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5 tips for eating healthily at cafés and coffee shops

13 March 2018 ( 11 January 2022 )

Jackie Lynch, nutritional therapist offers some advice from her new book The Right Bite to help you make the best choice when you’re out for coffee and cake.

Coffee and cake
If you’re going to have cake, then size matters.

If you’re in the habit of making a detour to a café whenever you’re out shopping, you’ll know just what a vast selection of caffeinated drinks and sugary baked goods await you there.  While there’s no harm in having a little of what you fancy from time to time, if it’s got to the point where the staff know you by name, you probably need to start thinking carefully about your choices.

Sugar is the single biggest factor in adding inches to your waistline; it’s highly inflammatory which can exacerbate symptoms of conditions such as arthritis and joint pain; excessive levels of sugary foods can result in acid reflux and recent studies are starting to link high levels of sugar with cholesterol.

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Here are five things to think about next time you’re eyeing up the menu:

Watch out for dried fruit

Dried fruit lurks in lots of popular options but it’s not as healthy as you might think, as it will add significantly to the sugar content of the product.

The dehydration process concentrates the sugar content of fresh fruit - for example, gram for gram raisins contain about four times as much sugar as grapes (15.48g per 100g for grapes, 59.19g for raisins). This means that a fruit scone has about twice as much sugar as a plain scone and if you’re partial to a cinnamon roll with dried fruit, you’ll be tucking into the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar.

Hidden sugar – surprising sources of sugar in your diet

Count the caffeine shots

Caffeine content varies dramatically across the different outlets, so the strength of the coffee at your favourite haunt could be anything from 80mg to 300mg per cup, which isn’t far off the recommended daily limit of 400mg per day.

You can halve your caffeine consumption by making a habit of asking for just one shot when you’re ordering.

Tea drinkers should note that each teabag can add up to 75mg of caffeine – leaving the bag in for 5 minutes can double the caffeine content of your brew.

If you’re drinking tea throughout the day, then alternating it with herbal options like peppermint or chamomile could make a huge difference.

How tea and coffee affect your health

Beware of the low-fat trap

Baked goods such as muffins often come with a so-called ‘skinny’ version which may seem like a sensible option.

‘Skinny’ or otherwise, muffins are a combination of butter, sugar, flour and eggs which is never going to kind to your waistline, but the sad truth is that low-fat versions don’t do you any favours at all. By stripping out the fat, a lot of the flavour is lost and so manufacturers will often add extra sugar to compensate for this. This means that the average low-fat muffin contains 2 teaspoons more sugar than a standard muffin and as excess sugar adds inches to your waistline this is a real concern if weight management is your goal.

10 ways to eat less sugar

Try bran or oat-based options

Most baked goods tend to be made with white flour - this is refined carbohydrate which your body will break down to sugar and burn through pretty quickly, so that you’ll soon be wanting more.

If you’re trying to keep snacking to a minimum, it’s important to choose something that will stop you having the munchies later on. A high-fibre option could make all the difference. Fibre is complex carbohydrate and the body will burn through it much more slowly, keeping you going for longer.

Look out for muffins made with bran, oat-based biscuits or flapjacks which contain nuts or a wholemeal scone, as all of these will be high fibre options.

How to choose the healthiest snacks

Size matters

Indulging in a slice of cake on a regular basis can do significant damage to your waistline because any decent cake is going to contain plenty of sugar.

A slice of cake once a week might seem like a moderate treat, but you need to bear in mind that it will add up to around 32 teaspoons of sugar over a month.

If you’re going to have cake, then size matters – opt for the smallest piece or better still split it between 2 or 3 of you. That will really help to limit the potential damage!

Try our recipe for sugar-free brownies

Introducing The Right Bite by Jackie Lynch

If you've ever agonised over which muffin, sandwich, pizza, burger or drink to choose, then The Right Bite is for you. It’s full of practical, accessible advice about what to eat and drink when you're out and about and healthy options are limited.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.