A Guide to Healthier Choices at Starbucks This Fall

Fall is upon us! If you’ve been on Twitter today, you’ll know that the Pumpkin Spice Latte is back at Starbucks! However– not to burst your bubble– if you look at the nutrition facts of the PSL, you might realize it isn’t the healthiest choice. This is the case for many drinks at Starbucks that contain unnecessary fat and sugars, without much in terms of nutrients (i.e., empty calories).

Nothing wrong with treating yourself now and then, but if you’re looking for a way to make your favorite Starbucks drink a little healthier, here are some tips!  I have been a barista in several coffee shops, so I will do my best to tell you the easiest ways to order your drinks, without holding up the line and causing your barista to think you are /extra/.

Basic Substitutions–

Milk subs: any drink that is made with milk by default ([iced] latte, cappuccino, frappuccino, smoothie, iced coffee with milk), can also be made with soy milk, coconut milk, or almond milk.* Coconut milk contains more fat than the other two, soy milk contains the most protein, and almond milk is the lowest calorie option.

Syrup subs: most drinks that are flavored would contain a syrup, including, but not limited to, mocha, cinnamon dolce, caramel, vanilla, hazelnut, toffee nut, raspberry, white mocha, and pumpkin spice. Good news: some sugar free syrups are offered. Most, though not all, Starbucks stores will have a sugar-free mocha, vanilla, and cinnamon dolce on hand. I personally opt for sugar-free when possible, but not everybody likes sugar-free syrups and some are skeptical of artificial sweeteners. For you, I would say ask for less syrup! I would order a tall with one pump, a grande with 2 pumps, and a venti with 3 pumps of syrup in this case (and this can also be applied to the flavors that do not come in sugar free).

Remove whipped cream from any hot/cold drink: by default, it comes on most seasonal hot drinks, iced or hot mochas and white mochas, and frappuccinos**

Lowest calorie drinks on the menu: your best bets for enjoying a low-calorie drink without needing to worry about modifications:
-black coffee, iced (0c) or hot (<10c)
-cold brew (5c)
-Starbucks refreshers (not the kind in cans, 40-80c)
-espresso (10c)
-Americano, hot or iced (10c)
-hot teas (0c)
-iced teas/ tea infusions (0c IF you ask for no syrup)

A few fun fall drinks you can order 🙂

To mimic a pumpkin spice, without the dairy/ sugars: order a soy flat white with nutmeg steamed in (if they can’t steam it in for you, add it at the bar, where I would also use 1-2 of the green Whole Earth sweeteners) (calories- T: 140, G: 190, V: 240 compared with the PSL’s default of T:300, G: 380, V: 470) ***

Order a caffe misto with soy, 1 p. sugar free cinn. dolce, and 1 p. sugar free vanilla, and cinn. topping (T: 80, G: 100, V: 130)

Caramel apple spice: a highly underrated drink made with steamed apple juice! Ask for no whip or caramel drizzle, and sugar free Cinnamon Dolce to reduce the calories on this one!

Salted caramel mocha with soy, half the toffee nut, sugar free mocha, no toppings

Black coffee, stevia sweetener or splenda and cinnamon

If you order any frappuccino, you can sub the milk and ask for light base and no whip

I hope you enjoy these tips! Remember, it’s really all about the coffee, everything else is just an enhancement. I highly recommend just trying out different flavors of brewed black coffee, and finding out what you like. A doppio espresso with light cold soy is my go-to when I need to feel like I have superpowers for a brief 30 minutes while starting a new project. Don’t forget, as we enter a new academic year, that you can add extra espresso to any coffee drink! On second thought, maybe don’t become a caffeine addict like me…




*If you are looking to make your drink healthier, I will not be recommending nonfat milk. In my opinion, if you choose to consume dairy, you may as well stick with 2% or whole milk– here’s why: consumption of higher-fat dairy products is linked to lower obesity rates, possibly due to the satiety of higher-fat products (you’ll be less likely to be hungry afterwards), or possibly due to some complex interaction between these products and our metabolism. Either way, it’s also true that nonfat milk contains higher sugars (including sugars added to improve its flavor), despite its lower fat content. The main reason that people avoid nonfat milk is to avoid cholesterol, which can also be achieved by selecting a plant-based option!

**Bonus tip: If you really want to make your barista’s day, simply don’t order a frappuccino. 😉

***This tip came from my brother who participated in the regional Starbucks barista competition, so you know it’s good!

I used starbucks.com nutrition facts to estimate #calories.