Health Canada recommends a maximum of 400 mg of caffeine/day for an adult (two to three cups of drip coffee).
What coffee should you choose at your favourite coffeehouse?
The major coffee chains are highly creative in their offerings, with seasonal variations in their flavours: pumpkin chai tea, gingerbread latte, caramel hot chocolate, hot apple cider, etc. The catch? Most of these drinks provide as much nutrition as a dessert!
Some tips for making better choices:
- Choose the simplest drinks. This advice is especially appropriate if you are a regular coffeehouse customer. Tea, tisanes (herb teas) or black coffee are still your safest bets because they contain little or no carbohydrates (sugars). Even if you add a dash of milk or non-dairy milk substitute, or a sprinkle of sugar, the amount of carbohydrates will still be minimal.
- Beware of toppings. Toppings add sugar and fat to your drink. Limit toppings of whipped cream, flavoured syrups, marshmallows and chocolate chips. Instead, sprinkle cinnamon or powdered cocoa to garnish your coffee.
- Ask about alternatives. Coffee chains often offer alternative versions of their flavoured drinks that are lower in sugar and fat. You can also ask them to stretch (allonger) your drink with extra milk, non-dairy milk, black coffee or hot water.
- Know your cup sizes. Sizes differ from one outlet to another. A “small” is often larger than you think and is probably sufficient. Ask to see the cup sizes before ordering.
- Check the nutritional value. Most of the large coffee chains provide this information at their outlets and/or on their website. This lets you adjust your diabetes medication if necessary and to make an informed choice!
Making hot drinks at home
To replicate the appealing coffeehouse coffees, a milk frother for home use is just the ticket. Sprinkle cinnamon or cocoa powder on the milk foam to make it fancier!
And why not end your outdoor activities with your favourite homemade coffee that you bring along in an insulated cup? This will help you avoid the temptation of buying a commercial drink.
What about commercial hot chocolate concentrates?
In the proportions suggested by the manufacturer, they are generally very sweet. However, if you modify the proportions by using less chocolate concentrate for the same volume of liquid, you’ll cut the sugar load.
Mocha coffee is an alternative way to reduce the sugar concentration of your drink, as long as you like the taste of coffee. If you stretch a small amount of commercial or homemade hot chocolate with black coffee, you will dilute the amount of sugar while boosting the flavour of your drink.
Some alternatives to coffee and hot chocolate
For a hot, low-carbohydrate drink, try herbal teas (tisanes) and teas. The number of specialized teashops are growing, and many offer original flavours, as well as traditional teas.
You can also get creative with regular black tea by brewing it with fruit, or with spices (cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, etc.) for an Indian chai.
Bring your personal container of tea or tisane to work. It’s easy to carry and cheaper than buying it at a café. The delicious aroma of your infusions will probably make your colleagues envious at coffee break!
Does the fruit brewed in a hot drink sweeten it? The amount of carbohydrates is generally negligible, since only a little juice makes its way into the drink. But watch out if you buy commercially flavoured teas or herbal teas. Some of them contain tiny sugar tablets that dissolve in water when brewed. Diabetics who calculate their carbohydrate intake precisely must consider this.
Tea contains caffeine in varying amounts depending on the type of tea (black, green, white, etc.). If you are sensitive to caffeine, herbal teas are a more appropriate choice.
Carbohydrate content of a few hot drinks
The table below shows the amount of carbohydrates in various drinks, whether prepared at home, made from concentrate or sold in major coffee chains.
Type of drink
|Amount of carbohydrates (g)|
|Homemade hot chocolate (see recipe below)||250 ml||22|
|Carnation® hot chocolate prepared with milk||
175 ml (packet of dried concentrate)
|Nesquick® hot chocolate, liquid concentrate, 25% less sugar, prepared with milk||250 ml (20 ml of concentrate)||31|
|Tim Hortons® hot chocolate||Small (286 ml)||45|
|Drip coffee, with 1 packet of sugar (5 ml) and 1 milk creamer (15 ml)||250 ml||6|
|Tim Hortons® French vanilla cappuccino||Small (286 ml)||41|
|Second Cup® moccaccino*||12 oz. (360 ml)||35|
|StarbucksTM flavoured latte, vanilla or other flavour*||Medium (354 ml)||46|
|StarbucksTM spiced apple and caramel*||Medium (354 ml)||53|
|Brewed tisanes, various flavours (mint, fruit, camomile, etc.)||250 ml||0-1|
|Brewed tea||250 ml||0-1|
|DAVIDs TEA Coco-Choco flavoured black tea**||240 ml||3|
|Second Cup® chai latte tea||12 oz. (360 ml)||44|
|StarbucksTM green tea latte||Medium (354 ml)||41|
|Second Cup® sweet apple cider||12 oz. (360 ml)||43|
|Tim Hortons® apple cider||Small (286 ml)||52|
* No whipped cream
** Contains cane sugar as an ingredient
Research and text: Diabetes Québec Team of Dietitians
Adapted from: Cynthia Chaput (Winter 2014-2015), “Les boissons chaudes,” Plein Soleil, Diabète Québec, pp. 20-22.
May 2017 (updated on July 2018)
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