Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
It’s officially PSL season, but as tempting as the sweet treat may be, it’s not exactly a healthy choice to start your day. Like a lot of the indulgent coffee concoctions at Starbucks, it’s packed with calories, fat, and sugar.
“Calories are the biggest offenders for a beverage. You should be eating your calories, not drinking them,” says Keri Gans, RDN, a nutritionist in New York and author of The Small Change Diet. For instance, a grande pumpkin spice latte with whipped cream is a whopping 380 calories—that’s more of a meal, not a coffee, Gans says.
That doesn’t mean you have to give up your morning coffee run. There are plenty of healthy drinks you can order at Starbucks, so we asked nutritionists for their tips on what to avoid and how to navigate the menu, as well as their go-to drinks that don’t break the calorie bank.
The worst drinks at Starbucks
“My least favorite items are the blended Frappuccinos,” says Yasi Ansari, RD, a nutritionist and certified specialist in sports dietetics in Los Angeles and San Francisco. “They’re extremely high in sugar—upwards of 50 grams per serving—and rich in saturated fats coming from the whipped cream and whole milk.”
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
Some Frapps are definitely worse than others—“especially the cocoa cluster, triple mocha, caffe vanilla, java chip, vanilla bean, and white chocolate versions,” says Ginger Hultin, RD, a nutritionist and Arivale coach in Seattle. Order with caution: “Calories will climb even higher with larger portions and with added whipped cream,” Hultin says.
Similarly, Starbucks’ holiday drinks like the PSL are closer to desserts than coffee. A grande PSL packs 380 calories, 8 grams of saturated fat, and 50 grams of sugar—that’s basically the same as eating a slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Drinks like the maple pecan latte and salted caramel mocha are also major menu offenders, Hultin says.
Check out the nutrition facts below for popular holiday drinks made with 2 percent milk and whipped cream.
How to make your Starbucks order healthier
To keep your Starbucks order from turning into dessert, nutritionists recommend asking your barista for a few tweaks.
Watch your portion size
“Having a short (8 ounces), or tall (12 ounces) can save you hundreds of calories over a grande (16 ounces), or a venti (20 ounces),” Hultin says.
Ask for unsweetened
Opting for an unsweetened drink will significantly slash the sugar in your cup. “If a sweetener is wanted, then I’d ask for some cinnamon powder or for one pump of syrup. Choosing one pump versus the three to five pumps that are in most of these drinks will make a huge difference in cutting down sugar and calories and making the beverage healthier,” says Ansari.
“Choose non-fat milk rather than 2 percent or whole milk to reduce saturated fat,” Hultin suggests. Ask your barista for a “light” or “skinny” version of your drink.
Skip the whipped cream
If you want to make your drink healthier, don’t even consider the dessert topping. “Skipping the whipped cream will save you calories from added sugar and saturated fat,” Hultin says.
Ditch the dairy
If you typically add sugar to your cappuccino, ask for a soy cappuccino instead. “Starbucks uses a soy milk that already has some sugar added to it,” says Ansari. You’ll still get the added sweetness and some protein to your beverage (which helps make the drink more satisfying).
Healthy Starbucks drinks to order
For the healthiest drinks you can order at Starbucks, stick to the basics: regular old coffee and tea. “Coffee, minus any added cream or sugar, is a no-calorie beverage full of antioxidants,” says Hultin. “Tea is another great example—all varieties of tea have potential health benefits including antioxidant capacity and hydration.”
Cold brew with Soy Milk
Smoother than regular iced coffee, a slow steeped cold brew doesn’t need much added flavor. If you want to make it a little creamier, go for a dash of soy milk. “Soy foods including soy milk have proven cardiovascular and bone health benefits, protein, and antioxidants,” says Hultin. A tall cold brew with soy is only 25 calories and 2 grams of sugar.
If hot coffee gets you out of bed in the morning, go for an americano. “These offer very minimal calories and you’ll still get the natural caffeine boost from your rich flavored coffee,” Hultin says. Made with espresso and water, americanos tend to be a little richer on their own without adding milk, but at only 15 calories for a grande (and no sugar), incorporating a splash of your favorite milk won’t derail your drink.
“Herbal teas like green tea help provide the body with antioxidants,” Ansari says. “I would order any of the hot or iced green teas without the added sugar.” An unsweetened green tea of any size is zero calories and zero sugar. Plus, it won’t make you feel as jittery if you don’t respond well to lots of caffeine.
Shaken Iced Passion Tango Tea
For a refreshing mid-day pick-me-up, order a flavor-packed iced tea. The passion tango blends hibiscus, lemongrass, and apple for a sweet and fruity tea that only contains 8 grams of sugar and 30 calories for a tall size. To make it even healthier, ask for an unsweetened version, Hultin says. “You’ll slash added sugar and calories and still get the bright flavor of tea, along with some antioxidants,” she says.
Cappuccinos are classic—and healthy—Starbucks orders. “Whichever way you enjoy your espresso beverage—either hot or iced—you can greatly reduce the calories and fat by choosing a lower fat milk,” says Hutlin. A tall cappuccino with skim milk has only 60 calories and 8 grams of sugar.
Iced Latte Macchiato
Rather than a super sugary Frappuccino, order an iced latte macchiato instead. Even with creamy whole milk, a tall contains only 120 calories, 8 grams of sugar, and 3.5 grams of saturated fat. If you want to save an extra 50 calories, swap the whole milk out for skim.
Almond Protein Blended Cold Brew
While it’s higher in sugar, this blended cold brew falls more into the meal category. Made with plant-based protein, cold brew, almond milk, almond butter, and a banana date fruit sweetener, the 16-ounce drink (the equivalent of a grande) serves up 270 calories, 12 grams of protein, and 22 grams of sugar. “Keep this in the smoothie category, not as a coffee,” Gans says. “Have this with a piece of fruit for a breakfast on the go.”