Sizing up Tim Hortons

Canadians must consider health implications of new 710-ml coffee cup

Tim Hortons’ 710-ml extra-large coffee is larger than the biggest sizes available at McDonald’s, Starbucks and Common Ground on Queen’s campus.
Tim Hortons’ 710-ml extra-large coffee is larger than the biggest sizes available at McDonald’s, Starbucks and Common Ground on Queen’s campus.
Credit: 
Graphic by Justin Chin

The fast-food industry has often lived by the saying “bigger is better” — and our beloved Tim Hortons is no exception.

On Jan. 23, Canada’s largest publicly-traded restaurant chain officially rolled out its brand new extra-large coffee cup.

The 710-ml serving size has already been a hit with customers. Last Friday, Tim Hortons launched a photo contest asking customers to creatively show how much they love the new cup by posting to the restaurant’s Facebook page.

The up-sizing trend has defined the fast-food industry for decades. Between 1955 and 2006, a regular serving of McDonald’s fries increased by 250 per cent. During the same period, the size of a McDonald’s hamburger patty increased by 500 per cent.

But while many Tim Hortons coffee lovers are rejoicing at the existence of a new super-sized cup, few are likely to stop and ponder the unhealthy impact of such a beverage.

A typical cup of coffee is about 300 ml and contains 100 mg of caffeine. The new 710-ml cup has a bit more kick, containing about 240 mg of caffeine.

According to Health Canada, a healthy adult shouldn’t consume more than 400 mg of caffeine per day.

Consuming in excess of this amount can result in negative side effects such as muscle tremors, nausea and high blood pressure. It can also have behavioural effects such as increased anxiety, mood changes and irritability.

Sure, if you only consume one 710-ml coffee then you remain under the recommended limit. But don’t forget that several other common foods like chocolate contain caffeine.

Canadians should consider the impact this new enormous cup could have on their caffeine intake.

It’s important to consider the nutritional content of such a large serving. After all, the main reason we eat and drink should be to nourish our bodies for optimal functioning.

The new extra-large cup isn’t just for coffee. Tim Hortons serves a variety of other beverages with which they can fill their new gigantic cups.

While black coffee is low in calories, many of Tim Hortons’ other offerings contain much higher caloric and fat content.

Let’s examine a common Tim Hortons favourite, the French Vanilla cappuccino.

This beverage, in the new extra-large size, contains a whopping 600 calories — including more than 19 grams of saturated fat — as well as 74 grams of sugar. That’s like eating two tablespoons of bacon grease and 19 sugar cubes.

At the same time, this beverage delivers almost no vitamins or minerals to your body, both of which are vital for optimal health.

For 600 calories, you could eat 120 grams of grilled turkey breast, two cups of mixed vegetables, half a cup of quinoa and a baked apple sprinkled with pecans and cinnamon.

If you didn’t want to skip the cappuccino, you could work off the extra calories by cycling on a stationary bike for two hours or running quickly for one hour. No big deal, right?

Unfortunately, there’s a coffee culture at Queen’s that leaves no shortage of demand for the new Tim Hortons extra large. But the big question is: why are students in need of such large caffeinated beverages?

Many students feel they need a caffeine fix to ward off tiredness or cope with a heavy workload. But if you’re getting adequate sleep and eating a healthy diet, a 710-ml coffee isn’t necessary.

Don’t get me wrong: caffeine isn’t all bad. In fact, moderate caffeine intake has been shown to have some beneficial health effects. It can reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, for example. It’s also been linked to reduced risk of degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

That being said, these benefits were found for caffeine intake alone — not for the cream and sugar often added to coffee, which are associated with negative health outcomes.

The bottom line is that Tim Hortons’ decision to introduce the 710-ml cup was unnecessary. Giving consumers the option to purchase such large portions only leads to overconsumption and indulgence, posing a further threat to health and well being.

In a time when we’re witnessing alarming rates of obesity, cardiovascular diseases and other chronic illnesses — all of which are likely influenced by the habitual overconsumption of high-calorie and low-nutrient fast-food products — continuing to supersize menu items probably isn’t a great idea.

So next time you’re waiting in line at Tim Hortons, ask yourself if ordering a 710-ml extra large is necessary.

Try opting for the 300-ml small coffee. Better yet, skip the line and drink some water.

Mariane Heroux is a PhD candidate in the Queen’s School of Kinesiology and Health Studies.

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