Hot Drinks Cheat Sheet

Crib notes for your next coffee shop stop


There is a wide variety of hot drinks to choose from to start the day, Based on the mammoth population of places like Tim Horton's and Second Cup, coffee truly is the king. On its own, a cup of black coffee (no full-calorie sweeteners or cream) is zero PointsPlus values — an excellent choice for those on plan.

But fall into the trap of buying an enormous specialty coffee from your corner coffee shop with cream, sugar and flavoured syrups and you can count on using somewhere in the vicinity of 8-12 PointsPlus values — or about the equivalent of a full healthy meal or even a decadent dessert. “Some people probably never thought they'd gain weight drinking coffee. After all, it's not cake,” says Weight Watchers nutritionist and recipe editor Leslie Fink. “But in some cases, it can be like having a pastry.”

The same goes for tea — drink it with water only and you won’t use up your precious PointsPlus values; add creamers and full-cal sweeteners and you’ll watch the PointsPlus values add up in a hurry. Use our interactive drink maker above to see how various coffee, tea and hot chocolate concoctions tally up.

Use Your bean
When it comes down to it, you just have to watch what you’re adding to your coffee, says Fink. "In my opinion, there are no ‘bad’ ingredients, just too much of some things,” she says, referring to cream, milk, syrups, sugar, chocolate shavings and the like. “And all of those extra ingredients can turn an innocent cup of coffee into a caloric dessert."

Fink says you can avoid a PointsPlus values disaster drink by substituting with sugar-free syrups, non-fat milk, and low-cal sweetners. But she’s also quick to point out that most drinks, hot or cold, lack fibre, protein and healthy fat — the three food components that can make a balanced meal. “That doesn't mean these beverages don't have a place in a healthy diet,” she says. “But they shouldn't be considered a meal or meal replacement.”

Tips from a java expert
Michaele Weissman, author of God in a Cup (Wiley, 2008) and longtime Weight Watchers member, has a very simple approach to the hot drink dilemma. She says to ask yourself, "Would you put cream in a fine wine?" Her point is that coffee is so rich in flavour that it can be enjoyed with very few add-ins. She says keeping your selections simple and ordering drinks with simple ingredients will not only keep you on track, but will also let you enjoy the aromas and tastes of coffee the way it is meant be consumed.

Weissman says that next to red wine, coffee has the strongest and most abundant flavour profiles of any beverage. While it’s true that much of the coffee Canadians drink comes from South America, Weissman points out that coffee actually originated in Ethiopia. Nowadays, coffee beans are fermented and packaged, then ground and brewed before serving, a process which is similar in many ways to making beer.

Some of the earliest coffee beans — which are actually considered fruit — were stolen from the African nation and grown in other parts of the world, creating more than 1,000 different types of bean. As such, she suggests experimenting with different coffee selections to find one to your liking. “You may be more inclined to drink it black rather than add condiments that actually mask the taste,” she says.

Size does matter
Since coffee drinkers are consuming an average of 2.63 cups of coffee per day, size really does matter. "We live in a ‘super-size’ decade. Many seem to value quantity over quality,” Fink says. And far too often we get the “upsell” from the Barista offering you the 20 oz. drink for only 50 more cents. And that means trouble when you consider a 20 oz. caramel macchiato with whole milk will cost you a whopping 8 PointsPlus values.

Going big isn’t always the problem. You have to watch out for the little things, literally. Even though a splash of milk or sprinkle of sugar you put in your coffee might not add up to one full PointsPlus value, you can’t ignore it. You need to be aware that these things can add up. “If you really keep stock of every item that passed your lips, it should all balance out,” Fink says. “For instance, some food items round up to one but are closer to a half a PointsPlus value. Other times, items that are close to half a PointsPlus value round down to zero. So it should equal out in the end. Consistency [in tracking] is the name of the game.”

Food for thought
Here are a few substitutions that might make you think twice about your next latte: A 20 oz. caffe mocha with whole milk from a well-known coffee & snack chain has 12 PointsPlus values; a small has 7 PointsPlus values. To put that in perspective, you can have:

  • 21 Hershey's kisses for 11 PointsPlus values
  • 5 Oreos for 6 PointsPlus values
  • 6 KFC BBQ chicken wings for 11 PointsPlus values
  • 1 small fast-food hamburger for 6 PointsPlus values
  • 1 large order of fast-food fries for 10 PointsPlus values
  • (For the hungry person in you...) Scrambled eggs made with 1 whole egg and 3 egg whites, 2 slices of whole wheat toast spread with 2 teaspoons of whipped butter, 3 slices of cooked crisp reduced-fat bacon, 1 cup of skim milk and a small clementine.

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