People who'd like to reduce their daily calories without restrictive dieting should consider taking their coffee with little or no sugar - and savouring the beverage might help in that regard, researchers suggest.
"There are 48 calories in one tablespoon of sugar, and over the course of a day, some coffee drinkers may use their entire recommended daily allotment of added sugar (100 calories for women/150 for men) just in their coffee," they write in the Journal of Health Psychology, online August 10.
But for those who like their coffee sweetened, having it without sugar is easier said than done.
In a new study, Richie Lenne and Traci Mann of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis tested two interventions to help coffee drinkers reduce their sugar consumption.
They randomly assigned 127 participants to follow one of three approaches for two weeks. In one group, people gradually decreased the amount of sugar they were adding to their coffee, by a little bit per day.
Another group had a lesson in how to drink coffee mindfully, by taking time to focus on the coffee and appreciate it with the senses; the lesson included a coffee tasting introduction, so participants could learn to detect the flavor, acidity, sweetness, mouth-feel and aftertaste of coffee.
The third group went cold-turkey, giving up sweeteners in coffee for two weeks without any strategy.
The researchers had expected that the gradual-decrease approach would be most effective, but they were wrong.
"Participants in all conditions had significant increases in consumption of sugar-free coffee that lasted six months, (but) the mindfulness group had a larger increase than the others," the authors found.
In fact, a month after the experiment, the mindfulness group drank coffee without sugar more often than those who simply tried to stop, which continued through the six-month follow-up. On the other hand, the gradual reduction method was the least effective.
"Initiating change is relatively easy, but maintaining that change is nearly impossible," Lenne told Reuters Health by email. "We fully expected most of our participants would revert back to sugar-laden coffee, yet the mindfulness group persisted in drinking coffee sugar-free."
Both the mindfulness group and sudden-stop group developed an enjoyment for sugar-free coffee, but neither group enjoyed it more than the other. The gradual reduction group, however, enjoyed sugar-free coffee less than the group that gave up sweeteners cold-turkey.
In the end, the mindfulness group had the strongest intentions about reducing sugar in coffee long-term.
"I'm surprised the gradual reduction led to a decrease in liking for sugar-free coffee and was less effective than mindfulness," said Ruopeng An of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. An, who wasn't involved with this study, researches beverage consumption in relation to weight gain.
"The mindfulness intervention is interesting, and I would encourage more research in this area," he told Reuters Health by email.
An also recommends the "Rethink Your Drink" campaign by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends using fat-free or low-fat milk, ordering the smallest size available, skipping whipped cream, and not adding extra flavouring such as sugary vanilla or hazelnut. (bit.ly/2wvi91i)
"Get back to the basics," An said. "Order a plain cup of coffee with fat-free milk and artificial sweetener, or drink it black."
"Helping people reduce their sugar intake is an important goal for promoting health," Lenne said. "Reducing sugar in coffee is a healthy change that is feasible and can be sustained without sacrificing the pleasure of one's daily cup."