Ask LH: Is Coffee Worse For You Than Coke?

Ask LH: Is Coffee Worse For You Than Coke?

Hi Lifehacker, This is the standard argument with my boss at lunch time: which is better for you, Coke or coffee? I don’t drink coffee so instead I have a can of Coke, while my boss drinks at least two cups of coffee a day (with two sugars in each). I understand Coke is not good for you, but surely it’s no worse than drinking that amount of coffee? Any thoughts? Thanks, Soft Drinker

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Dear SD,

When it comes to equivalent servings sizes, coffee is generally a far healthier option than Coke. However, if you’re comparing multiple cups to a single can, the playing field becomes more even.

According to Calorie King Australia, a 375ml can of Coke packs in 30 grams of sugar, which is the equivalent of around 10 teaspoons. In addition, it also contains phosphoric acid which is a big cause of tooth decay.

Meanwhile, a medium flat white coffee made with full cream milk will contain 12g of sugar; and that’s before you add any extra sugar. In other words, your boss is probably consuming more sugar over the course of each day, especially if he doesn’t use skim milk. Coffee also contains a handful of extra calories: 168 vs. 155 for Coke.

That said, coffee contains additional health benefits that Coca-cola lacks, such as calcium and protein. All in all, we’d have to back your boss on this one: while neither beverage is particularly good for you, Coke is the worst offender of the two.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • What I would like to know is, how does that comparison bear out when comparing with a diet cola (Diet Coke, Pepsi Max, whatever)? Calorie count is much lower; caffeine is about the same because the serving size is typically bigger; aspartame breakdown products include methanol but in ridiculously small quantities.

    Supposedly drinking diet colas trains the brain to not expect calories from sweetness and so messes up the hunger mechanism, and there have been studies showing a link between diet cola consumption and obesity, but I haven’t heard of any studies illustrating causation rather than simple correlation.

    • I’m more inclined to lean towards the correlation rather than causation link between diet drinks and obesity. I mean, logically, the people that drink diet drinks are more likely to be those that have weight issues already, or at least worried enough about their weight that they engage in other weight-loss behaviours that can lead to weight gain. I don’t think that this group of people gaining weight can really be pointed directly at diet drinks.

      That being said, the jury really is still out on this one. If someone comes forward with a well-designed study and some credible proof, I’ll change my mind. I personally do drink Coke Zero and diet cordial, and have maintained my 50kg weight loss for a bit over 10 years now, so there’s potentially a little bit of “well diet drinks didn’t make ME obese” clouding my judgement.

      • I’ve actually read those actual journal articles and you are right in that they are preliminary and correlative.

        The whole artificial sweetener causes cancer etc has been disproven comprehensively.

        The relationship between artificial sweeteners and the bodies insulin processing signals is definitely interesting (still preliminary) but there is ultimately a difference between an interesting event and a phenomenal event. We are really only talking about minor changes. Changes that you can’t really blame anything significant on. You aren’t obese because you drink diet coke.

        ‘Do Diet soft drinks make you fat?’ is the attention grabbing headline though and so that is how it is dressed up.

        What the research shows is that plain water is better than even diet soft drinks. However practically that’s not really the appropriate consideration. We can say that water is king (it is) but where diet soft drinks come into play is as a replacement to regular sugary soft drink. On that comparison it is no contest; diet soft drinks come out miles ahead.

        I drink a lot of water but I also drink some diet soft drinks as well because I’m not a nutritional monk. I’m far better off drinking the diet soft drinks than the sugary versions.

  • I am not sure how to say this without sounding like a jerk…so I’ll just say it: someone really had to ask this? Coke has pretty much no nutritional value and is loaded with sugar. Even the Zero variety is still without any nutrition.

    • I don’t think you sounded like a jerk. It’s a fact. I don’t drink Coke Zero to achieve my nutritional goals, I drink it for the taste. There would be no point in me pretending otherwise.

          • Philistine! Everybody knows it’s hydrochloric acid with uranium. I bet you drink red wine with fish too!

          • Drinking several litres of water in a very short period of time is not beneficial. Drinking even a cup of boiling water is not beneficial. Want me to go on?

          • Please continue with your retard exaggerated examples of drinking water. Having to much oxygen is bad as well. Sitting for to long is terrible as well. Typing stupid comments shows you’re a dunce.

          • You were the one who asked how can drinking water not be beneficial for you. I provided some examples. Granted, they are exaggerated examples and totally stupid things to do, but that isnt the point. The point is that they are examples where drinking water isnt beneficial for you. I took your statement to its logical but absurd conclusion. Dont get all angry defensive because you’re made to look silly.

  • I’m not sure that this comparison is consistent? For the first part it seems to be comparing Coke to milk-based coffee (flat white), but the calorie comparison seems to be comparing to something else (maybe instant coffee with a splash of milk added?). There’s no way that a cup of milk-based coffee only has 30 calories, more likely 100-150.

      • yeah it’s a bit hard to make a determination with the sparse information provided (though Chris has done an excellent job of talking about the variables).

        Ultimately though I don’t think talking about these things in isolation and how ‘bad for you’ they are is even appropriate. What the effect ‘on the margin’ is of these items depends on what the diet as a whole looks like.

      • Also might want to double check the low fat milk versus full fat statement, I haven’t checked every brand but the private label milk i drink in full fat actually contains less sugar.

        This really was a bastard question to answer …

  • Forgive my ignorance, but where does the sugar come from in the standard coffee?

    Is it the lactose in the milk?

  • “That said, coffee contains additional health benefits that Coca-cola lacks, such as calcium and protein.”

    only if you drink coffee with milk like a girly man.

      • decent quality coffee is meant to be really high in anti- oxidants (higher than tea) and has a bunch of health benefits… don’t think instant is quite as good. coke zero is pretty terrible IMO, it’s high in salt and i’m really not a fan of artificial sweeteners. I’d rather have a proper coke if i feel like one!

        • Antioxidants are not necessarily a plus in terms of health. Check the Wikipedia entry. Obviously, the supplements industry wants you to believe otherwise, but there’s a lot of nonsense that the supplements industry wants you to believe.

          One can of Coke Zero has 2% of your RDI of sodium. If you’re drinking enough of it for 2% of your RDI to be an issue… you should probably cut back. You would have to be drinking 18 litres of the stuff to hit your RDI from Coke Zero alone.

          • ok so coffee is proven to be good for you in a bunch of ways but i guess you should keep swilling artificially sweetened nutritionally vapid soft drinks because they’re not that high in sodium? nice logic.

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