If you depend on coffee to wake you up in the morning or keep you going throughout the day, don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone. A recent study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that more than 160 million people in America drink coffee on a regular basis—and most don’t take it black. Instead, roughly two-thirds of java lovers add cream, sugar, or other flavorings to their cup ‘o Joe without considering the possible health impact.
But come on, a dash of cream never hurt anyone, right? Wrong. “These add-in items are often dense in energy and fat but low in nutritional value,” says Ruopeng An, the University of Illinois Kinesiology and Community Health professor who conducted the study.
If you take your coffee black, you don’t have much to worry about in terms of calorie intake. But if you enjoy sprucing up your coffee with a bit of sweetness (and we can’t exactly blame you), you’re likely consuming an extra 69 unnecessary calories each time. “More than 60 percent of those calories come from sugar, with fat accounting for most of the rest of the extra calories consumed,” Dr. An found. (Find out 100 easy ways to cut 50 calories.)
That’s right, you’re actually drinking calories from sugar and fat in your morning coffee. (Especially if you’re guilty of frequenting Starbucks.) “These daily intakes may seem small, but the extra calories every day can add up to extra pounds,” Dr. An says. This is particularly true for anyone who drinks multiple cups per day, most (if not all) days of the week.
If you absolutely must sweeten your coffee, one of the best natural sweeteners you can use is a powder or liquid made from the green, leafy Stevia plant. This sweetener doesn’t just add sugar-like sweetness (it’s actually 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar), it also miraculously offers numerous health benefits, including lowering high cholesterol, potentially preventing heart disease, and having anti-inflammatory properties.
The good news: Once you’ve switched to a zero calorie sweetener like Stevia, you can use your leftover calorie budget to eat a banana (89 calories), a 100-calorie pack of snack pack, or a handful of pistachio nuts (83 calories). Unlike artificial sweeteners and creamers that leave you drinking on the pounds, these snacks are calories that are worth it.
Learn more about why all calories aren’t the same, which will help keep your jeans zipping up effortlessly over time.