Food & Nutrition
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Coffee Perks

A nutritionist addresses potential confusion around caffeine

The United States is the leading consumer of coffee in the world. In fact, Americans drink 400 million cups of coffee per day; to kick-start their engines, as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, even at night to finish off a fancy meal. Some like it hot even when it’s blazingly warm; others prefer it iced, even on a chilly day. If you’re drinking one or more of those cups every day, do you need to think differently about coffee while you are living with diabetes?

Coffee – in particular its component caffeine (which is found in the seeds of coffee plants) – has been studied and analyzed for years. Experts have examined a range of coffee’s possible effects and, at this point, most no longer harbor health concerns. In fact, the talk today among my fellow RDs is about the health perks of coffee. Recent studies show that drinking more coffee actually may reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Experts point to the antioxidants and minerals magnesium and chromium found in the coffee bean, all of which may do a small bit to help manage blood sugar.

So enjoy your morning joe! I advise most patients who want to drink coffee to do so, but in moderation. “Moderation” means roughly three to four 8-oz. cups a day, an amount small enough not to cause dehydration. Of course, if you drink a significantly larger amount of caffeinated coffee (perhaps two to three cups extra, the amount will vary base upon your body weight), you may urinate more, but that has more to do with the volume of liquid as opposed to the mild diuretic effect of caffeine.

While no research has shown coffee to raise blood sugar levels, some of my patients living with diabetes do report that, in their experience, coffee may cause a rise in blood sugar. If that’s the case with you, it’s possible that the higher blood sugar is due to what goes into the cup besides coffee (see below); and eliminating those calories may solve the issue. But if you regularly observe a glucose rise after drinking coffee, talk to your doctor or nutritionist: he or she may be able to suggest some changes that may help.

I do encourage my patients to enjoy their coffee, but I also ask them how they enjoy drinking it. Black coffee contains nearly zero calories, and has no fat or carbohydrates. But, in my experience, most people don’t take it black. With the proliferation of coffee shops, there’s no shortage of large, calorie-dense, nutrition-poor coffee concoctions with shots of sugary syrups, topped off with whipped cream and caramel or chocolate drizzles.

To enjoy your coffee and help manage your glucose and weight, try my tips:

At Home:

  • Lighten coffee with low-fat milk (as low in fat as possible while still being enjoyable).
  • Avoid powdered creamers and fat-free half-and-half (both are mainly sugar-based and contain carbohydrates).
  • If you really need something sweet in your coffee, find a sugar substitute that pleases your taste buds and keep a box on hand.

At Coffee Shops and Restaurants:

  • Choose the smallest size available if the drink contains calories. If you take it black, enjoy the large!
  • Opt for a lower-calorie lightener, such as 2% or soy milk.
  • Request a sugar-free syrup, if available.
  • Sweeten with sugar substitute of your choosing (carry a supply if it isn’t typically available).
  • Skip the whipped cream, chocolate, and caramel drizzle.
  • Check out the nutrition facts and ingredients of the restaurant’s beverages in an in-store brochure or on the website.

To give you a head start, I’ve put together the nutrition counts of some common coffee add-ins.




Carbohydrate (g)

Fat (g)

  Whipped cream 6 Tbsp. 46 2 4
  Non-fat whipped cream 6 Tbsp. 36 6 1
  Cream 1 Tbsp. 30 1 3
  Half-and-half 1 Tbsp. 20 1 2
  Whole milk 1 Tbsp.   9 1 0.5
 2% (used as standard by some coffee shops) 1 Tbsp.   8 1 0.3
  Fat-free milk 1 Tbsp.   5 1 0
  Powdered creamer 1 Tbsp. 33 3 2
  Soy milk 1 Tbsp. 15 1 1
  Sugar 2 tsp. 33 8 0
  Sugar substitute 2 tsp. equivalent <5 about 1 0

Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE*, is the author of several best-selling books published by the American Diabetes Association, including Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy and Guide to Healthy Restaurant Eating. She’s a frequent contributor to Diabetic Living magazine. Warshaw is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

 © 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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