America Runs on...Sugar

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In last week’s clinic, I was listening intently to a mother who couldn’t understand why she and her daughter – my patient – were having such a hard time losing weight. As she spoke, she clutched her coffee cup from Dunkin’ Donuts and my eyes locked onto a code in thick, black pen: “8C, 8S.” I asked, “What does that mean?”

“Oh, this.” She said, looking at her beloved cup. “I drink hazelnut, which is really bitter, so I need a lot of cream and sugar to make it taste good. 8 creams, 8 sugars.”

Wow.

I asked if she new how much sugar that meant. 8 grams? 8 teaspoons? Or how much cream? Just curious, I said. After all, she wasn’t my patient – her daughter was. She didn’t know. We wrapped up and after she left to meet with the registered dietician, I called the Dunkin’ Donuts hotline to see how they define “one sugar” and “one cream.”

Turns out, the person on the phone didn’t know either. She had to backtrack through the nutritional information of a “regular” coffee — two creams, two sugars — to find out the sugar content of each “sugar.” What I learned is that one Dunkin’ Donuts sugar isn’t one teaspoon, it is one TABLESPOON. Equivalent to 3 teaspoons, or 12 grams of sugar. For adult women, that is almost half of the recommended daily limit of added sugar. If you ask for 8 sugars at Dunkin’ Donuts, that is 24 teaspoons. 96 grams. 384 calories. A half a cup of sugar. Yikes.

And the cream? 1 cream is 1 OUNCE of cream. A typical creamer is half of that. Turns out that “8C” is 8 ounces of cream; a full cup. 315 calories, 28 grams of fat. That is more than a serving of Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

Her drink was costing her 699 calories, 96 grams of sugar and 28 grams of fat. No wonder she couldn’t lose weight.

Before you say you would never order a coffee like that, maybe you have. Rivaling those numbers is the Starbucks Venti Java Chip Frappucino: 600 calories, 88 grams of sugar and 22 grams of fat. Consider a Venti Iced Chai Soy Latte – which sounds so healthy. 350 calories and 63 grams of sugar. That is over 15 teaspoons of sugar!

I reconnected with my patient’s mother and shared what I learned. She was stunned. She had no idea. By design, it takes effort to learn what is actually in these drink products. Now that she knew, she was ready to make a different plan. She started making her own hazelnut coffee at home, saving time, money, and so many extra calories.

Chain restaurants are obligated to reveal the nutrition information of the food they serve. Take a moment to learn about the drink you like. Check the website. Call the hotline. You might be surprised. And you’ll have more information you can use to make a choice that works better for your health.

Starbucks online nutrition information, or call 800-Starbuc (800-782-7282)

Dunkin’ Donuts online nutrition information, or call their Guest Support at 800-859-5339