If you consider yourself an honest-to-goodness coffee lover, there’s never not a good time to order and enjoy a cup of hot or cold coffee. And if you just so happen to live within a mile to two of a Starbucks, it’s even more of a challenge to resist stopping in and ordering one of the chain’s delicious coffee and tea drinks.
Your average cup of coffee contains plenty of antioxidants and there’s evidence that drinking a cup or two a day can provide myriad health benefits. But, given its extensive and tempting menu, things start to get tricky when that coffee is coming from Starbucks. This is the major mistake everyone makes when they order coffee at Starbucks, according to nutritionists.
A typical cafe, one that isn’t Starbucks, carries a few coffee types — with a latte and cappuccino thrown in to offer variety and spice things up. But Starbucks is known around the world for coffee drinks that often resemble desserts — and that can contain as much sugar as a slice of cake.
The problem many of us encounter when ordering at Starbucks while trying to keep calories and sugar to a minimum is that it’s easy to make assumptions about certain drinks — and not assume enough about others.
Maybe you decide not to order the Triple Mocha Frappuccino because layers of whipped cream, milk, white chocolate mocha, and dark mocha sauce translate to 400 calories per grande serving with an astounding 51 grams of sugar. That’s great — but if you are ordering non-dairy drinks that are just as jazzed up while assuming they are better for you because coconut milk is actually healthy, you’re underestimating the sugar content in these drinks.
Starbucks is constantly coming up with new, innovative beverages to add to its menu, including a few that sound like they might be healthier than others. One of its latest additions is a non-dairy iced coffee drink called Iced Vanilla Bean Coconutmilk Latte. Coconut milk is a healthy alternative to cow’s milk, right? What could go wrong?
Registered Dietitian Julie Upton explained to Health why drinks like these aren’t always better.
“Thanks to the ‘vanilla bean’ flavoring that is mostly sugar and less vanilla bean,” Upton told Health. “It also has no protein, thanks to the coconut milk.”
With 140 calories and 21 grams of sugar, a grande version of this new drink has far fewer calories and carbs than the Triple Mocha Frappuccino — but it’s important to keep in mind that you’re still nearing the American Heart Association’s recommended six teaspoons of sugar per day — and you aren’t getting nutritional benefits in return.
If you dig deeper and read labels, you may find questionable ingredients in Starbucks drinks that you assume are better for you than delicious, but calorie-laden frapps.
Registered Dietitian Cynthia Sass told Health an ingredient called carrageenan is found in the new drink and that it’s actually natural — but “natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
"Carrageenan is an ingredient that can be derived from seaweed, but I bet you've never seen it sold at your local farmer's market or supermarket," Sass told Health. "And while it's technically natural, its consumption has been tied to digestive problems and inflammation, a known trigger of premature aging and diseases, including obesity."
So, what should you do when you have a Starbucks craving? Nutritionists advise sticking to a plain cup of coffee or tea with a little milk and little to no sugar. And if you do plan on indulging in one of Starbucks’ sweeter treats, treat it as such: an occasional dessert that’s fun, but shares very little in common with your morning cup of coffee.