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Coffee lovers getting more than a caffeine hit on their coffee run

13th October 2015 - Cancer prevention

The coffee snacks with more sugar and fat than adults’ daily intake

Many Australians may unknowingly be consuming their entire daily sugar or saturated fat limits and half of the suggested kilojoule (energy) intake on their daily coffee trip, as new research from Cancer Council NSW reveals just how unhealthy some coffee chain drinks and sweet snacks are, especially if they’re consumed regularly.  

The study of 564 menu items across five popular chains including Gloria Jeans, The Coffee Club, McCafé, Muffin Break and Michel’s Patisserie, assessed the energy, saturated fat, and sugar content of beverages and snacks, comparing them to the average daily allowance recommended by health authorities.  

Over half (54 per cent) of cold beverages including iced coffees and chocolate drinks had more than half of the sugar allowance in one serving. For example, McCafé’s Coffee Kick Frappe had 19 teaspoons of sugar which is 86 per cent of the average amount health authorities suggest we could be eating in a day.

Some large coffee drinks including the Coffee Club’s iced coffee had 39g of saturated fat – that’s 163 per cent of the daily allowance, and Muffin Break’s large chai latte had half the daily allowance of saturated fat.

Co-author of the research and Nutrition Programs Manager at Cancer Council NSW, Clare Hughes, said the findings were concerning as people are most likely not counting these on-the-go drinks and snacks with high energy, fat and sugar as a meal or as part of their daily allowance.

“Many Australians rely on a take away coffee for their morning kick start but people might be unaware of just how much sugar, saturated fat and kilojoules they are consuming each day if they’re ordering anything more than the standard flat white, cappuccino or latte. 

If consumers are ordering fancy coffee beverages and sweet snacks on the side they could be consuming too many kilojoules each day, and over time this would lead to weight gain. If these foods and drinks are consumed between meals as morning or afternoon snacks, some cakes and coffees can contain up to 4000 kilojoules; that’s almost half of the kilojoule allowance for an adult.

Ms Hughes warned that even ‘healthier’ snacks reviewed in the study were not so healthy and were filled with sugar and saturated fat.

“We found McCafé’s banana bread contained 14 teaspoons of sugar and 2570 kilojoules – that’s four times the kilojoules that we should be consuming from a between-meal treat. This is about the same as a McDonald’s Big Mac, which we’re more likely to have as part of a meal. Coffees labelled ‘skim’ or ‘low fat’ do not necessarily mean low in sugar or energy – a large skim Tim Tam iced chocolate from Gloria Jeans will give you a 20 teaspoon sugar hit. And at 2590kJ per serve that’s nearly a third of the average person’s entire daily kilojoule allowance in one drink.”

Ms Hughes goes on to say that it’s becoming evident these choices may be a significant factor in rising obesity rates in adults.

“We have a strong culture of eating on the go and catching up with friends, family and colleagues over a quick coffee and cake. So the foods and drinks we consume away from home make a big contribution to our nutrient intake. With Australians spending a third of their weekly food budgets eating at cafés, restaurants and fast food outlets[1], and 63 per cent of Australian adults overweight or obese[2], it’s more important than ever to have access to healthy options and the information we need to make informed choices when we eat away from home.”

While Ms Hughes says we should all be conscious of the choices we make when grabbing coffees and snacks to go, Cancer Council NSW is strongly encouraging these café chains to provide smaller, healthier portion sizes across their drinks and snack ranges so they are falling in line with the guidelines of a discretionary treat (600kJ) for an adult. 

“Furthermore, they should address the current levels of nutrients in their snacks and drinks products by reformulating menu items to reduce saturated fat, sugar and energy content.

“If we can stabilise or decrease obesity levels in Australia, half a million lives could be saved by 2050.[3] That would mean fewer cases of obesity related cancers, such as bowel, endometrial and post-menopausal breast cancer; as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”

Energy and nutrient composition of menu items at Australian Coffee chains was published in Nutrition & Dietetics, the peer-reviewed journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia


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Media Contact: Laura Cairnduff, Cancer Council NSW, 02-9334 1408/ 0423 421 382

Media interviews: Clare Hughes, Nutrition Programs Manager at Cancer Council NSW and study co-author


Notes to editors

Journal Article:

Watson WL, Piazza S, Wellard L, Hughes C, Chapman K. Energy and nutrient composition of menu items at Australian coffee chains. Nutrition & Dietetics 2015 Oct 1


Recommendations for daily intake allowances

Percentage daily intake according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) (based on an average adult diet)


Reference value



Saturated fat







[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics. 6530.0 Household Expenditure Survey, Australia: Detailed expenditure items, 2009-10. ABS 2011 [cited 2015 Aug 5];

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Health Survey: Updated Results, 2011-12. Canberra, Australia: Australian Bureau of Statistics; 2013 Jun.

[3] National Preventative Health Taskforce. Australia: The healthiest country by 2020: A discussion paper. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2008.

Cancer prevention