Does coffee have carbs? If you’re like most people, the pandemic has led to a few extra pounds. That might have you looking to clean up your diet and lower your carb intake. It might also have you worried about whether your daily cup of cold brew coffee from your local coffee shop is sabotaging your efforts. So does coffee contain carbohydrates, or can it still be a healthy part of a low-carb lifestyle?
Does coffee contain carbohydrates?
Yes. Coffee does contain a small number of carbs, emphasizing “small.”
Coffee beans are seeds, which contain a plant embryo and a pair of cotyledons. Cotyledons serve as the seed’s first food storage — they’re what gives it enough energy to begin growing until it’s able to photosynthesize. Coffee contains carbs because the roasted beans include the food storage of the unsprouted plant. That said, the amount of carbs that coffee beans contribute to the finished drink is negligible.
How many grams of carbohydrates are in coffee?
The short answer is, “it depends.”
For years, coffee has been considered an ideal beverage for people watching what they eat, including low-carb diets like the keto diet. One hot cup of brewed black coffee contains between 2-5 calories, 0.74 grams of protein, and 0.42-1 gram of carbohydrates. When you add in the metabolism-boosting effects of caffeine, it’s easy to see why a daily cup (or two, or three) is considered very diet-friendly. The decaffeination process doesn’t add carbohydrates even if you only drink decaf coffee, so the nutrition content is still roughly the same.
Espresso isn’t much different. Like black coffees, it contains less than 1 gram of carbs.
What about cold-brew coffee?
Cold brews have a slightly different nutritional profile. They’re very strong and concentrated due to how they’re made. While a hot cup of coffee involves brewing ground beans with hot water, a process that takes minutes at most, cold brew allows the beans to infuse into cold water for 12-24 hours. This yields a more robust cup with higher caffeine content and more carbs.
Don’t resign yourself to cutting out cold brew just yet. Even though it contains more carbs than a regular cup of coffee, that amount is still meager: only about 3 grams per 8 ounces. While you’ll still want to account for this amount if you’re macro-tracking, a cup of cold brew now and then isn’t likely to make or break your diet.
How does black coffee compare to other drinks?
It’s important to note that the above information is only accurate for untouched black coffee. If you’re like most people, you probably don’t take your brew plain. In that case, the carb content can vary widely. Sugar, for example, is made purely of simple carbohydrates. Not only does it contribute to the drink’s overall carb count, but it also adds the most easily broken-down, highest glycemic form of carb. Every teaspoon of granulated white sugar contributes an additional 4 grams of carbohydrates.
Milk or cream contains protein and fat, but they’re also a source of carbohydrates. One cup of whole milk contains 11.8 grams of total carbohydrates, while an equivalent light cream has about 9 grams. This is due to the sugars naturally present in milk products.
Even powdered cream substitutes add some carbs. On average, one packet of a commercial creamer will add about 2 grams to the drink’s total carb count.
How do various coffee drinks compare to each other?
Every coffee beverage is some ratio of coffee or espresso to water and milk. The more milk a drink contains, the more carbs it’ll have.
When made with regular dairy milk, lattes have the highest carb load. They’re made with a 1-to-3 ratio of espresso to milk, which means they contain many milk sugars. This carb load gets even higher if you add syrup or sweetener. Just one pump of vanilla syrup from a popular coffee shop chain contains 5 grams of carbohydrates, all of which are simple sugars. Most drinks use more than a single pump.
Café au lait sits somewhere in the middle. Made of half coffee to half steamed milk, it contains much less dairy than a latte does. When made with whole milk, you’re looking at about 6 grams of carbs per cup. Again, if you add any sweetener, this number will increase.
The Americano is on the lowest end of the spectrum, which contains no milk. Made of espresso and water, it has a carb count comparable to regular hot black coffee.
Garnishes can have an impact, too. One tablespoon of whipped cream, for example, will add eight calories and 0.4 grams of carbs. This might not sound like much, but most commercial coffee drinks are dolloped with much more than a single tablespoon of whipped cream. When you add things like chocolate syrup, caramel drizzle, or other add-ons, the calories and sugars continue to stack up.
What about milk substitutes?
If you’re looking to avoid dairy, you might turn to substitutes like almond milk. Compared to dairy milk, almond milk is much lower in carbohydrates — one cup contains only about 1.5 grams of carbohydrates. This is why ground almonds are commonly used as a substitute for wheat flour in low-carb foods, like keto desserts. While harder to find, Hemp milk is even lower in carbohydrates at only about 1.3 grams per cup.
Some other milk substitutes are higher in carbs. Soy and oat milk, for example, have even more carbs than dairy. They’re still suitable for vegans and people with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance but are tough to fit into a low-carb diet.
These numbers are only for plain milk substitutes. Things change drastically when you add in flavorings or sweeteners. One cup of sweetened chocolate almond milk contains 21 grams of total carbs, 19 of which come from sugar. If you’re making a latte with coffee and flavored almond milk, the result won’t be low carb.
What can I do to keep my coffee low in carbohydrates?
If all of that information seems like a lot to digest, don’t worry. There are a few essential bits of information to keep in mind if you want to make sure your favorite drinks fit into a low-carb diet:
- Hot and iced coffees are lower in carbs than cold brew.
- Dairy milk(and many milk substitutes) are deceptively high in natural sugars. Go for unsweetened almond or hemp milk, or skip the milk.
- Sweeteners add carbs. If you don’t like drinking unsweetened coffee, go for a non-nutritive sweetener like sucralose or saccharin. Stevia is another good choice but does contain about 1 gram of carbohydrates per packet.
- The regular syrups at coffee shops contain a lot of sugar. If you’re ordering a specialty drink, be sure to ask for sugar-free syrup.
- Even low-carb beverages can add up. Keep track of how many cups you drink per day. The largest size at many coffee chains, 30 ounces, is almost four cups.
- Whenever possible, make your coffee. It’ll give you control over all of the ingredients, and you can adjust the milk and water ratios however you please.
By itself, coffee is excellent for low-carb lifestyles. It does contain some carbohydrates since it’s made of seeds, but this is a tiny amount — especially when compared to most other foods and beverages out there. As long as you’re careful about what else you add to your drinks, you can still enjoy your daily cup of coffee and easily stay within your carbohydrate budget.