Coffee Drinkers, Beware: Milk, Sugar & Other Add-ins Add Up

coffee, milk, sugar
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Coffee and tea drinkers who regularly sweeten and flavor their drinks with add-ins, such as sugar and milk, may be stirring in up to 69 extra calories a day, a new study finds.  

Coffee and tea are among the most popular drinks in the U.S., the researchers wrote in the study.

Although the drinks contain few to no calories on their own, many people flavor or sweeten these beverages: The researchers found that 68 percent of coffee drinkers and 33 percent of tea drinkers in the study reported consuming their drinks with caloric add-ins, according to the new study, published Jan. 30 in the journal Public Health.

Compared with those who took their coffee black, coffee drinkers who used add-ins drank 69 more calories each day, the researchers found. For tea drinkers, those who used add-ins consumed about 43 calories more each day, compared with those who didn't add anything to their tea, the researchers found. [11 Surprising Things That Can Make You Gain Weight]

The number of extra calories each day may seem small, but they can add up to extra pounds, lead study author Ruopeng An, an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said in a statement.

"Our findings indicate that a lot of coffee and tea drinkers regularly use caloric add-ins to improve the flavor of their beverages, but possibly without fully realizing or taking into consideration its caloric and nutritional implications," An said.

In the study, the researchers looked at data from more than 13,000 coffee drinkers and more than 6,200 tea drinkers who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) from 2001 to 2012. The NHANES is a regularly conducted government survey that collects information on Americans' health and diet.

Sugar and sugar substitutes, cream and cream substitutes, half-and-half, and whole or reduced-fat milk were among the top add-ins for coffee drinkers, the researchers found. Tea drinkers were most likely to add sugar or sugar substitutes, honey and whole or reduced-fat milk, according to the study.

For both coffee and tea drinkers, the majority of added calories came from sugar, followed by fat, the researchers found. Of the 69 extra calories that coffee drinkers added, on average, 42 calories, or 60 percent, came from sugar, and 23 calories, or 33 percent, came from fat, according to the study. For tea drinkers, of the 43 extra calories that they added, on average, 37 calories, or 85 percent, came from sugar, and 3.7 calories, or 9 percent, came from fat, the researchers found.

The researchers noted that adding dairy to coffee and tea does contribute calcium to a person's diet. However, coffee drinkers added, on average, 22 milligrams of calcium, and tea drinkers added, on average, just 3 mg — representing a small step toward the daily recommended amount of calcium, which is about 1,000 mg. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.