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How Many Sugars Do You Take in Your Coffee?

The Bottom Line in Health

As the fall semester kicks off after another beautiful summer of traveling, job experiences, and relaxation comes to an end, the schoolwork will inevitably begin to pile up and the memories of early morning and late night study sessions will once again become routine. To fuel oneself through the imminent reading assignments and projects, many students will turn to coffee as a source of energy as they battle with fatigue. But black coffee on its own, while relatively healthy at only five calories per sixteen ounces, can be quite bitter and unpleasant to drink. As a result, it is common for coffee consumers to enhance the flavor of their beverages with a gamut of sweeteners. But what is the difference between table sugar and the various artificial sweeteners? Does one put a person at more of a health risk than the others? Here is the inside scoop on some common sweeteners to help you choose how you will sip your coffee this fall.


This is the common table sugar that is added to baked goods, marinades, and salad dressings, and is found naturally in fruit. Containing sixteen calories per teaspoon, sucrose offers energy without any other benefit. Neither regular sugar nor “Sugar in the Raw” adds much nutritional value to your diet other than carbohydrates and calories. Contrary to popular belief, one teaspoon of “Sugar in the Raw” contains more calories (eighteen per teaspoon) than regular sugar, but also contains only slightly higher, though still trivial, levels of nutrients. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons and men no more than nine teaspoons per day.

Agave Nectar

This sweetener is a product of the agave cactus and contains twenty calories per teaspoon. The texture and taste of the nectar are similar to that of honey, and it is usually an ingredient in cereals, yogurts, and teas. While it does not contain as many antioxidants as honey, it does contain approximately the same amount of energy at twenty calories per teaspoon. Agave is sweeter than sugar, so proponents suggest you can use less to get similar sweetness.


The familiar blue packet in the sugar substitutes bowl usually contains aspartame. Aspartame is one of the major ingredients in artificial sweeteners such as Equal and NutraSweet. It is two hundred times sweeter than sugar and contains zero calories. Because it loses its sweetness if you subject it to heat for a long time, aspartame is not ideal as a baking substitute and is usually found in yogurt, gum, cough drops, and an assortment of drinks. As one of the most studied artificial sweeteners, aspartame has been accused of causing everything from weight gain to cancer. However, since being approved by the United States Food and Drug Association (FDA) in 1981, studies have found no convincing evidence, and the FDA, the World Health Organization, and the American Dietetic Association say aspartame, in moderation, poses no threats.


The primary source in sweeteners such as Truvia and Pure Via, rebiana contains zero calories. Diet drinks and yogurts usually contain this ingredient, which is derived from the stevia plant, making it a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners. Although crude stevia extracts are not approved by the FDA, refined stevia products such as Truvia gained a Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) approval from the FDA in 2008. However, a group of UCLA toxicologists wrote a letter to the FDA that year stating that several (but not all) of their lab tests showed the sweetener to cause mutations and DNA damage and urged further testing. Until further testing, be mindful of the amount you’re consuming.


If you reach for the pink packets than you are a saccharin fan. Saccharin is the main component of the artificial sweetener Sweet’N Low. At zero calories per serving and three to five hundred times sweeter than sugar, it is a popular ingredient in drinks, canned goods, and candy. However, the common complaint about saccharin is its bitter aftertaste. Rat studies in the early 1970s found a link between consuming saccharin and bladder cancer, prompting Congress to mandate in 1981 that all foods containing it bear a warning label. Later studies showed that these results may only occur in rats, and there was a lack of evidence that saccharin causes cancer in humans. Saccharin was removed from the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens in 2000 and Congress repealed the warning label. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) still has saccharine placed it on its "avoid" list.


This is the most important ingredient in the widely known yellow packets of sweetener called Splenda. While sucralose itself contains zero calories, a packet of Splenda has three calories per packet. It is six hundred times sweeter than sugar and is normally added to fruit drinks, canned fruit, and syrups. Sucralose received FDA approval in 1998, and although one study showed that it may negatively impact the immune system, follow-up studies did not find a correlation. The CSPI deems it safe, and several studies have found that it is not carcinogenic (cancer-causing). This sweetener is one of the few that is not sensitive to heat, and can therefore be used in baking. Sucralose can be useful for those who are limiting empty-calorie carbohydrates because they are dieting or have diabetes. If you have a sensitive digestive system, you may suffer from gas, bloating, and diarrhea if you consume too much.

Consuming too much sugar can undercut yourweight loss efforts, as well as lead to tooth decay, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Still we guzzle it down in soda and spoon it onto cereal and into coffee. In fact, Dr. Mehmet Oz concludes that the average American consumes over one hundred fifty pounds of added sugar each year.  Just as with salt, adding sugar to foods and beverages becomes a habit. For example, you may stir it into yourcoffee and sprinkle it over your oatmeal or breakfast cereal each morning. If you use regular sugar but want to avoid unnecessary calories, try switching to a small amount of honey, agave or even stevia. Stevia comes from a leaf and is slightly more natural than a typical artificial sweetener. However, if you prefer artificial sweeteners, slowly transition to using very small amounts. This is recommended because research shows that, over time, these sweeteners can train your brain to want very sweet things. In addition to this, test out different spices in your coffee such as cinnamon, cocoa powder, and nutmeg. Introducing spices will not only reduce the caloric value of your coffee, but will also increase the nutritional benefits of your cup of joe!

A Note on the Author: the Bottom Line in Health seeks to provide simple fitness and nutrition tips for the Yeshiva University community. As a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and fitness and nutrition specialist, it is my goal to enhance the readers’ understanding of how to maintain a healthy standard of living while improving performance in and out of school and supporting an overall sense of well-being.