What’s the healthiest drink at Starbucks? What about those Pumpkin Spice lattes?

By Chicago 6 Min Read

Starbucks is the world’s largest coffee chain with over 35 thousand storefronts across the world, according to 2022 Statista data.

The chain was a pioneer in fast-casual coffee, churning out seasonal favorites like holiday cups and the famed Pumpkin Spice Latte with no-nonsense speed.

While many go there specifically for indulgent, creamy frappuccinos, Starbucks also has a list of lower-calorie drinks, including a “skinny latte” and various teas.

But are “healthy drinks” at this quick dining joint too good to be true? 

Here’s what to know before you place your order:

What is the healthiest drink at Starbucks?

The “healthiest” drink depends on why you want to order in the first place, says Kat Benson, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Top Nutrition Coaching.

The biggest concern with Starbucks drinks is the sugar content.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams of added sugar for adult men and 25 grams for women per day. A grande Caffè Mocha from Starbucks has 35 grams of sugar. In general, the healthiest drinks at Starbucks are the ones with less added sugar. 

Sugary beverages also cause blood sugar levels to spike and quickly fall. That means they give us a little burst of energy, but that comes with a crash that also may leave you feeling hungrier and less satisfied overall. There could also be long-term effects like increased risk of heart disease or tooth decay. 

The biggest concern with Starbucks drinks is the sugar content.

“If you’re having food or drinks that are high in this added sugar, it can displace healthier, more nutrient-dense foods in the diet,” Benson says. “And anytime that we’re displacing nutrient-dense foods, we can have potential deficiencies come up down the line.”

That being said, Benson admits our society’s diet culture often demonizes sugar, leaving us feeling guilty or shameful after consuming a sugary beverage. The path to making healthier choices starts by establishing a healthy relationship with food.

If you want to have a treat, have a treat, she says. And something with a bit more sugar could be beneficial if you’re hitting the gym and need a quick burst of energy.

But if you’re headed back to your desk, a better choice is going to be a less sugary drink paired with a snack to give you a bit more sustained energy. Benson recommends a couple of cheese sticks or a granola bar to add some fat and protein and manage blood sugar levels. 

If this is you, your best bet is a latte, black coffee or tea. But if you’re not interested in a plain ‘ol cup of joe, Benson recommends looking at how you can customize your usual order. Can you ask for fewer pumps of syrup? Go without the whipped cream? Try a cold foam cold brew instead of a specialty sweetened latte?

“We’re looking at a spectrum of multiple different steps … it’s pretty unrealistic to expect someone to go from the most high-sugary beverage to black coffee,” Benson says, sharing that it’ll take those sweet-tooth tastebuds some time to change and get used to less sugar.

If you’re going for a late afternoon coffee, Benson says the healthiest choice is a decaf coffee. Too much caffeine has short-term side effects like headaches, anxiety, irritability, muscle tremors and a rapid heartbeat. It can also affect the quality and quantity of your sleep if you drink it too late in the day.

Are pumpkin spice lattes healthy?

Sorry to break the news to you — just one pumpkin spice latte contains more than your entire daily recommended limit of added sugar. The beloved fall drink contains 50 grams of sugar in a grande, well surpassing the recommended 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women. 

But it’s okay to treat yourself now and then, Benson says, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for indulging in the occasional PSL. 

If you are managing your blood sugar levels or are looking for a simple step to cut down, Benson recommends asking for less syrup or (her personal favorite) a pumpkin cream cold brew, which has a lesser 31 grams of sugar. You could also nix the vanilla syrup in the cream to get the sugar content down even further. 

Are Starbucks refreshers healthy?

Starbucks refreshers have less sugar than some of Starbucks’ syrupy coffees, but there’s still about 20 grams of sugar in each. They’re also customizable — you can request less syrup or more water in your refresher. 

Read more at usatoday.com

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