Reaching for your favourite hot drink may add extra kilojoules to your diet without you even realising. HFG dietitian Zoe Wilson and Larina Robinson reveal what’s really in your cuppa....
Tea (black, green, oolong, white)
What’s in it? Tea leaves. All non-herbal tea comes from the same plant; the difference is in the production method. White and green varieties are unfermented, oolong is semi-fermented and black tea leaves are fully fermented during processing.
Caffeine content: White and green tea contain lower amounts of caffeine than black tea. A 250ml cup of black tea contains 50–80mg caffeine, depending on brewing time.
Benefits: Tea contains antioxidant polyphenols, with the highest concentration found in green and white varieties. Research suggests tea may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and can assist with weight management (see Newsbites, p16).
What to avoid: Drinking multiple cups of tea a day, especially black tea, can increase your caffeine intake without you realising it.
Our verdict: Drinking tea is a great way to increase your daily fluid intake, while also boosting the antioxidants in your diet. Just keep an eye on the added sugar and milk!
What’s in it? Coffee beans – Arabica, Robusta or a blend of both. Mochas and flavoured coffees also contain a combination of added sugar, flavours, colours, food acids and preservatives.
Caffeine content: A regular cup of coffee typically contains around 100mg caffeine, however the caffeine content varies according to the type of bean and roasting method used. A shot of espresso (40ml) has around 80mg caffeine; a 250ml cup of percolated coffee has 60–120mg and instant coffee between 60–80mg.
Benefits: Coffee helps increase alertness and concentration, temporarily boosts your metabolism and may increase the duration/intensity of a workout. Research has also shown coffee may have other health benefits, such as reducing the risk of stroke (News bites, p11).
What to avoid: Too much caffeine can affect your nervous system, leading to anxiety, irritability, headaches and shakiness. Caffeine is also addictive, so consuming it in high doses (more than 600mg a day) can result in physical dependence. Caffeine can affect your sleep quality, so it’s best to avoid it around bedtime. Also watch out for added kilojoules and fat from milk, sugars and/or syrups.
Nutrition info: Black coffee: • 25kJ • 0.1g fat • 4mg sodium. Adding sugar, milk, flavoured syrups and whipped cream increases the energy. For example, one tall McDonald’s McCafe flavoured mocha with regular milk has almost the same kilojoule content as two slices Woolworths Chocolate Mudcake’ That’s practically a quarter of your daily intake!
Our verdict: Your daily coffee poses no cause for concern and can actually benefit your health – just aim for less than 600mg caffeine a day in total. Remember to opt for skim milk, forego the extra sugars, stick to a short/regular size cup, and save coffees with added extras for special occasions.
What’s in it? There are many varieties based on flowers, herbs, leaves, flavours and spices. Common examples include lemon and honey, ginger and lemongrass, rooibos, peppermint, chamomile, fruit medleys and chai.
Caffeine content: Most herbal teas are caffeine-free, unless based on black or green tea. Check the label (or ask your barista) first if you are watching your caffeine intake.
Benefits: Herbal teas can have a variety of health benefits – peppermint aids digestion, ginger can help with nausea and chamomile can be calming. Some blends are also suggested to help with insomnia,anxiety and PMS!
What to avoid: Some herbs, such as St. John’s Wort, used in tea blends have been thought to interfere with certain medications. Check with your doctor if you are concerned.
Nutrition info: Average herbal tea: • 15kJ • 0.1g fat • 0g sugar • 0mg sodium. Skim chai tea latte (250ml): • 247kJ • 0.2g fat • 5.6g protein • 8.1g sugar • 85mg sodium. Be mindful when ordering chai tea lattes – many are made based on a syrup, adding sugar and kilojoules.
Our verdict: Herbal teas boast a range of health benefits and are suitable for any time of day. The varieties are endless and most flavours actually taste better without milk or sweeteners!
Decaf tea and coffee
What’s in it? Most of the caffeine is extracted from the green coffee beans and tea leaves before normal processing takes place.
Caffeine content: Not 100% caffeine-free, a 250ml cup typically contains 4–7mg caffeine.
Benefits: The decreased caffeine content means you’ll avoid the side effects of regular versions.
What to avoid: Adding sweeteners or full-fat milk. Remember, decaf still contains a small amount of caffeine, so speak to your doctor if you’re on any medications which could be impacted by caffeine.
Nutrition info: The same as regular tea/coffee – just watch the extras.
Our verdict: An all-day alternative for those who are sensitive to caffeine or want to reduce their intake.
What’s in it? Varies from brand to brand, but hot chocolate powders typically contain sugar, cocoa, milk solids, an anti-caking agent and flavours.
Benefits: When mixed with skim milk, it’s a delicious way to boost your calcium intake. Plus, many brands have fat-free varieties, so it can cure a chocolate craving without an overload of kilojoules.
What to avoid? Adding extra kilojoules through marshmallows and whipped cream (2 marshmallows add 281kJ!). The powders also typically contain milk solids and/or soy, so check the labels if you are intolerant or allergic.
Nutrition info: One teaspoon hot choc powder: 30kJ • less than 0.1g fat • 1.5g sugar • 3mg sodium.
Our verdict: Water-based varieties are a good low energy choice. Avoid extra large sizes, choose low-fat milk and save the extra toppings for an occasional treat!
What’s in it? Varies by brand, but they typically contain malted barley and wheat extract, milk solids, sugar, cocoa, maltodextrin, vitamins, minerals and emulsifiers.
Benefits: Fortified with vitamins and minerals, these beverages are a nutritious alternative to hot chocolate. When made with skim milk, they also contain protein and are low GI. Some brands, such as Aktavite, have no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives and are dairy/lactose-free. What to avoid: Adding extra heaped teaspoons! While nutritious, these drinks aren’t low in kilojoules, so stick to the recommended serving sizes and use skim milk.
Nutrition info: Per serve (no milk added): 224–350kJ • 0.7–2.0g fat • 6.1–9.4g sugar • 11–77mg sodium. They may also be fortified with vitamins and minerals such as iron, iodine, B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium and vitamin C.
Our verdict: The drinks are nutritious if you stick to skim milk and the recommended serving sizes.
Choosing how to sweeten your cuppa used to be a simple decision: sugar or no sugar. Today, the abundance of sweeteners on the market come from a variety of sources, boast various benefits and come in many forms. We recommend skipping the sweetener wherever possible, but for those with a sweet tooth, we’ve compiled a handy guide to help you choose the best one for you.
Type of sweetener
What it’s made from
Sugar – 66kJ
CSR Smart (white sugar blend) – 68kJ
LoGiCane – 66kJ
Raw, brown and white sugar are processed differently, but are similar nutritionally.
CSR Smart contains Stevia (see below), so you can use half the amount.
LoGiCane is lower GI than regular sugar.
85kJ per teaspoon
With a different flavour and consistency to sugar, it can be low to moderate GI, depending on its source.
Chemically produced eg: Aspartame (Equal), Sucralose (Splenda), Cyclamate, neotam and saccharin
1 Equal tablet – less than 1 kJ
1 teaspoon Splenda – 8kJ
Government regulatory bodies state artificial sweeteners are safe for human consumption. They’re also good for those trying to control their energy intake or blood sugar levels, and better for your dental health.
Steviol glycosides from the Stevia plant
approximately 4kJ per teaspoon
200–300 times sweeter than sugar. A natural alternative to artificial sweeteners.
Did you know? One 30ml shot of Gloria Jeans’ Hazelnut flavoured syrup adds almost 4 teaspoons sugar.
If you are pregnant, ‘caffeine sensitive’, have a heart condition or on medication that can be affected by caffeine, discuss your caffeine intake with your doctor.