When you need an early morning caffeine fix or an afternoon pick-me-up, Starbucks might be your go-to spot for a cup of coffee or a delicious espresso drink.
But some Starbucks drinks are real sugar bombs, thanks to syrups, drizzles, whipped cream and even the cookie crumbles.
“Many coffee and matcha tea drinks add sugar to reduce bitterness,” says Michele Promaulayko, author of Sugar Free 3.
So if you’re trying to cut back on your sugar intake, do you need to skip or at least switch to black coffee?
No way. There are actually plenty of sugar-free Starbucks drinks — you just need to know what to order. Here are some safe bets when you go sugar-free.
NOTE: With the exception of espresso shots, the nutrition statistics below refer to tall (12 ounce) drink sizes at Starbucks.
Natural sugar vs added sugar
When deciding what to order from Starbucks on a sugar-free diet, it’s important to consider whether an item contains natural sugar or added sugar.
Natural sugars, such as fructose in fresh fruit or lactose in milk, are fine even if you’re on a sugar-free diet.
Added sugars are what you need to watch out for. Any sugar or syrup added during the preparation process is added sugar.
(Added sugars are sometimes hidden on the ingredient list under sneaky names like agave nectar or corn syrup, but they’re still sugar.)
The sugar content of the drinks below comes from natural sugars. These drinks are therefore a safe bet if you eliminate added sugars.
Espresso drinks and hot coffee drinks
This beverage category includes some of Starbucks’ sweetest drinks, including the beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte with 38 grams of sugar.
But there are still plenty of hot coffee and espresso drinks you can enjoy on a sugar-free diet. The drinks below contain only natural milk sugar (or no sugar at all).
PRO TIP: Watch out for espresso drinks with sneaky added sugars.
For example, Caffè Mocha is similar to Caffè Latte, but its mocha sauce and whipped cream add an extra touch 13 grams of added sugar.
Cold infusions and iced coffees
There are many refreshing coffee drinks you can enjoy without increasing your added sugar intake for the day.
- Cold infusion with cold froth (5 grams of milk sugar) is a better bet than the syrup-sweetened cold brew options.
- Nitro cold brew contains zero sugar. (Starbucks says this is possible because infusing the coffee with nitrogen gives it a naturally sweet flavor – it works for us!)
- Glazed Flat White (8 grams of milk sugar) may satisfy your craving for a cold, creamy treat, but all of its sugar comes from whole milk. (Consider ordering this drink with 1% or 2% milk to reduce fat and calorie count.)
- Nitro flat white (14 grams of milk sugar) contains slightly more natural sugar than an Iced Flat White, but it is still natural milk sugar.
- Iced Latte Coffee (9 grams of milk sugar) contains slightly less natural sugar than the hot version of the same drink.
Starbucks tea lattes can be loaded with sugar, but you can satisfy your cravings by ordering hot tea and adding a little milk.
4 tips for eliminating sugar at Starbucks
If you’re starting a sugar-free lifestyle, but still love your ‘bux’, here are some tips to keep in mind when deciding what to order.
1. Focus on added sugars
When you eliminate sugar, you are looking to reduce added sugars, as opposed to those of natural origin such as those found in cow’s milk.
According to registered dietitian Michelle Abbey, RDN, of The Nature Nutritionist, natural sugars are found in foods that also contain key nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins and antioxidants.
“It’s refined and added sugars that you need to watch out for because they add calories without any nutritional benefit,” says Abbey.
2. Choose unsweetened vegetable milks
Plant milks labeled as “original” are usually sweetened versions. Be sure to choose unsweetened plant milk; if the barista is not sure that his vegetable milks are not sweetened, it is better to do without.
3. Check the nutritional data
Sure, it sounds obvious, but Starbucks doesn’t differentiate between natural and added sugars in their nutritional informationwhich can make it harder when trying to cut out added sugars.
Still, a good rule of thumb is to look for extremely high sugar content.
A cup of whole milk contains approximately 12 grams of natural sugarso if you see a drink with double or triple that number, chances are it has added sugars.
4. Order plain black coffee — hot or cold
Plain coffee contains no sugar, added or natural. That means it’s still a safe order, but some people find it too bitter.
“I personally can’t drink coffee unless it’s sweetened – I tried,” says Promaulayko. But don’t be afraid! There East always a no added sugar option. “I put a little stevia (my favorite brand is Sweet Leaf) in my coffee.”
Stevia and monk fruit are permitted in program coffee and tea, as they come from natural plant-based sources.
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