Are you making a conscious effort to reduce your sugar intake but still want to enjoy a nice cuppa at your favourite cafe? You're not alone! But with added sugars hidden in so many of our go-to orders, it can feel like a minefield out there. Luckily, we’re here to unpack the safe – and delicious – options, plus the ones you might want to give a wide berth.
Drinking sugars, such as in your classic vanilla latte or mocha, can be worse than eating them, raising your risk for obesity, heart disease and liver disease. Here are a few key reasons why they’re so problematic:
- Faster Absorption: Sugary drinks, like sodas and fruit juices, are often rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream because they don't contain the fibre that whole foods do. This rapid absorption can lead to quick spikes in blood sugar levels, followed by crashes, which can leave you feeling tired and craving more sugar.
- High-Calorie Density: Sugary beverages are calorie-dense, meaning they provide a significant amount of calories without making you feel full. This can lead to overconsumption of calories, contributing to weight gain and obesity.
- Liquid Calories Don't Satisfy: Research suggests that calories from beverages are not as satisfying as those from solid foods. This can lead to additional calorie consumption from other sources, as the body may not register the liquid calories in the same way.
- Low Nutrient Density: Sugary beverages typically lack essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and fibre. This means that you're getting empty calories without any nutritional benefits.
- Insulin Resistance: Regular consumption of sugary drinks can contribute to insulin resistance, a condition where your cells don't respond well to insulin. This can lead to higher blood sugar levels and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome: The consistent intake of liquid sugars is associated with an increased risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
- Non-Satiety: Sugary drinks can disrupt feelings of fullness and satisfaction. When you consume a high-calorie drink, you're less likely to reduce your calorie intake from other sources, which can lead to weight gain.
The Effect of Excess Sugar on Our Satiety Hormones
Leptin: Leptin is often referred to as the "satiety hormone" because it signals to your brain when you've had enough to eat. It is released by fat cells (adipocytes) and acts on the hypothalamus in the brain to reduce hunger. When you've consumed enough calories, leptin levels rise, helping you feel full and satisfied. However, excessive sugar consumption can disrupt the body's response to leptin, a condition known as leptin resistance. This means that even when you have enough energy stores (body fat), your brain doesn't receive the "full" signal, leading to overeating and weight gain.
Ghrelin: Ghrelin is often referred to as the "hunger hormone" because it stimulates appetite and increases food intake. It is produced mainly in the stomach and small intestine, and its levels rise before meals to signal hunger. When you consume food, ghrelin levels drop, reducing appetite. High sugar intake can interfere with ghrelin regulation, leading to increased feelings of hunger and cravings, even after consuming sufficient calories.
The disruption of these satiety hormones can create a cycle of overeating and weight gain. Excess sugar consumption, especially in the form of sugary beverages and processed foods, can contribute to leptin resistance and ghrelin dysregulation. This makes it challenging for individuals to recognise and respond to their body's natural hunger and fullness cues, which can lead to poor appetite control and the consumption of excess calories. In addition to leptin and ghrelin, other hormones related to glucose metabolism, such as insulin, play a role in appetite regulation. High sugar intake can lead to insulin resistance, affecting how the body processes glucose and stores fat. This, in turn, can influence hunger and the likelihood of overeating.
Now that we know the dangers of drinking our sugars, let’s dive into some healthier alternatives to go for at your favourite café.
Our 5 Best Orders
- Herbal Tea: A cup of herbal tea is not only delicious but also naturally sugar-free. You can choose from a variety of flavours like chamomile, peppermint, or hibiscus – each provides its own unique health benefits, from antioxidants to calming properties. Green tea is one of our favourites as it provides a boost with a mild caffeine hit, along with a host of powerful antioxidants known to promote better circulation and gut health. These teas are a perfect option to warm up or unwind without worrying about hidden sugars.
- Flat White: If you're a coffee lover, a flat white is an excellent choice. It's made with espresso and steamed milk, and you can request it with unsweetened almond, soy, or any milk of your choice. Plus, it has the creamy texture you crave without the added sugar found in many specialty coffee drinks.
- Caffè Misto: Never heard of this one? You’re not alone, but it’s one you’ll want to have in your arsenal of café orders! Caffè Misto is a delightful mix of brewed coffee and steamed milk. It offers a balanced and creamy coffee experience without all the added sugar you might get in a latte. Request it with your preferred unsweetened milk, and you've got yourself a delicious and sugar-free cafe treat.
- Earl Grey Tea: This aromatic tea is not only a caffeine boost but also rich in unique antioxidants. Its distinctive flavour comes from the oil of the bergamot orange, which contains antioxidants that may help combat oxidative stress. Enjoy this fragrant tea as a tasty and sugar-free alternative to sugary beverages.
- Black Coffee: For those who prefer their coffee strong and straightforward, black coffee is the ultimate sugar-free choice. Whether it's a robust Americano, a smooth pour-over, or a bold espresso shot, black coffee delivers the caffeine kick you need without any added sweetness.
When ordering your drinks, don't hesitate to ask your barista to skip the syrups, flavoured syrups, or any other sweeteners they might typically add. Most cafes are more than willing to accommodate your preferences.
Our 5 Worst Orders
Added sugars can sneak into your daily routine, contributing to health issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Let's take a closer look at the five worst cafe orders when it comes to added sugar:
- Hot Chocolate: Hot chocolate may feel like a warm hug in a cup, but it's loaded with added sugars. A typical medium-sized hot chocolate from a cafe can contain around 25 grams of sugar or more, which is equivalent to over 6 teaspoons of sugar.
- Mocha: A mocha combines the richness of hot chocolate with a shot of espresso. It's delicious but packs a sugary punch. Depending on the size and specific ingredients, a mocha can contain anywhere from 35 to 60 grams of sugar.
- Iced Coffee: Iced coffee may seem like a light and refreshing choice, but that's not always the case. Some iced coffee drinks, especially the flavoured ones, can contain up to 30 grams of added sugar in a medium-sized serving, with ice cream and sugar all added in.
- Juice: Fruit juice may sound healthy, but it's often packed with added sugars. Even without added sugar, the natural sugars in fruit juices can add up – and they’re lacking the beneficial fibre of whole fruit that helps slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. The result? A blood-sugar spike. A glass of orange juice, for example, can contain about 22 grams of sugar.
- Milkshake: Milkshakes are undeniably sweet and indulgent, but their sugar content is sky-high. A standard milkshake can contain a staggering 80 grams of sugar or more in a typical serving, equivalent to 20 teaspoons of sugar.
These numbers are eye-opening, considering that the American Heart Association recommends limiting daily added sugar intake to 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) for women and 38 grams (about 9 teaspoons) for men. By avoiding these high-sugar cafe drinks, you'll take a significant step towards better health, one sip at a time. Your taste buds and your body will thank you for making more mindful choices.
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