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Flavoured coffee beans: Are they unhealthy?

Special to The Globe and Mail

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The question

I've started to buy coffee beans from the grocery store that are 'Swiss almond chocolate' flavoured, and I am loving my morning java. But is there added sugar/calories in my coffee now? Also, I like flavoured shots into my coffee on occasion at the coffee shop - how many calories are in that, anyway? I assume it's bad for me, but I'd like to know how bad.

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The answer

Not to worry! The Swiss almond chocolate flavoured coffee you enjoy so much does not have added sugar or calories, provided you drink it black of course. Flavoured coffee is made by adding flavouring oils – natural or synthetic – to coffee beans. Coffee beans are coated with these compounds to enhance taste. Natural flavouring oils are extracted from vanilla, cocoa beans (chocolate!), nuts and berries.

Spices like cinnamon and clove are also used in some flavoured coffees. After the coffee beans are roasted, the flavouring compounds are added.

A cup of black coffee is a three-calorie beverage. Add a teaspoon of sugar and a splash of milk and you’re up to 35 calories. If you add sugar or honey to coffee, stick to one teaspoon.

If you have a few cups of coffee each day, each generously sweetened with sugar, the calories add up. One tablespoon of sugar has 48 calories and the same amount of honey has 60 calories.

As for the flavour shots you add at the coffee shop - sugar! If you order a 16 ounce (Grande) flavoured Caffe Latte at Starbucks, you’re getting 17 grams of sugar – 4 teaspoons worth – from the syrup alone. Most coffee shots have sugar-free flavourings which are calorie free.

If you don’t want the artificial sweeteners, specify how many pumps of flavouring you want – 20 calories per pump.

The calorie-laden coffee drinks are the flavoured lattes made with whole milk and topped with whip cream. For example, Starbuck’s Grande Cinnamon Dolce latte with the works has 370 calories and 17 grams of fat – 10 of them from cholesterol-raising saturated fat. These coffee drinks are treats, so think of them like liquid dessert.

When in doubt, read nutrition information. Starbuck’s, Second Cup, Tim Horton’s and Country Style post detailed nutrient breakdowns of menu items on their websites. To know what you’re drinking – and to make a healthier choice – consult this information in advance.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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