Coffee may be your go-to in the mornings to get your day started, but are you adding unnecessary carbohydrates to your diet? Does coffee have carbs, and what about flavored coffee?
Flavored coffee doesn’t have carbs—flavored coffee beans that are infused with flavor when roasted. Coffee by itself does not have any carbs. However, flavored caffeinated beverages can have many carbs, depending on the flavoring. Syrups and steamed milk add a lot of carbohydrates and calories.
To understand whether your coffee has carbs, you need to determine the source of the flavor. Read on to understand what carbohydrates are and which type of flavored coffees contain them.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of the three main macronutrients that the body needs for energy. The others are proteins and fats. Carbohydrates are the sugars, fibers, and starches found in produce, grains, and dairy products. As we digest these components, our body turns the carbs into sugar and uses that as fuel for every bodily movement, function, and thought.
Dieters are often attracted to meal plans that are low in carbs because they can kick-start weight loss. However, low-carb diets are usually not sustainable, as carbs are your body’s main energy source. If you reduce your carb intake, you will naturally have to increase your protein and fat intake to ensure you are still receiving the proper macronutrients in your diet.
By increasing fats and proteins, you can cause more harm to your body than eating carbs would. Eating red meat twice a week can increase your cardiovascular disease risk by 3-7%. If going low-carb will drive you to eat more red meat and animal fats, you’d likely be better off staying with a balanced diet.
Main Types of Carbohydrates
There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbs contain one or two types of sugars and are broken down and absorbed by the body quickly. These carbs are found in sugars, syrups, produce, and dairy products. They are the most common cause of a “sugar rush” and should be limited for everyone, especially people with diabetes.
Complex carbs are made up of three or more sugar types that take longer to digest and provide more sustainable sources of energy. These carbs are found in starchy foods like potatoes, beans, lentils, peanuts, pasta, and bread. If you’re tempted to try a low-carb diet, then consider removing simple carbs and keeping the complex ones that are more continual.
The Process of Making Coffee
Coffee beans are seeds of a fruit called the “coffee cherry.” If you’re considering the original fruit and seed, then yes, coffee does have carbs.
The fruit of the cherry is a simple carb, while the seed is a complex carb. If you were to eat either of these components, you would be ingesting carbohydrates. However, when considering coffee, the by-product of coffee “beans,” there are no carbs present.
Coffee is made through a process of picking, peeling, drying, and, finally, roasting. First, the coffee cherries are picked, usually by hand, and then run through a process to remove the fruit’s flesh from the seed. Next, the seeds, then called beans, are dried to a 10% moisture content. After that, they are ready to be roasted.
Roasting coffee is what releases the flavor and the natural oil “caffeoyl” from the coffee beans. Once roasted, the green beans turn brown and are rapidly cooled. The beans are then ready to be ground and brewed into one of America’s favorite beverages.
Coffee is brewed by running hot water through the beans’ ground powder, which infuses the water with the flavor, color, and caffeine content of the beans. However, it does not bring with it any of the carbs or calories that the beans may contain. Black coffee is a zero-calorie, zero-carb beverage.
What Type of Flavored Coffee Contains Carbs?
When you start to add things to your black coffee, you remove the zero-calorie and zero-carb benefits of the drink. As a general rule, the more additives in the drink, the more calories you’ll consume. Everything from milk, syrups, whipping cream, and chocolate sauce all add delicious flavor—and carbohydrates.
The carbs found in flavored coffees are almost always simple, meaning they are less than ideal for diets or diabetes. Most coffee shops use sweeteners that are flavored simple syrups. These are made by dissolving sugar in boiling water, adding flavorings, and allowing the mixture to cool into a sweet liquid.
One ounce (29.6 ml) of a simple syrup has 14g (0.5oz) of carbohydrates, all of them being simple sugars, and 50 calories. Consider that each “pump” of flavored syrup is half of a fluid ounce, and a 16-ounce (473.2-ml) vanilla latte at Starbucks contains four pumps; you can see how quickly the carbs and calories add up.
A 16-ounce (473.2-ml) vanilla latte will contain about 28g (0.99oz) of carbs from the sweetener alone. Add in the milk, and you’ll have another 19g (0.67oz) of simple sugars (carbohydrates) and 200 more calories.
For a grande vanilla latte from Starbucks, expect a beverage with 47g (1.66oz) of carbs and 300 calories. Keep in mind that none of these are from the coffee or espresso itself.
Many flavored coffee drinks are also topped with whipping cream. Mochas, seasonal drinks, and cold-blended coffees are often finished with a healthy serving of sweetened whipped cream.
According to Fast Food Nutrition, the whipped cream on top of a Grande Starbucks beverage like the one described above contains 12g (0.42oz) of carbs, 4g (0.14oz) of protein, and a whopping 99g (3.5oz) of fat. Combined, this adds 110 calories to your morning beverage. It’s safe to say caffeine is not the only thing that gives you energy in a drink like this.
What Are Flavored Coffee Beans?
Another thing to consider is flavored coffee beans. You might see a “hazelnut coffee” on the menu at your local cafe. This option could refer to high-calorie hazelnut syrup put in a drip coffee, or it could refer to a coffee bean that was roasted in such a way to give it a nutty flavor.
The beans may have been roasted with actual hazelnuts, or the beans may have a natural nutty essence. Be sure to check with your barista to clarify whether the “hazelnut coffee” on the menu has sweeteners or not.
What Is the Healthiest Alternative to Sugar?
Many cafes carry sugar-free versions of their most popular syrups; sugar-free vanilla, sugar-free caramel, and sugar-free hazelnut are all common choices. These sweeteners often use other ingredients to replace the natural sugars, which still add flavor and sweetness to a beverage but lowers the calories.
Stevia and sucralose are two of the most common non-sugar sweeteners, and they contain much fewer calories from carbohydrates than sugar. Many diets recommend using stevia as a sugar-replacement because of this, and those looking to lower their carbohydrate intake may benefit from using stevia instead.
However, while stevia in its purest form is a plant, the stevia that we see on the grocery store shelves is highly processed and often combined with dextrose and maltodextrin. These two ingredients do add caloric content to the product. Overall, stevia will still have fewer calories than straight sugar, but its intake should still be limited.
Stevia is a great option for:
- Those looking to lower their sugar intake
- People with high insulin and glucose levels
- Dieters needing a short-term way to cut calories
- People wanting a healthier way to sweeten coffees and baked goods
Flavored coffee can pack a lot of calories into a 12 or 16-ounce (354.9- or 473.2-ml) cup. Steamed milk, sweet syrups, and heavy whipped cream add a lot of carbohydrates and fat without many nutritional benefits.
If you’re looking to cut calories and stick to a low-carb diet, then try to forgo coffee additives as much as possible. Black coffee is best and contains no carbohydrates or calories.
- NCA: 10 Steps From Seed to Cup
- NCA: COVID Caffeine: America’s favorite beverage overcomes pandemic disruptions
- FitBit: Calories in Stirrings Simple Syrup – Nutritional Information and Diet Info
- Starbucks: Steamed Milk
- Fast Food Nutrition: Starbucks Grande Whipped Cream for Cold Drinks Nutrition Facts
- Healthline: Stevia: Side Effects, Benefits, and More
- LiveScience: Carbohydrates: What They Are, Where They’re Found, How They’re Used
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