How to Order a Healthy Cup of Coffee

Coffee should be a beverage – not a high-calorie dessert.

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While I enjoy iced coffee when it's warm outside, I am hot coffee drinker – mostly black, to be exact – tried and true. But I know many people don’t share my love for black coffee. They'd rather enjoy it sweet, and in many cases, they turn it into more of a dessert than a simple cup of joe. This is a common theme among my patients. So many of them don’t understand why they're having difficulty losing weight, until they are forced to face the reality of their daily coffee decisions. 

Let me be clear: I am a fan of coffee, and according to many scientific studies, it can actually be good for you. But the "more is better" mentality is not necessarily going to work here, especially if you are adding lots of extra calories to every cup you drink.

Let’s take a look at how to order an enjoyable cup of coffee – not a diet disaster.

Size counts. I know everything these days comes supersized, but that doesn’t mean you need to order it that way. A 12-ounce tall Starbucks coffee might seem miniature compared to a 20-ounce venti, but the former really is the way to go. By downsizing a cappuccino you could save 60 calories. At Dunkin' Donuts, ordering a 10-ounce small instead of a 24-ounce large can make a very big difference, especially if ordering a caramel coffee with cream, in which case, you'd save 170 calories. (Whether you should even order the caramel coffee with cream is another story.)

[Read: 5 Ways to Clear Up Portion Distortion.]

Milk Matters. Unless you specify your milk preference, Starbucks will automatically give you 2 percent milk, and most other restaurants will give you whole milk. If you're just adding a drop of milk in your coffee, then who cares what you're given. But if you're ordering a “fancy” coffee, then you must start considering nonfat milk. For example, a tall nonfat latte at Starbucks is 100 calories, whereas the same drink with 2 percent milk is 150 calories. Fifty calories may not seem like a big deal, but depending on how many cups per day you're drinking and what else you are eating, it can surely add up.

Syrup suggestions. Unfortunately, every time you add syrup to a coffee beverage, you're adding a whole lot of calories. Sure it tastes good, but at what cost to your waistline? If you must go with syrup, order the sugar-free version if it's available. Or better yet, skip it altogether and simply sprinkle a little cinnamon, vanilla or chocolate powder or nutmeg for added flavor. Another idea is to order your beverage with soy milk; I find when I order a latte with soy instead of regular milk, it taste a whole lot sweeter.

Without whipped cream. I think whipped cream should simply be left on dessert and not even come close to a cup of coffee. Why would you want to waste an extra 80 calories or so on a beverage when you could have three Hershey Kisses instead for only 66 calories? I would choose the chocolate.

[Read: 10 Healthy Desserts – and They're Tasty, Too.]

Sugar solutions. Adding some sugar to a coffee is not the end of the world. One sugar packet is only 11 calories. What really matters here is the number of packets you use and how many coffees per day you're having. For example, if you're drinking three to four cups per day, each with three to four sugar packets, you could be looking at an extra 176 calories. If this sounds familiar to you, then I would be looking at adding alternative sweeteners that are actually sweeter and fewer calories per packet.

The bottom line: Your cup of coffee should not be more than about 100 calories per cup, especially if you are drinking more than one per day. Ideally, you should drink your coffee black and leave the extra calories for more nutritious choices. And when the temperature outside rises for good, I think you better start thinking about your iced coffee choices as well. 

[See: Best Diets for Healthy Eating.]