining program. The program allows you to look up your favourite choices before ordering - making healthy choices easier. Click here to see which shops participate.

In terms of caffeine, Health Canada has recommendations based on age group. For kids and teens, the daily maximum amount of caffeine can be exceeded by a single specialty drink if it contains coffee or espresso, which can have harmful effects.

Going for coffee can be a lovely part of your day and there are many healthy choices you can make when you get there. A kid-sized steamed milk sprinkled with cinnamon, cocoa powder or flavoured with a single pump of syrup makes a good go-to for the little ones. But if your drink tastes like a piece of cake or if your kid is downing a daily dose of sugar and caffeine then maybe it is time to wake-up and smell the coffee.

Related blogs

What to Sip and Which to Skip
Healthy Drink Choices

Recommended resources

Health Canada - Caffeine in Food
Dietitians of Canada – What is caffeine? Is it bad for my health?
World Health Organization – Sugars intake for adults and children

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