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AICR HealthTalk

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: The sweet flavor of popular chai drinks makes me wonder, are they high-calorie?

chai glasses and spices

A: Chai is usually black tea, though sometimes green tea, flavored with sweet spices including cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. However, that sweet taste also comes from one or two teaspoons of sugar or honey added to each serving, usually along with a few tablespoons of milk.

Chai latté as served at coffee bars contains steamed milk and added sugar. Typically, a twelve-ounce coffee bar chai latté drink contains 160 to 200 calories with four to six teaspoons of added sugar compared to a twelve-ounce unsweetened coffee latté, which contains around 100 to 150 calories, all from the milk. On the other hand, a chai latté is no higher in calories and sugar than many of the specialty coffee lattés sweetened and flavored with caramel or other syrups. The mixes available to make chai lattés at home typically include about four to five teaspoons of added sugar per serving, so made according to package instructions, each cup contains from 90 to 160 calories. Lower calorie sugar-free mixes made with artificial sweeteners produce a beverage with only the calories of added milk, about 20 to 60 per serving. Some coffee bars offer a “lightly sweetened” chai latté, though even these weigh in with about 130 calories and at least 3 teaspoons of added sugar in a 12-ounce cup.

You can enjoy a chai latté with even fewer calories if you simply make chai tea and add milk but no sweetener; top with some extra cinnamon if you like. At a coffee bar, you can ask for an unsweetened latte made with chai tea and nonfat milk. If you want it slightly sweeter, add a dash of sugar yourself; total calories and added sugar will be much less than when a sugar-based mix is used.

To find out what's in tea and the cancer tea-research, visit AICR's Foods that Fight Cancer: Tea.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF).

Published on 12/29/2014

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