Healthy Swaps at Starbucks

By Kelli Swensen, Dietetics Student, Sargent College

Healthy Swaps: Starbucks

With the New Year comes New Year’s resolutions, and for many of us, these resolutions include living a little bit healthier. The problem I find that many people run into is feeling they can’t be social and healthy at the same time. What if a friend wants to grab a cup of coffee? Or a quick lunch? This month’s series, Healthy Swaps, is here to show you that you don’t have to compromise your social life for your health goals.

Growing up watching Friends on Thursday nights, hanging out has always been synonymous with meeting up at coffee shop for me. Sure enough, when I was in high school, Starbucks was the place  to get together. And even now, as a young professional, nothing beats grabbing a cup of coffee to meet with a potential employer or bond with a coworker. While the focus of this post is specifically on Starbucks, many if not all of these tips can be applied to any coffee shop!

Here are some more ideas for making your coffee date a little less indulgent but still satisfying:


For the coffee lover:

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If you’re a die-hard coffee lover, then you have it the easiest. A basic coffee or espresso has very few calories, leaving room for a splash of milk or one packet of sugar.


12oz daily brew: 5 calories

12oz Caffe Americano: 10 calories

1 shot espresso: 10 calories

12oz iced coffee (no milk): 60 calories

12oz iced coffee w/nonfat milk: 80 calories


For the espresso-loving sweet-tooth

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This is where things get interesting. One of the defining features of Starbucks is its flavored espresso drinks, especially the holiday specials. While very tasty, these drinks are high in calories and sugar.

Tips for decreasing calories:

-Choose a Tall size

-Choose nonfat milk or soy milk

-For fewer calories order flavored drinks “Skinny” I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of the zero-calorie syrups, so I usually just ask for the regular syrup, but only one pump.

-Ordering iced instead of hot can sometimes save you  30-50 calories

-Holiday drinks, like the Pumpkin Spiced Late and Peppermint Mocha tend to be higher in calories and sugar than other flavored lattés and mochas. Stick with nonfat or skinny versions and make them special occasion choices.

Here’s an example of how a drink goes from calorie-bomb to mid-day snack:

Caramel Macchiato

A tall with 2% milk is 180 calories and 5 grams of fat

A tall with nonfat milk is 140 calories and only 1 gram of fat

A tall, skinny is 100 calories and 1 gram of fat

The key to remember is everything is made to order, so don’t feel bad about asking the barista to only do one small pump of syrup or request nonfat milk.

TIP: While not always available, some Starbucks offer beverages in 8-oz portions called “Short”. These obviously have less calories than a Tall. Ordering a Short is a great option for those who get too jittery or have a hard time finishing a 12oz drink.

A short caramel macchiato with nonfat milk (not skinny) is only 100 calories and 1 g of fat.


For the tea connoisseur:

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If you get just a hot tea, you are consuming less than 1 calorie, so go ahead and add a splash of milk or tiny bit of honey.

For iced teas, save yourself the calories and order your drink unsweetened. If it’s too bitter then add in your own sugar. Chances are you’ll add in less than they would have!

Chai Tea Late is a fan favorite, but the Chai at Starbucks and many other coffee places is loaded with sugar.

12oz Chai Late with nonfat milk is 160 calories and 34 grams of carbohydrate!

SWAP: Ask for a chai tea bag in steamed fat-free or soy milk. If it’s not sweet enough you can always add a dash of sugar yourself or a squeeze of honey. This goes for any tea latte! This will give you an 80-100 calorie drink with much less sugar.

For the hungry bunch:

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Here is the part where I doubt I have to tell you that the treats at Starbucks should be exactly that: a treat. In my opinion the best way to make bakery items healthier is to split one with a couple friends. Very few options are less than 300 calories – including the reduced-fat options!

Starbucks does have a line of petite sweets that are all around 180 calories. While these are better options on paper, they are not nutrient dense and are close to 200 calories. If you really want one make sure to choose a lower-calorie, low-sugar drink and be sure to only eat one.

If you’re in desperate need for a hot breakfast, Starbucks has some options worth getting:

  • Spinach and Feta Breakfast Wrap supplies 290 calories, 10g fat, and 9g protein. Combine with a piece of fruit for a complete breakfast
  • Steel-cut oatmeal gives you 150 calories (depending on which toppings you choose) and 4 grams of fiber to keep you full (this has been a life-saver for many early mornings at the airport)

While they look deceptively healthy, the yogurt parfaits are loaded with sugar. You’re much better off making your own parfait the night before to bring with you (try our Sargent Choice Granola and Berry Yogurt Parfait).

Love Starbucks? Then you might want to register a Starbucks gift card so you can start earning rewards. In addition to not having all your other expenses hidden between Starbucks transactions on your credit card bill, using the card can get you free stuff such as free refills, free syrups, and free drinks on your birthday! For activating your card you automatically get one reward and a guaranteed free drink on your birthday. From here you can level up to Green and Gold by earning stars. Each time you pay with your card you get one star — 5 stars get you to Green (which for me would happen in a week). At Green you get free refills on brewed and iced coffee as well as tea. Gold members get the special treatment with their name on the card, special offers, and a free drink or food after each 12 stars. So go an register your gift cards you received during the holidays!!

What are your tips and tricks for navigating the coffee house? We’d love to hear them!


One Comment

distillery equipment posted on July 27, 2022 at 2:16 am

A happy day

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