Long ago, coffee shops were the environs of folks like Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsburg who wrote poetry, smoked clove cigarettes, and argued about Miles Davis over cups of espresso. Then came the Internet, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and The Great Recession. Now, going to a local coffee shop is an everyday occurrence. And for some of us who have gone back to school, work from home, or have been laid off, it’s more like an all-day affair. That makes picking the healthiest coffee shop fare of the utmost importance—especially if you’re trying to shrink your gut.
To help you reach your goal weight sooner rather than later, we’ve put together this trusty healthy coffee shop guide. From Starbucks and Dunkin’ to your local neighborhood shop, it’s sure to keep you on track no matter where you find yourself sipping and snacking.
RELATED: 100+ healthy breakfast ideas that help you lose weight and stay slim.
Egg and Cheese It
An egg and cheese sandwich will usually come in at under 400 calories no matter where you go. Plus, the protein hit helps temper your appetite as the day wears on. Eggs have tons of other health benefits, too.
Wait! Before you make that a trenta (that’s Starbucks-speak for 31 ounces), consider this: A research team in Washington found that downing more than five cups of java a day can double visceral belly fat. The good news? Thanks to its high catechin content, green tea has the opposite effect. So if you’re heading to the coffee shop for round two or three of Colombian bold, consider placing an order for a spot of tea instead. The powerful elixir helped our 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse test panelists lose up to 10 pounds in one week!
If you’re an avid Eat This, Not That! reader you likely already know that we’re huge fans of KIND bars. Compared to many other snack bars, they’re pretty low in sugar and thanks to their nut base, they serve up a hefty dose fiber and protein, as well as heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3s. The best part? Large coffee joints like Starbucks sell them in just about every store—and the trickle-down effect is pretty remarkable. Whether you’re grabbing a latte at a neighborhood shop or your corner 7-11, the odds are good you’ll be able to find one. Opt for one of the bars instead of your go-to pastry or bagel to amp up the nutritional quality of your snack or breakfast.
Listen For The Grind
If you drink it every day, you may as well get the most health-boosting benefits out of your cup as you can. One of the best ways to do it: Place your order soon after they grind and brew the beans. Coffee is most Americans’ number one source of polyphenols—the weight-lowering micronutrients that make the Mediterranean diet so effective.
If you typically order a pre-sweetened or flavored coffee, slowly wean yourself off the sweet stuff by asking for fewer flavor pumps and adding fewer sugar packets to your cup. A regular 16-ounce iced coffee, for example, has about 5 calories and 0 grams of sugar, while the sweetened version has 80 and 20 grams of sugar—that’s the equivalent of five Domino’s packs! Asking for “light” syrup or “half the usual amount of syrup” could easily save you 40 calories and 10 grams of the sweet stuff! Eventually, you’ll be able to make the jump to plain, unsweetened drinks.
Go Cold Brewed
When regular brewed coffee is chilled and stored, two things happen: First, it begins to lose whatever nuance of taste it once possessed; second, it starts losing the polyphenols that give coffee its health benefits. The best iced coffee is cold brewed; it takes more time to make so it will be more expensive, but you’ll taste the difference. Most notably it will be less bitter, which means you can get away with adding less sugar. And less sugar = fewer calories.
Ban Bran Muffins
One of the great health food imposters, bran muffins are simply excuses to get you to eat cupcakes for breakfast. Each can deliver about 440 calories, with nearly a quarter of them coming from fat. Pair it with a cappuccino and you’ll have blown through a quarter of the day’s calories before noon—not a smart move if you’re trying to melt your love handles.
Don’t Consider a Croissant
They look innocent enough, but depending on which type you get—chocolate, almond, or good ol’ vanilla— this flakey, buttery crescent-shaped treat could cost you anywhere between 260 and 380 calories and half the day’s fat. Skip it and go for a slimmed-down alternative like a marshmallow bar or a cup of warm oatmeal—more on the oats later!
Sideline the Cream Cheese
Coffee shops tend to smear more cream cheese on their bagels than you would at home, which turns a nutritionally-lacking but not diet-blowing 300-calorie breakfast into a 500-calorie monstrosity filled with 20 grams of fat. If you must get a bagel, ask for some cream cheese on the side and spread it on yourself nice and thin, or, better yet, skip the cream cheese altogether.
Mix Up Your Milks
You already know that creamer is a no go—the stuff is filled with heart-harming trans fats, after all. But when it comes to picking between whole, skim or something in between the choice is far less obvious. For decades, the USDA and numerous health authorities have told us that animal fat is a dietary demon that should only be eaten in moderation—if at all. Recently, however, researchers have begun to wonder if that suggestion should possibly be revised. One European Journal of Nutrition review of 16 studies concluded that consuming high-fat dairy products can actually ward off weight gain over time. Despite these findings, though, the USDA—and many nutrition experts—continue to recommend low-fat dairy over full-fat. The bottom line: It’s still hard to say what’s best for a flat belly, so we suggest mixing things up. If you reach for 1% or skim today, go for whole milk tomorrow—just scale back on the portion size to keep the overall calories about the same each day. You need a bit of fat to absorb some of the nutrients that are on your breakfast plate anyway.
Say No to Sugar & Sweeteners
One packet of sugar in the raw has five grams of the sweet stuff, and one packet of Domino’s refined variety has 4—not too horrible if you keep added sugars to a minimum the rest of the day. But let’s get real: most of us don’t do that. The white granular demon is hiding in everything from ketchup to bread, so cutting back wherever you can counts big time in the battle of the bulge. And though it might be tempting, don’t just switch to the artificial stuff. Findings suggest that it may amp up your hunger hormones. You’re best bet is to skip the sweetener altogether and cut the bitterness of your java with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cocoa powder.
Steer Clear of Glaze
Glaze. It’s basically just a fancy name for a liquid sugar and fat mixture—the stuff is comprised of heavy cream, vanilla and sugar, after all. That said, any donut topped with the stuff can easily carry up to 480 calories and 27 grams of fat. If you’re craving something sweet, ask for a donut hole or two instead, and pair the minis with some fresh fruit or a small package of raw almonds. Yes, that’s right, we’re suggesting nuts for breakfast! Their healthy fats and protein content will help slow the absorption of the sugar and simple carbs in your donut holes, warding off those pre-lunch tummy rumbles.
Order the Oats
Thanks to the ever-growing popularity of overnight oats and oatmeal, the slow-digesting whole grain is sold just about everywhere you can grab a cup of Joe. Choose a container of plain oatmeal (instead of the flavored varieties) and mix in some fresh fruit or nuts. Stay away from the sugar-spiked additions like dried fruit and brown sugar to keep calories and glucose levels in check.
Leave the Scone Alone
The great buttery, flaky taste that makes a scone so appealing comes from gobs of butter, flour, and sugar. With up to 500 calories a pop, this pastry is better left behind the glass. If you can’t imagine forgoing a sweet treat altogether, find out the pastry you should order at every coffee shop.
Hold the Whip
Use this phrase whenever you order a “fancy” drink (like a cafe mocha or a Frapp) that you think may have even the slightest possibility of coming with the fat- and sugar-laden add-on. It will save you anywhere from 50 to 110 calories depending on what size you get.
Even if the rest of the menu is a sugar bomb waiting to detonate, most coffee shops sell bananas—mostly because they’re cheap, nonperishable and have a great shelf life. Big names like Dunkin’, Starbucks, and Pret A Manger all do, and many local spots have ‘em for sale, as well. Don’t see them? If the coffee place makes smoothies, they may have some extra nanners in the back. Don’t be afraid to ask for one. A piece of fruit will always be better than any sweet treat that’s taunting your taste buds from behind the glass.
If you can’t bear to break up with your syrup-sweetened iced coffee or vanilla latte, at least scale back on the pumps; they add a ton of empty calories your body doesn’t need. For example, a regular 16-ounce iced coffee has about 5 calories, while the sweetened version has 80 and 20 grams of sugar—that’s the equivalent of five packs of sugar! Asking for “light” syrup or “half the usual amount of syrup” could easily save you 37 calories and 10 grams of the sweet stuff!
Question Milk Alternatives
If you’re lactose intolerant or just trying to cut back on dairy à la Khloe Kardashian (more on that here) to lose weight, you’re likely pouring coconut or almond milk into your daily cup of coffee. But before you do it again, ask the barista if the milk has carrageenan in it—a seaweed derivative that can cause major gastrointestinal distress like bloating and gas. While it won’t make you gain weight it will make it look like you did! Not what you want if you’ve been workin’ on that six-pack.
Don’t Celebrate the Season
Not only do special sips like pumpkin spice and eggnog lattes pack excess calories and sugar, seasonal drink customers also tend to return to chains more often than those who skip the special beverages, according to a study of 35,000 customer receipts by market research firm, The NPD Group. They found that seasonal drink-sippers also tend to spend about 17 percent more during each visit, compared to non-buyers—and not because the special drinks cost more. Those who buy special drinks are also more likely to buy waist-expanding grub like pastries, bagels and all of the other stuff we just told you not to eat. Not only does this hike up the check average, but it also tacks on additional calories, fat and sugar, which is bad news for your flat belly goals and wallet alike.
The barista may be cute and you may totally dig the playlist, but don’t stick around too long at the coffee shop nursing your beverage. Not only does hanging out increase the likelihood you’ll splurge for one of the cookies or sweets from behind the glass, it’s also a total waste of a caffeine jolt that could take your workout to the next level. According to a Journal of Sports Medicine study, hitting the gym after a few cups of coffee can boost your motivation and help you bang out more reps on the bench press. Similar results have been found in previous studies on endurance exercise, so sipping some coffee beforehand can help you get more from your workout and speed your weight loss—no matter how you like to break a sweat.