Although the way you take your coffee tends to be non-negotiable, a January 2017 study suggests that people who like theirs light or sweet don't just end up drinking a bunch of empty calories — they also might end up eating worse than people who drink plain black coffee. The same goes for tea drinkers who add milk and sugar to the mix, but the effect doesn't seem to be quite as extreme.
Unlike in a previous September 2015 study that found sweetened soda drinkers appeared to compensate for calories they drank by eating less overall, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of California, San Diego compared the diets of 19,400 coffee and teas drinkers and found that people tend to simply ignore the extra milk and sugar calories they slip into their drinks. Read: No one's eating less at lunch because they had a splash of creamer in their morning coffee.
Here's a look at the researchers' other findings:
Coffee Drinkers Add Way More Calories to Their Drinks
Compared to tea, coffee tended to be the bigger calorie bomb, with nearly two out of every three coffee-drinking participants using caloric additives such as sugar, milk, and creamer (let's not even get started on Frappuccinos and PSLs). Meanwhile, only one in every three tea-drinking participants added sugar, honey, milk, or some other kind of creamer.
You Might Also Be Eating Worse Than You Think
A packet of sugar has 11 calories, and a tablespoon of whole milk has nine calories. Although these calories do add up, light-and-sweet coffee-drinking participants ended up consuming an average of 69 more calories per day than black coffee drinkers, and fans of sweetened and/or milky tea consumed an average or 43 more calories per day than plain tea drinkers. Read: This isn't just about the calories in your coffee cup, says lead researcher Ruopeng An, PhD, an assistant professor of community health at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
People who all but turn their daily drinks into dessert might actually eat worse overall: In the study, people who took their coffee or tea with light and sweet additions also had diets that contained more sugar, fat, and saturated fat than those who drank their tea or coffee black.
Although the study didn't look into why this link exists, it could have something to do with the muffin you buy when you're picking up your latte or the cookie you can't resist when you stop for a chai latte. It's also possible that people who add sweet stuff to their daily drinks have less regard for nutrition or that sweetened drinks cause a sugar high and the resulting energy drop invokes junk food cravings. But more research is needed to know for sure.
So, Should You Switch to Tea?
If you must sweeten your drink or stir in milk, reach for the skim to get a low-calorie bit of calcium and protein without extra saturated fats. You might also think about switching to tea, because participants consumed fewer excess calories, less sugar, and less fat overall when they went that route.